Different Opinions on “Piling Clouds, Piling Snow” Author: Numerous Artists, Aritics

There is always more than one angle to look at history. When complicated historical facts are piled up in your mind like clouds and snow, and then dispersed, you may see a "truth" that you have never seen before. This is history, so is the truth. This time, sculptor Li Xiangqun conveys the artist's thoughts on history through his work "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow", a half-naked figure of an aristocratic woman in the Qing Dynasty. Many consider his sculpture of Cixi a success of characterization.  However, others comment that there is nothing remarkable about sculpting a nude Cixi. So, is this creative technique a gimmick to attract attention or a necessary need to express a concept? Let's listen to what the famous artists has to say.

He Guiyan: Physical or Erotic? Classical or Post-Modern?
(Teacher at Department of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute; PhD candidate at Central Academy of Fine Arts)

The object of "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" is "Cixi".  This "Cixi" has dual identity with specific directions. One is a historical figure and the other is a naked woman. So the two figures of Cixi seem to be conflicted and contradictory, challenging our past mode of thinking.

However, I don't rule out that the artist is intentionally creating a gimmick here. Not that I don't trust the artist, but most contemporary artists in China have done so. The insincerity of the artist is the greatest danger to contemporary art, especially those stylized and reproduction-oriented contemporary artists. To evaluate "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow", we must go back to the artist's creative venation. If it belongs to the artist's creative system, it should not be a gimmick.  If not, then we can not rule out the suspicion of opportunism.

In my opinion, Li Xiangqun's "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" does not belong to "erotic" art. However, he does not handle the relationships between "body" and “desire” and “body and “eroticism” well. The key problem lies in this classicalized and realistic language. Theoretically, "body" belongs to the post-modern aesthetic category, which represents political, social, gender and other issues, but  "desire" and "eroticism" belong to the visual and aesthetic interest. How does one effectively combine a post-modern aesthetic concept with classical realistic language is a challenge to the artist. I think that "Piling Clouds, Piling of Snow" does not deal with this combination of concept and language well.

Li Xiangqun actually wants to use this work to change the viewer's attitude towards history. Thus he has strengthened the "body" of Cixi. This is worthy of recognition. However, I think this "body" can easily fall into an "erotic" aesthetic, because it involves the question of who will watch and consume this "body".

On a deeper level, this work can also be related to the popular "embezzlement" technique. There are two ways of "appropriation".  One is to borrow images, patterns or visual experiences from the past.  The other one is to use texts, events and people from the past. The meaning of "embezzlement" is that the artist makes use of a previous context of meaning and emphasizes the fracture between it and the context after "embezzlement" to produce the meaning of the work. Li Xiangqun clearly belongs to the latter category. The clothes worn by "Cixi" and her position in history are the former context. Now "Cixi" is naked and produces a new context. The old and new conflict cause the generation of the new meanings.  " Embezzlement " is one of the main art forms of Western postmodern art, but our misconception is that many artists see "post-modern" as "ironic" and "flirtatious". "It is easy to ignore the seriousness and reflective nature behind "embezzlement".

"Embezzlement" does not involve the question of right or wrong, but it is related to the artist's creative attitude. If the artist’s "embezzlement" is just to create a "gimmick", then this creation is "idea art" playing to the gallery. But if the "embezzlement" is for changing people's aesthetic concept or raising some new questions, then it is meaningful. The significance of Li Xiangqun's "Piling Clouds,Piling Snowing" lies in the change of concept. But how to effectively combine the classical realistic language and the post-modern aesthetic concept, lies in the body of "Cixi" ......

If you see the artist's questioning attitude towards history behind the work, then you will find the work meaningful. But if you only see a "desired" body, the work becomes kitsch.

Situ An: Works Perfectly Inherit the Historical Mantle of Traditional Sculptural Realism
(Former President of the Royal Portrait Sculpture Society, Visiting Professor at Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University; Visiting Professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts; Council Member of the Art Council of Wolfson College, Oxford University)

The British Association of Portrait Sculptors, an internationally renowned association with a history of over 50 years, regularly holds an annual exhibition in London's famous Cork Art Street in mid-May.  This event attracts a large number of regular collectors and visitors, and exhibits are selected from all over the world every year. Professor Li Xiangqun is a member of the Association after going through a rigorous selection process.

A good artist is a magician who can reverse time and bring historical figures back to you with art. "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" is a good work that represent Cixi in front of you.

The evaluation of Cixi is often varies in history. Some say she was young and beautiful; some say she was scheming, and some say she was a woman with desire of power. We can say she represents a special kind of woman: beautiful, intelligent, with desire of power.

To create a multi-faceted character with soul, an artist needs to combine human factors, history, folklore and other cultural backgrounds. Professor Li Xiangqun's work "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" does not show people the conventional image of the old, lethargic, tyrannical, and gorgeously dressed lord of a country. He takes a unique approach by using portraits as a carrier to explore and create the soul of this woman who had been beautiful, scheming, and in charge of great power for half a century in history. Wearing a symbolic and decorated hat, she sits on the empress throne in a casual and unrestrained semi-nude manner. The whole work is a perfect combination of "movement" and "stillness". It is an astonishing reproduction of that tyrannical, freewheeling, mysterious, and cold woman. Professor Li's exquisite realistic sculptural skills have also produced an outstanding artistic effect.

Different identities with different experience will have different interpretation of "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow". I think this work inherits the historical mantle of traditional sculptural realism– with a human body creation theme.

Huang Rui: Nudity is not for the sake of attracting attention

Like Li Xiangqun's previous work, "Piling Clouds - Piling Snow" is an excellent sculpture permeating a tension in showing the vitality of historical figures through the sculpture of the human body.

Although this work is made of bronze, we can still feel the softness in this hard material. This is a work with semantic meaning. A story is told through the expression of the opposition and transition between the identity of the figure and the sculpture image.  Just like his previous works of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, it captures a sense of simple life, and you can feel the existence of humanity in the work.

In our previous evaluation, Cixi is often seen as a negative figure who would do anything for power and pushed Chinese society backwards. But Li Xiangqun put these evaluations aside and used the form of a woman's body to restore Cixi to a living female figure. This is a typical "Li Xiangqun method". Looking at history through the eyes of a third party is unique and of tension. Thus, the works he creates provoke discussion and success.

The semi-nude he approached on the creation here has nothing to do with the so-called gaud of today. Some people have this understanding precisely because our society's understanding of the human body is becoming more and more gaudy. And those "gaudy artists" are trying to cover up their lack of creative skills through nudity. Li Xiangqun does not need to do so, as he has a solid sculptural background. The woman's body here shows the artist's understanding of the figure he is creating, which is a necessary way of creation.

In fact, in modern society and in historical memory, we can't help but trace historical figures. Li Xiangqun expresses his personal thoughts and opinions. The role he creates in his sculptures leaves us with a lot of thoughts. Li Xiangqun is a pioneer in filling the neglected part of the evaluation of historical figures with his own creations.

Chen Danqing: A Provocation to Our Sense of History and Psychological State

The concept of "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" is post-modern, as Li Xiangqun overlaps the two different concepts of "human body" and "Cixi". We are familiar with "Cixi" and have seen many nudes in artworks. But the concept of a mere Cixi or a mere woman's body would not achieve the absurdity of reality as this work. Cixi is not wearing clothes and the naked female body is "Cixi". Our sense of history and psychological state are dislocated. Li Xiangqun artfully used this way to complete the provocation.

His semi-nude body here is more provocative than a full nude body. Cixi is a symbol of authority. If she is fully nude, the effect will be too much. So the half-nude sculpture precisely expresses the absurdity. Li Xiangqun's realistic work is politically correct and a likeness of Cixi. However, the more alike the figure is of Cixi, the further it is from the real Cixi. This is a success of "role dislocation". If the shape is slightly inaccurate and the body is slightly exaggerated, the work will lose its sense of proportion, persuasiveness and absurdity. This work is a bold and successful transcendence in Li Xiangqun's practice.

Yin Shuangxi: Splicing and Metonymy are Not the Same as Dramatize Description of History
(Professor at Central Academy of Fine Arts; Art Critic)

The work "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" is a very imaginative work that tries to establish a cultural connection between ancient historical figures and contemporary social life. It is very suitable for a sculptor with excellent realistic ability like Li Xiangqun. It has a distinctive post-modernist character with the meaning of splicing and metaphor but is not a dramatize description of history.

Li Xiangqun's use of nude expression does not equal to "gaudy". There are many gaudy works that are clothed.  "Gaudy" is an artistic phenomenon in the sense of artistic style of a specific period. Rather, it should be noted that there are many active "kitsch" works in contemporary art.

Bao Lin: It is the Social Responsibility of Artists to Express Their Ideas Through Their Works
(Vice Precedent at Academy of Arts & Design at Tsinghua University; Head of Painting Department; Professor)

Since the 1980s, especially just after the 90s, a lot of works on historical themes appeared in Chinese contemporary art. One of the most important characteristics of these works is that it is not to restore history, but to make a kind of statement about history in present culture. What we call this creative method of applying the classics is post-modern. It is a way of statement and presentation that is all contemporary and has nothing to do with history. Li Xiangqun's work is also like this. She is a woman, a mature woman, a naked woman, and a very sexy woman. In fact, I think compared to other works, Li Xiangqun is a bit more daring in his treatment of this work. Giving full play to his imagination and making it very beautiful, very typical and very Chinese. In fact, this work is to drag some historical figures that we think inviolable from the altar to the ground.  The effect is to show the nature of an ordinary woman.

The meaning of art and society are always linked together. If a work only talks about the beauty of art or only in the language of art, it is a problem of basic skills or basic techniques. This problem has been solved in the last century by European modernist art and classical art. We need to express an emotion or concept with art, which is the social responsibility of the artist. In this work, her beauty is not from the body, or from her authority, sublime, and sacredness. It is something like human beings. That is art. So Xiangqun's works give us the feeling that he is making a very contemporary art based on the traditional realistic method.

Li Xiangqun is a very talented artist. Including his most recent works, I think his works have solid foundation and delicate hand feel. Rather than using clay to carve things, he is more likely to convey emotion. I think he was born with this ability. His works are something you can touch, something you can play with, and something you can get close to as a substitute for one's spirit.

Wu Changjiang: Integrating Subtlety into the Language of Sculpture
(Secretary of the Party Group; Vice Chairman of the China Artists Association)

From his previous works, Li Xiangqun's feelings are very subtle. The series of portraits of great men and other characters are all very charming. His sculptural language is between realistic and freehand.  The combination is very proportional and creates sculptural power.

The work "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" gave me a peculiar feeling at first sight. He uses the human body to express a person, which is very interesting. This is an attempt at expressing his understanding of the human body through his artistic creation. Including his “Woman Body” and “Eternal Spinning” among other works, they are all the expressions of human feelings. His works are fine and smooth, but not trying to copy real people. His sculptural language is very strong, and the sculptural volume is very big. He can integrate subtlety through his big volume of work.

His works are generalized and exaggerated but far from simple. He forms the characteristics of his sculptures by combining specific and generalized language. For example, a human body is figurative, but when his thinking and his language are combined, it is exaggerated in some places. Overall, they are very real. This is the case with "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow", as well as other works. Li Xiangqun's sculptures are all made from the perspective of "human being", and he really has deep observations of our nature.

Wen Pulin: Examining the History Collected in Flourishing Ages
(Independent filmmaker, curator, writer)

The work "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" was a surprise creation for the exhibition "Red Flag Fluttering" in 2006. The surprise here refers to the quickness of shaping this sculpture. Before starting to shape Cixi, he had two years of brewing, collecting information from various aspects, and finally summing up his own understanding of the character to express in this work.

This is a very historical piece, and the characterization has reached the realm of "examining history and collecting in the flourishing time". Li Xiangqun has always insisted on the realistic method of creation, but the realism here is not simply a critique. He has captured the charm of Cixi when she was young and contrasted it with the Qing dynasty, which makes the figure more attractive. He has injected a modern spirit into the work. As for the nude expression, from what I know about Li Xiangqun, he has absolutely no intention to please anyone. It is purely out of the need of artistic expression. It will take time to identify whether this work can enter art history, but I am very optimistic. A good work will give people a sense of mystery, a rich association, and different feelings to different people. That is what "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" has done.

Tian Shixin: The Uniqueness of the Perspective Determines the Success of the Work
(Sculptor; Researcher of the Institute of Sculpture at Central Academy of Fine Arts)

Li Xiangqun has been educated systematically in the academy and has a deep background in sculpture techniques. At the same time, he accepts modern art concepts, which makes his works possess modernity. His sculpture "Guo Moruo" is a work that I appreciate a lot. It shows Guo Moruo in his humanistic period, with a unique perspective free from the cliche of making people tall, big and full. Similarly, the work "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow" also breaks through the fixed thinking of a demonized and powerful Cixi, and captures the characteristics of Cixi as a simple woman.

A good artist must have excellent technique, but on top of that, it is more important to have one's own style, perception of art, and unique angle. According to his understanding, Li Xiangqun’s “Piling Clouds, Piling Snow” is successful.

Huang Yan: Excellent Work from the Perspective of Contemporary Art

Li Xiangqun has always been concerned with traditional Chinese culture, and his works involve various social groups. Li Xiangqun has a strong ability in modeling, and he also has the ability of choosing some sensitive and contemporary creation objects.  Cixi was usually known as a woman with schemes and tricks. Li Xiangqun restores her to a simple woman through "Piling Clouds, Piling Snow". Form the angle of contemporary art, he removed the "political" factor. He reduced a historical figure to a human being and then to a woman. His concept is commendable.