Cicada Shells and Dried Flowers

Xu Lei

Peng Wei has shifted from embroidered shoes to mantles, but this shift represents a kind of linguistic synonym. The synonymous variations of the selected materials highlight her talent, but they also further bear out the singular core lying at the depth of the artist’s consciousness.

In my essay “A Record of Embroidered Shoes,” I mentioned that Peng Wei’s works are ink covers concealing hollowness. If the embroidered shoes are the hollowness of desire, then the mantles seem to approach the extreme of hollowness—death. Isn’t that it? When confronted with these newly-revealed embroidered gowns, we connect them to ghosts. The exterior is imprinted with the extravagant lifestyles and reckless pleasures of past wealth, but life is fleeting as mist and returns to darkness. This empty extravagance turns to embrace us. The “movement” of the mantle is formulaic; it seems to sigh to people and say, “Look, now I don’t have anything.”

Peng Wei’s weavings of ink and wash are still reminiscences. These reminiscences are unclaimed and disordered, coinciding with Chinese poetry’s emotional recollections of a “past world” that is now lost, so they do not meet in isolation; they are a general worry about history. In “Autumn Thoughts,” Meng Jiao wrote, “Old bones have no corrupted flesh. Old clothes are like forest moss.” He only magnifies the “moss” that exists after life has collapsed. The perfume of painting muddies the poetry of the surface. We are intoxicated by it, almost forgetting those lost things and the hollowness that is covered by those traces of ink and wash.

The shells of life, such as cicada shells and dried flowers, are often more complete and lasting, and deeper, than life itself. This is also true of Peng Wei’s embroidered gowns; their beautiful floral decoration condenses lost emotion into form, amazing us with the exquisiteness within the fragility.