Wu Tsang

Centered around Wu Tsang’s newly-commissioned experimental film Duilian* which interprets the life and writings of Chinese revolutionary poet Qiu Jin (秋瑾, 1875-1907) and her intimate relationship with her friend and calligrapher Wu Zhiying (吳芝瑛, 1868-1934), the exhibition Duilian is the culmination of the visual artist and filmmaker’s decade-long fascination with the two women, and was created during her six-month residency at Spring Workshop when she traced the manifold representations of Qiu Jin’s legacy within China’s recent history. Seen together, the film installation and the sculptures form an alternative reading of Qiu’s biography told through the lens of visual and martial arts. (Find more about the project in the Spring Workshop Archive Dropbox.)

Filmed in part on a colonial-style junk boat in Hong Kong, Duilian drifts across time and space, combining magical realism, melodrama, and kung fu to portray a side of Qiu Jin’s story that is rarely seen in the mainstream. Executed as a traitor in 1907 in a failed uprising against the Qing dynasty, her heroic life and poetry are widely celebrated in popular novels, films, and plays, yet the details of her personal life are less examined. Today her portrait is displayed in the Communist Museum in Shanghai: a singular woman amongst men, and a testament to the fact that those in power re-frame history, time and time again.

The film focuses on Qiu’s transformative friendship with Wu Zhiying and the community of strong women (a group of radical “sword” sisters) who initiate Qiu into the world of desire and revolution—a secret group of sworn sisters (金蘭姊妹) under the name “Mutual Love Society” (共愛會) she met and joined after she left her husband and family to study abroad in Japan in 1906. By decoding and deliberately “mistranslating”established narratives about Qiu Jin, Duilian is part of Wu Tsang’s continued exploration of the roles language and storytelling play in the construction of history and identity formation.

Duilian takes as a starting point the fact that queer histories—particularly those of queer and trans people in Asia—are often invisible or coded, and must be “read between the lines” of official history. The film integrates choreographed performances with narrative scenes featuring the main characters Qiu Jin (played by collaborator and performance artist boychild) and her intimate friend Wu Zhiying (played by filmmaker Wu Tsang). In addition, Tsang invited the members of the LGBT community she encountered during her stay in Hong Kong to voice “mistranslations” of Qiu’s and Wu’s writing in their mother tongues (Cantonese, Malay and Tagalog) that were generated during an evening of poetry translation at Spring. Together they form a plurality of possible readings of Qiu’s life and revolutionary aspirations.

Accompanying the film are sculptural objects with inscriptions of fragments of the two women’s texts—Qiu reflecting on the demise of her country; Wu writing about the loss of a lifelong companion. In conjunction with the public event Tears, Tears, Tears, they create a new body of monuments in Qiu’s honor. As an ongoing project, Duilian explores the mythologies that queer people construct out of remarkable stories such as Qiu Jin’s and Wu Zhiying’s, and Tsang’s desire to manifest alternative narratives through film, language and movement.

*Duilian refers to a form of couplet poetry (對聯) and to the wushu category of sword-fighting (對練). Both forms evoke dueling aspects: in poetry, the words are rhymed in tonal opposition to each other, and in wushu, a pair of martial artists engage in a dance of swords.


Saturday, March 12, 2016
Exhibition opening:
12 pm – 4 pm

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Tears, Tears, Tears with Wu Tsang
Art Basel Opening | South Island Cultural District Art Brunch
12.00pm – 1:30pm

The history of Qiu Jin’s multiple burials and the struggles of different groups and individuals to claim the symbolic meaning and resting place of her body was the inspiration for this event. First to retrieve and bury Qiu’s discarded body after she was executed was Wu Zhiying, who mourned the loss of her close friend in private while publicly defending Qiu’s reputation in print. We invite you to join us at this special event where Qiu’s multiple legacies will be incinerated through Chinese practices of ancestral mourning.

Please RSVP at rsvp@springworkshop.org listing the event title in the subject line.

  • DateMarch 12 - May 22, 2016
  • TimeTue to Sun, 12-6pm
  • TypeExhibition

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