Chunxiao Qu: An artist doesn’t need a label

3 Sept 2022 to 6 Mar 2023

This new public art commission by artist and poet Chunxiao Qu presents four short poems on our building’s façade. Through illumination and upscaling, Qu has transformed her poems from intimate observations recorded on her iPhone Notes app into street signs. Composed in English and then translated into Mandarin, the poems have their origins in Qu’s experience of existing between dual cultures and languages.

Writing in her non-native tongue, Qu approaches the English language as found material. She interrogates English words and phrases and their translations to better understand their meaning. In what she calls her ‘logic poetry’, Qu rearranges the principles and systems of the English language to expose absurdities in our everyday usage. ‘Even when I myself read them, I have to spend some time to figure out if they are right’, she comments.

The visual effect of Qu’s colourful, illuminated lettering recalls the visual language of advertising, especially the luminous signs associated with urban sprawl and late-night entertainment. Qu also references the lineage of text art, specifically the use of glass neon to materialise words and phrases characteristic of 1960s conceptual art. But rather than traditional electrified glass tubes, Qu uses LED neon tube lights to achieve the same effect.

Qu’s quip that ‘genius don’t need to work hard’ echoes conceptualism’s emphasis on ideas over technical skill, while at the same time dismantling the myth of the individual genius that has come to define twentieth-century narratives of art. Like her use of the more accessible and economical LED, Qu democratises conceptual art, taking it from gallery walls to the heart of Bendigo's arts precinct, visible to everyone.

On View Street, Chunxiao Qu’s four poems reflect on art, Western culture, language and translation. For the first time, she has included Chinese translations alongside her English poems. The effect is a bilingual meditation on difference, loneliness and community created by an outsider to Australia’s de facto national language.

Chunxiao Qu (born Qingdao, China, 1993) is an artist and poet who lives and works in Melbourne (Wurundjeri Woiworung and Boonwurrung Country). She is the author of two books of poetry and has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Melbourne and internationally. An artist doesn’t need a label is her first large-scale public artwork, as well as her first in a public institution.