The Terracotta Woman Project
artist Marian Heyerdahl

Terracotta Woman Project
Gallery Space 798, Beijing     |     World Biennale, Korea
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A Sculpture Project by Marian Heyerdahl
Curator: Wang Baoju

Named "the Eighth Wonder of the World," the Terra-cotta Warriors are a symbol of Chinese culture. After the first Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BCE), unified China within 26 years of beginning his reign, he ended feudalism, set up a system of commanderies and established the absolute power of the central government; he also codified the legal systems, Chinese writing, currency and units of measurements. At the same time, the Qin emperor continued to wage war on enemy states, driving the minority ethnic group the Xiongnu (ancestor´s of current day Mongolians) north. He started building the Great Wall, the royal palace (named E Fang) and his mausoleum. Therefore, the magnificent underground army-the Terra-cotta Warriors are the reflection of the formidable Qin Army and a symbol of male agency and his majestic, unparalleled power in China´s history. Norwegian female artist Marian Heyerdahl, utilizing her unique artistic vocabulary, recontextualizes the Terra-cotta Warriors by duplicating the Terra-cotta Warriors in their original scale, while inverting their gender from male to female. From the rear view, these female Terra-cotta Warriors look the same as their male counterparts with the identical outfits, similar short coarse cloths, puttees, shoes, belts and hair tied up with no helmets; however, they are no longer soldiers brandishing weapons ready to fight a war. From the front view, they are a group of women with a variety of expressions, clothes and hair styles: women wear rings, women with different shapes and sizes of breasts, a woman with a carefree facial expression, a woman holds the hand of her child, a woman has lost her beautiful hair due to the chemical war, a woman praises with her fingers crossed, a woman is pure and full of dreams, a woman reads a book about men written by a man, a woman is pregnant with her husband´s or an enemy soldier´s child, a woman who wants to be a "suicide bomber," a woman has to cut off a breast for shooting. They are either enduring, in agony, serene, screaming, happy, or sad; however, they are still strong and robust, still full of pride and strength. Everyday, history is repeating itself and wars are still going on, but the women are still standing with dignity and composure after the pain. In the piece Women´s Heritage- Streams of Pain, blood oozes out the woman´s left chest through a tube into a container. The flow of the blood symbolizes the black egg that produces humanity´s birth generation after generation and the ever-lasting agony that is twinned with this existence. The suffering and misery passes down from one generation to next just as if it were the seed of life. When history repeats itself, the new generation has to suffer the pain inherited from older generations. In the piece Frida Kahlo´s Horse, the artist merges the bodies of a woman and an animal together, creating a horse with the face of a woman wearing a long braid. Many arrows have been shot into her body. The work references Frida Kahol´s 1946 painting "The Little Deer." It is a metaphor for women´s suffering yet also represents the power of the nature. Besides women, Marian Heyerdahl also created children Terra-cotta Warriors clad in the same military uniforms; this is both shocking and moving. Different from the female warriors, the children´s faces show the sadness and hopelessness of loosing their home, parents and their hope, revealing the wounds of wars. This hopelessness and these wounds demand that hard questions be asked: What lies in store for them? Are they to be the future pawns of war? For a long time, Marian Heyerdahl has used her unique feminist approach and the idea of the four basic elements in the ancient Greek philosophy-earth, water, air and fire -as central characteristics of her artistic practice. She employs many different natural materials such as glass, concrete, sand, clay and eggshells to strengthen the visual expressions and metaphors. The clay she uses is completely natural, with the qualities of being both hard and soft, strong and fragile; it´s a metaphor for female frailty and strength. Marian Heyerdahl gives these women masculine, muscular bodies, as well as a strong heart-their tranquility within sorrow, their pride within persistence, and their inner strength. With the borrowing and the transformation of the readymade Terra-cotta Warriors, Marian Heyerdahl combines the concepts of sculpture and installation, as well as the concepts of sculpture and image. Marian Heyerdahl´s conceptual art merges the low-tech material such as clay together with advanced image technology of post-modern society, thus, expanding the conceptual space and edge of her work. Using women to replace men, in a sense, is to reveal the suffering and the pain a female goes through in a symbolic and metaphoric way. The pain comes from two sources: one is the suffering brought by war; the other is the destiny and fate of women throughout history. It pinpoints the issue of human existence in today´s society, especially the issues concerning women. Contemporary women are faced with displacement, abuse and neglect coming from many fronts, including their families, their jobs or war. In another sense, the reversal of gender from male to female also reveals a more important and fundamental issue; that is, the historical role and status of women, as well as issues of unrecognized dominant state of women in society. Women are the bearers of the sorrow, the remedy to this sorrow and also the creators of history. The rear side of the piece faces the audience, conveying that the history of women has never been written. History records only the shadowy images of their backs. Here, Marian Heyerdahl transforms this unique Chinese "cultural symbol" into a "symbol of life." She questions the status of women in history, while placing women and even the fate of humanity into a wider social context, questioning and pondering in depth the value and meaning of life. As a Western artist, Marian Heyerdahl chose the Terra-cotta Warriors, an important symbol of Chinese culture; therefore, her work forms a two-way exchange with Chinese culture. She doesn´t at all utilize her Western aesthetic ideology to transform this Chinese symbol in order to satisfy consumer culture; her work is not simply a replacement or a consumption of the local culture. Rather, her work depicts an in-depth exploration in an innovative manner. Her work also carries on conversations with Chinese culture on an equal level. She uses clay from the region, Chinese traditional techniques and Chinese skilled workers to create her work; however, her concept is completely contemporary; these characteristics give her work the expressions of contrast, accuracy, directness and borderless. The exchange and replacement of identity, gender and time combines the "outer representation" and the "inner spirit" together and establishes a definite multiple conversational relationship-conversations between East and West, between contemporary culture and ancient times, between men and women, between humanity and fate, between fate and history. In a sense, rather than to say Marian Heyerdahl´s work is a discussion on culture and the multiplicity of culture, her work is a discussion on life and its value and meaning.