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Chen Qiulin: The Empty City

Chen Qiulin returned to her hometown in China where its entire population was relocated - a result of modernization.

March 27, 2014 12:00am to June 15, 2014 12:00am

One of the leading figures in China’s younger generation of artists working in new media, Chen Qiulin (b. 1975) explores the social impact of China’s rapid urban development through video installations. Filmed through the lens of her personal experience, the installations articulate tensions—between the individual and society, inherent and constructed identity, and past and present—that have resulted from the unprecedented emergence of China as an international superpower in the last four decades.

Chen grew up in the small city of Wanzhou, which was submerged under the Yangtze River by the controversial Three Gorges Dam project in 2003. Wanzhou’s entire population was relocated, and the remaining parts of the region that are still above water have been absorbed into the Municipality of Chongqing. In Chen’s most recent video series, The Empty City, she returns to the remnants of Wanzhou, while at the same time coming to terms with her new life in Chongqing. The Empty City is at once intensely personal and socially relevant, highlighting the impact of modernization and internationalization on both individual and collective identity. The issues at its core speak directly to the fundamental struggle of China (and its people) to reinvent itself in response to a rapidly changing world, but also to the larger cross-cultural struggle of the individual to preserve and continue to find relevance in memories of a lost past in the face of technological and social progress.

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