Whereas those we have previously interviewed for the “My Miles” column may be called “busy,” perhaps it’s more appropriate to describe Cui Xiuwen as “diligent”—she won’t even allow herself a vacation. As soon as we step foot into her Feijiacun studio, she immediately invites us to take a look at her latest work in progress. She persists in asking our impression of the work until we give a satisfactory answer. In the two hours we interviewed her, we ended up the interviewees for one.
LEAP: What have you been up to recently?
CUI XIUWEN: Lately I’ve been preparing for my solo exhibition at Today Art Museum, which opens on the 30th of October. In all the years I’ve been making art, this show looms pretty large. It’s one of the bigger and more important shows I’ve had in China. I’ve been working on it since March or April of this year, but in fact, certain preparations had already begun last year.
LEAP: Compared to collectors and gallerists, prevailing opinion seems to hold that artists spend more time at home than out traveling. Yet nowadays artists get out and about quite a bit. Would you agree?
CUI XIUWEN: Yes, in fact, if an artist has an exhibition, they’ll definitely go. When there isn’t much time between shows, an artist might not be in Beijing for an entire month, running from one country to another. Other times, an artist might stay in Beijing for a while straight, or leave the studio just once or twice in a month.
LEAP: What was the craziest moment over the course of your travels?
CUI XIUWEN: At one point I was traveling around Europe for over a month participating in exhibitions. Every four or five days I’d fly to a different country.
LEAP: Besides participating in exhibitions, what sees you out traveling?
CUI XIUWEN: Normally it’s for exhibitions. These country-to-country shows have been arranged in such an order that there’s an opening every four or five days. If I’m traveling, it’s first and foremost for an exhibition; mingling is subsequent to that. Mostly it’s for my own shows, but at times it’ll be for other artists’ events too.
LEAP: How far ahead is your working schedule planned out to?
CUI XIUWEN: Through May of next year, it’s all exhibitions: my solo show at Today Art Museum will be at the end of October; at the end of November I’ll have another solo show in Zurich; there’s a solo show in Hong Kong from late December to early January; February will see another solo exhibition in New York; another in March at Tank Loft in Chongqing; in April, I’ll be able rest a bit; and in May, another solo show, in London. Basically, I’m busy with solo exhibitions all the way through. And solo exhibitions really sap the strength out of you. It’s tiring.
LEAP: What do you keep busy with on flights, especially given your long-distance travels?
CUI XIUWEN: I think. I like to look at the clouds below, it’s relaxing. Gazing out, my thoughts really take off into the distance.
LEAP: Do you have a preferred airline? Do you tend to claim your frequent flyer miles?
CUI XIUWEN: I never really make the effort to collect miles, but I will for Air China, because I’ve never had a problem on their flights. Other people say that with Air China something often goes wrong, you end up behind schedule, or in an accident, but I’ve been lucky. Every time I fly with them, there’s never a problem.
LEAP: Do you give yourself time for vacation?
CUI XIUWEN: No, I wish, but I’m honestly so busy that there’s no time for vacation. I make serious demands of myself. For artists my age, vacation is a real luxury. Besides, I feel that I’ve enough strength and energy to work through the year. Only in spending all my time working do I feel that I’m not wasting it. Although I realize that taking some time off is an effective way to actually delve deeper into one’s work, I still can’t bear to take nineteen or twenty days off and do absolutely nothing. But I truly do wish I could.
LEAP: Some believe that at a certain point, the mind and body begin to deteriorate. You seem like a positive person, are you happy with how life is going now?
CUI XIUWEN: I’m tired, too, you know, but I just can’t afford to rest. Perhaps I’m a bit of a workaholic.
LEAP: Besides taking a vacation, is there anything else you really want to accomplish in the near future?
CUI XIUWEN: Exhibitions. Work-related stuff. Well-executed exhibitions are the priority, everything else is secondary to that.