Loneliness, depression, insomnia – these are the fragments of life that make their way onto the canvases of Qiu Dandan’s series Xu She (墟舍). The series’ Chinese title directly translates to “empty house” in English, but there is another layer of meaning behind the seemingly straightforward title. The word “empty” (墟) in Chinese is a homophone for the word “imaginary” (虚); this was a clever phonetic wordplay that alludes to both the surreal qualities of the series as well as the underlying theme of alienation. Comprised of bizarre, dream-like scenarios, Xu She is a visual reinterpretation of Qiu’s past experiences and pent-up emotions.
With a keen understanding of human nature, Qiu channels the anxiety and isolation of modern life through her poignant images. Many of her other works, such as the animated series Shi Mian (失眠), which means “Insomnia” in English, touch on similar motifs. All in all, her art isn’t meant to be merely viewed and appreciated – it aims to elicit empathy. “Everyone experiences loneliness, struggle, and hardships,” she states. “We are all subjects and observers. All of us experience pain and meaningless grief. I’m no exception.”
While growing up in Guizhou, Qiu has experienced first-hand just how unpredictable life can be and bore witness to the best and worst of human nature. These workings of society have given Qiu extensive material to draw from. “I won’t create an image based on any specific event, but all events. Everything I’ve seen and experienced form the foundation of my creative process. I’m deeply intrigued by our social behavior, but at the same time, I’m deeply disappointed by society. Human existence is based around unpredictability and absurdity.”