Chen Qiulin, still from Color Lines, 2006, Video, 8:08 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Max Protetch Gallery, New York.

Liu Xiaodong, Hotbed, 2005, oil on canvas, 102-3/8 x 393-5/8", in five panels, Courtesy the artist.

Four Chronicles of Displacement in the Wake of Three Gorges Dam

Yun-Fei Ji, Water Rising (detail), 2006, Mineral pigments and ink on mulberry paper. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

Yun-Fei Ji, Water Rising (detail), 2006, Mineral pigments and ink on mulberry paper. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

Zhuang Hui project site1995.

Zhuang Hui project site 2007.

Zhuang Hui, Longitude 109.88 E and Latitude 31.09 N (detail), 1995-2008, Mixed-media installation including color and black and white prints from digital photographs, map, and video. Courtesy of the artist.

Chen Qiulin, still from Rhapsody on Farewell, 2002, video, (color, sound), 9 minutes, edition of five, Courtesy the artist and Max Protech Gallery.

Chen Qiulin, Migration, Long March Space, Beijing, 2006, Installation view, photo courtesy of the artist / Long March Space, 2006.

Chen Qiulin, Garden No.. 1, 2007, c-print, 59.8 x 50.0", Edition of 8.

Liu Xiaodong, Hotbed (detail), 2005, Oil on canvas, in five panels. Courtesy of the artist.

Liu Xiaodong, Hotbed (detail), 2005, Oil on canvas, in five panels. Courtesy of the artist.


Smart Museum of Art
University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood Avenue
The Three Gorges Dam
and Contemporary Chinese Art

October 2, 2008-January 25, 2009

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangzi River in China is a massive project entwined in controversy.

When finally completed, it will stand as the world’s largest generator of hydro-electric power, with a yearly output equal to that of fifty million tons of coal or fifteen nuclear power plants. However, the dam’s 375-mile reservoir has already displaced over one million people and submerged over one thousand towns and villages.

This exhibition presents work that four leading contemporary Chinese artists — Chen Qiulin, Yun-Fei Ji, Liu Xiaodong, and Zhuang Hui—have created in response to the dam. Despite differences in backgrounds and artistic practices, these artists have engaged with the theme of displacement, responding to the movement of people, the demolition of old towns and construction of new cities, and the astonishing changes the project is bringing to the local landscape.

Through the powerful artworks and extensive educational programs, Displacement offers nuanced, thought-provoking perspectives on a project of great social, environmental, and global concern.

Displacement focuses on the powerful work that four artists have created in response to Three Gorges Dam. The massive hydroelectric project has captured the attention of many outside of China, and the environmental and sociological impacts of the dam have been widely discussed in the popular media as well as academic studies.

Critics cite the human cost and environmental impact of the project: more than 1.3 million people will have been forced to relocate, the ecosystem of the region has been disrupted, and sites of archaeological and historical importance have been submerged. Yet supporters in China and elsewhere note that the dam allows for economic growth and stability: it is expected to supply one-ninth of the country’s electric power, lower greenhouse gas emissions, boost trade to the interior, and control the flooding which killed as many as 300,000 people in the twentieth century.

In thoughtfully complex works, Displacement offers new and nuanced perspectives on the Three Gorges Dam. Chen Qiulin’s series of four haunting videos— Rhapsody on Farewell (2002), River, River (2005), Color Lines (2006), and Garden (2007)—combine documentary footage and dreamlike sequences amid sites of demolition and construction along the Yangzi River.

Yun-Fei Ji’s Water Rising (2006) is a long, scroll-like ink painting that is densely packed with displaced people and a disrupted landscape, rendered in a style that references the history of Chinese ink painting. Liu Xiaodong’s monumental Hotbed (2005) is a thirty-foot-long oil painting of vulnerable and virile migrant laborers and a hazy landscape that was made on site at the Yangzi River. Zhuang Hui’s conceptual photographic installation Longitude 109.88o E and Latitude 31.09o N (1995–2008) is one of the first works of art to deal directly with the Three Gorges Dam, and is shown here for the first time.

The Smart Museum presentation of Displacement includes two handscroll ink paintings on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago: Yang Bu Moving His Family (Yuan dynasty, 1279-1368) and King Yu Moving a Mountain to Control the Floods (Ming dynasty, 1368-1644). These paintings help contextualize the contemporary relative to broader tradition of Chinese history and art.

Although it is focused on contemporary Chinese art and the Three Gorges Dam, Displacement contributes to a more general discussion about the role of contemporary art in society. The exhibition and related educational programs aim to inform this debate and provide a platform for discussion, not only about what is happening along the Yangzi River in China, but also about the wider relationship between contemporary art and social, political, and environmental issues.

Chen Qiulin comes from Sichuan, where the dam is located. Her hometown is now underwater. Using performance, installation, video, and photography, she has created a significant body of work about the impact of the dam, including her series of four haunting videos included in Displacement.

These works combine documentary footage with dreamlike sequences in which the artist and others perform surreally beautiful actions amidst the urban and semiurban sites of demolition and construction along the rising Yangzi River. Chen’s distinctive visual style mixes the muddy hues of the much of the setting with intensely colored imagery, such as costumes derived from Chinese opera or performers carrying armfuls of fuchsia-hued flowers. Similarly, her soundtracks mix ambient sound, traditional musical forms, and hypnotic electronic compositions.

Works on view include Rhapsody on Farewell, 2002, Video (color, sound), 9:00, Edition of five. River, River, 2005, Video (color, sound), 16:00, Edition of five. Color Lines, 2006, Video (color, sound), 8:08, Edition of five. The Garden, 2007, Video (color, sound), 14:45, Edition of five. All works courtesy the artist and Max Protetch Gallery, New York.

Chen Qiulin (Chinese, b. 1975) graduated from the printmaking department of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2000. Selected solo exhibitions include Chen Qiulin: Recent Work, University Art Museum, University of Albany, New York (2007); Garden, Max Protetch Gallery, New York (2007); Migration, Long March Space, Beijing, China (2006); Big Factory, Shanghai, China (2005); The Tofu of February 14th, Chengdu, China (2004); and Internet Affairs, 31 Bookstore, Chengdu, China (2002).

Selected group exhibitions include Red Hot: Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (2007); Women in a Society of Dual Sexuality: The Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Female Artists, Tang Gallery in Silom Galleria, Bangkok, Thailand (2006); Ruins: New Video and Photography from China, Inova at UWM Peck School of the Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (2005); Internal Injuries, Marella Gallery, Milan, Italy (2005); On Going: Contemporary Art Show, Shenzhen Sculpture Institute, Shenzhen, China (2005); and The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, Millennium Art Museum, Beijing, China (2005, tour). Chen Qiulin lives and works in Chengdu, China.

Yun-Fei Ji works in ink painting, using this traditional medium to explore very contemporary topics. Many of his recent works have dealt with impact of the Three Gorges Dam. Ji’s finely detailed rendering, muted hues, and overall compositions directly reference the long history of Chinese ink painting, but the subtleties of his seemingly traditional style contrast with the high drama of his subject matter. These densely-packed paintings depict disrupted landscapes and displaced populations with abundant grotesque figures and animals that reveal specific influences of Hieronymus Bosch and Luo Pin. Displacement will feature Water Rising, one of Ji’s masterworks. Playing off the traditional format of horizontal scroll painting, the two long panels that comprise this work converge in a corner.

Work on view include Water Rising, 2006, mineral pigments and ink on mulberry paper, 22-1/2 x 450 in. (57 x 1143 cm), Courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

Yun-Fei Ji (Chinese, b. 1963) studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and the Fulbright College of Art and Sciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Selected solo exhibitions include Water That Floats the Boat Can Also Sink It, James Cohan Gallery, New York (2006); Great News Comes From the Collective Farm, Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium (2005); The Empty City, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2004, tour); The East Wind, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (2004); The Old One Hundred Names, Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium and The Pratt Manhattan Gallery, New York (2003); and The Boxer, the Missionary, and their Gods, POST, Los Angeles, California (2002). Selected group exhibitions include An Atlas of Events, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal (2007); Regeneration: Contemporary Art from China & the US, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (2004, tour); Open House: Working in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, New York (2004); Breaking Away, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Clock Tower Fellowship exhibition, Long Island City, New York (2003); and Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2002). Yun-Fei Ji lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Because he lives in America he has chosen to invert the traditional order of his name.

Liu Xiaodong is commonly regarded as the most accomplished realist oil and acrylic painter
working in China today. Displacement will feature his monumental painting Hotbed, 2005. This thirty-foot-long-painting is comprised of five large, loosely brushed panels that Liu made while on site at the Yangzi River. It depicts a hazy, mountainous riverside site at which migrant laborers rest in a state of half-undress that is simultaneously vulnerable and virile. China has a vast mobile population of such laborers who travel from country to city, city to city, and city to country in
search of work on any of the thousands of construction projects that are transforming China’s
physical and social landscape. Accompanying Hotbed will be a film that documents the process of making this tour-de-force of realist painting.

Work on view include Hotbed, 2005, Oil on canvas, 8.53 x 32.8 feet (260 x 1000 cm), Private collection, Beijing.

Liu Xiaodong (Chinese, b. 1963) studied at the Central Institute of Fine Arts in Beijing and the University of Complutense in Madrid. Selected solo exhibitions include Awakening from a Ten-Year Long Sleep, 1997-2007, HJY Art Center, Beijing, China (2007); The Three Gorges Project — Paintings by Liu Xiaodong, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California (2006); Hot Bed: A Painting Project by Liu Xiaodong, Tang Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand (2006); Childhood friend getting fat, Loft Gallery, Paris, France (2005); Three Gorges: Displaced Population & Three Gorges: Newly Displaced Population, China Blue Gallery & CAAW, Beijing, China (2004); Eighteen Soldiers Between Mainland and Taiwan, Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art, Jinmen, Taiwan (2004). Selected group exhibitions include The Painting of Modern Life, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, UK (2007); Zones of Contact — Biennial of Sydney, Australia (2006); Story of a River: New Era Retrospective on Chinese Oil Painting, National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2005); The Nude: Ideal and Reality, From Neoclassicism to Today, Bologna Modern Art Museum, Italy (2003); Chinese Contemporary Art, Art Museum of Brazil, San Paulo (2002), and 47th Venice Biennial Art Exhibition, Venice, Italy (1997). Liu Xiaodong lives and works in Beijing.

Conceptual artist and photographer Zhuang Hui is probably best known for his series of long horizontal portraits of workers’ and citizens’ groups, a series that he began in the late 1990s. Displacement presents instead one of the artist’s early works: a large-scale photographic installation that is simultaneously more concrete and more abstract than any other work in this exhibition. In April of 1995, one year after construction began on the Three Gorges Dam, Zhuang traveled to the region and dug holes in three sites: a construction area near the Dam itself, the shore along the Wuxia Gorge, and “White Emperor City”, a historic site and tourist destination. Zhuang’s photographic installation Longitude 109.88° E and Latitude 31.09° N includes 30 black-and-white photographs, each of which presents a close-up view of one of the holes. Framed from above so that the hole is parallel to the picture plane, these deadpan images are surprisingly captivating. They preserve not only Zhuang’s modest interventions into these sites but also the everyday beauty of plants, rocks, and dirt: the diverse textures of a landscape about to be irrevocably altered. Related materials include a map identifying the three locations of the holes and three 30-minute DVDs which show the sites as they are now, below water level.

Work on view includee Longitude 109.88° E and Latitude 31.09° N 1995-2008, Mixed-media installation including color and black-and-white prints from digital photographs, map, and single-channel video, Dimensions variable, Courtesy the artist.

Zhuang Hui (Chinese, b. 1963) is an independent artist. He lives and works in Beijing. This is the only biographical information that the artist chooses to make available.

Map of the Yangtze River showing the sites for Zhuang Hui’s Longitude 109.88 E and Latitude 31.09 N.

Chen Qiulin, still from Color Lines, 2006, Video, 8:08 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Max Protetch Gallery, New York.