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When covid-19 broke out nearly one and half years ago, no one, including artist Chen Qiulin, anticipated it would become an unprecedented global pandemic. The fear and anxiety brought by the pandemic aroused struggles and constraints and emphasized the conflicts and resistances. In her most recent site-specific body experimental project, Drown (2021), Chen uses tofu – a traditional Chinese food ingredient and a cultural symbol, fragile in nature – as her creative medium combining installations, body performance, live sound creation, and video output to visually showcase the human presence.
Drown continues Chen Qiulin’s artistic exploration of using tofu as a creative medium dating back to 2003. As a quintessential oriental food, tofu stands in for the artist’s reflections on her own culture and identity. Inspired by the tofu making process, the large tofu covered wooden mold becomes both a stage and a cage for the performer, alluding to the geopolitical constraints of the current global pandemic. A female protagonist dancing in the wooden mold-her body touches, entangles and confronts the tofu, performing a tragic struggle, as if a bird with a broken wing screaming while flying against the wind. The vocalizations and bodily sounds piercingly tear through the powerless fragility and resistance, revealing the struggle and concealed vulnerability from the female perspective.
Unlike Chen Qiulin’s usual solo performances, Drown is a collaboration with modern dance artist Zheng Yuanyuan and sound artist Chen Hongli. The performance abandons the conventional background music, but instead, the sound is captured and produced through a live sound performance – the sound artist is invited to use his own body to perceive the dramatic changes brought by the dancer, interact with body language, improvise on the sounds he collects onsite, and eventually compose the holographic sound for the Drown video piece.