Chinese women artists explore humanity’s relationship with nature – in pictures

Five female artists in Beijing reveal works-in-progress for the Sino-Italian project “Naturally Women”.

Beijing’s Italian Space hosts a preview of a Sino-Italian art project featuring five Chinese women artists, who will be taking part in an exhibition at Milan EXPO 2015 in October. The show offers a female perspective on the complicated relationship between human beings and nature.

Tao Aimin, 'Ova', 2015, performance still (detail). Image courtesy the artist.

Tao Aimin, ‘Ova’, 2015, performance still (detail). Image courtesy the author.

On 24 April 2015, the Italian Space (Spazio Italia) in Beijing hosted a preview of “Naturally Women”, a project that was conceived and curated by Beijing-based, Italian curator Alice Cazzaniga. The artists will be featured this October in an exhibition in the KIP Pavillion at Milan EXPO 2015. The exhibition is co-organised by the Italian Embassy in China, the Confucius Institute at the University of Milan and Ever Art Beijing Limited.

Curator Alice Cazzaniga has selected an intriguing group of Chinese artists, all based in Beijing, whose works span photography, installation and performance art, and contribute to the discourse on women and nature. As the press release explains:

The concept of nature here presented is not confined to the idea of an external natural world but has an ontological value. The theme “Naturally Women” was inspired by the need to rethink both the relation with ourselves, with our nature and with the natural world we belong to and to give voice to the creativity of women who, being actual or potential mothers, are endowed with a particular sensitivity and innate attitude to protection. […] The name of the project […] suggests the idea of a woman who, through an intimate reflection on the relation between human beings and nature not only can affect herself but also the world surrounding her, thus rediscovering a new awareness of the value of being naturally woman.

Tao Aimin, 'Ova', 2015, performance still. Image courtesy the artist.

Tao Aimin, ‘Ova’, 2015, performance still. Image courtesy the artist.

Tao Aimin (b. 1974) presented her performance Ova. Sitting on the ground with hundreds of chicken eggs in front of her, she used a calligraphy brush and ink to patiently write a character on each individual egg. She created the ideograms from diary entries and poems she had written in a notebook. The curator explained how eggs are primordial and conjure up the idea of the beginning of life and of fertility. The inscription of letters on the eggs symbolises the imprint of man on nature.

He Chengyao, 'Time Series', 2015, performance still (detail). Image courtesy Ever-art International Co. Ltd.

He Chengyao, ‘Time Series’, 2015, performance still (detail). Image courtesy Ever-art International Co. Ltd.

He Chengyao (b. 1964) is one of the pioneers of performance art in China and often deals with the subject of feminism and equal rights for women. In her conceptual piece for this show, Time Series, she tackles the question of time and how it is conceived and marked by humans versus nature.

He Chengyao, 'Time Series', 2015, performance still. Image courtesy the author.

He Chengyao, ‘Time Series’, 2015, performance still. Image courtesy the author.

She uses a computer to help her keep time by marking every second – pressing a needle in a circular pattern on a round piece of paper. With every mark or hole that she makes on the paper, the audience can hear a sound. She performed this work patiently over several hours.

Sun Shaokun, 'Remolding', 2014, C-print. Image courtesy the artist.

Sun Shaokun, ‘Remolding’, 2014, C-print. Image courtesy the artist.

Sun Shaokun (b. 1980) often deals with the themes of love and suffering that, in her view, are inevitable and intertwined. In a previous work, she made clothing out of rough and thorny natural materials that would be itchy on the skin of its wearer, thus playing on the theme of nature bringing about suffering on humans.

Sun Shaokun, 'The forbidden flowers', 2015, performance still. Image courtesy the author.

Sun Shaokun, ‘The forbidden flowers’, 2015, performance still. Image courtesy the author.

For this show, she has revisited the theme of nature and suffering and put it on its head. Throughout the two-hour long performance, the artist used her fingernails to draw images of couples during intercourse onto the petals of pink lilies, reversing the cycle and showing humans inflicting harm or pain onto nature. According to the artist, if we want to have a deep and real relationship with nature then we also have to expect not only deep love but also much suffering.

Mo Di, 'In the Name of God', 2015, installation view. Image courtesy the artist.

Mo Di, ‘In the Name of God’, 2015, installation view. Image courtesy the artist.

Mo Di (b. 1982), the youngest of the artists, chose passages from the Bible and the Quran that speak about humans and nature for her work entitled In the Name of God. She cut out passages, words and letters from the Bible and made a chapter of the Quran out of it.

Mo Di, 'In the Name of God', 2015, installation view (detail). Image courtesy the artist.

Mo Di, ‘In the Name of God’, 2015, installation view (detail). Image courtesy the artist.

With this symbolic gesture, the artist seems to reaffirm the fact that in the end all religions carry the same message – namely that of love – and that all religions have shaped and are still shaping the lives of many people, both in positive and negative ways.

Han Shuying, 'Daily Wedding Dress', 2015, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

Han Shuying, ‘Daily Wedding Dress’, 2015, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

Han Shuying (b. 1979) employs a recurrent theme in the work — the value that is accorded to marriage in Chinese society. Her critique lies with the fact that most marriages take place because of duty or pressure from society and are akin to a contract or business deal. In her video installation Daily Wedding Dress, the artist is clothed in a bridal gown in four scenes. In one scene, she stands surrounded by garbage in her village’s garbage station. In another scene, she sits in her gown along the bank of a river washing recyclable objects that she has picked up from around her.

Han Shuying, 'Daily Wedding Dress', 2015, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

Han Shuying, ‘Daily Wedding Dress’, 2015, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

Han lives in a village, which due to its low rents has attracted artists and low-income families. The village suffers from bad air due to coal burning in the winter and garbage piles up in its streets, alleys and rivers all year round. With this work, the artist is criticising and weaving together the polluted environment and current status of marriage in China. With her ritual washing of recyclable objects in her wedding gown, she is not only purifying the environment but also purifying marriage. The artist believes that if love between people becomes polluted and impure, so the relationships between people and the environment will become polluted and impure, thus both need to be cleansed and purified.

The five artists and the curator of "Naturally Women". Left to right: Sun Shaokun, Tao Aimin, Han Shuying, He Chengyao, Mo Di, Alice Cazzaniga. Image courtesy the artists.

The five artists and the curator of “Naturally Women”. Left to right: Sun Shaokun, Tao Aimin, Han Shuying, He Chengyao, Mo Di, Alice Cazzaniga. Image courtesy the artists.

The artists are now in the process of creating works to be shown at the Milan EXPO in October 2015, which has as its theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. The exhibition is also held in conjunction with the World Summit of Outstanding Women during the EXPO.

Nooshfar Afnan

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Relate Topics: Chinese artists, women artists, art about women, art about nature, performance art, events in Beijing, picture feasts

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