Review: ‘Words and its meaning’ by Mengqi He

Review: ‘Words and its meaning’ by Mengqi He


To coincide with the upcoming Chinese New Year, artist Mengqi He delivered a captivating performance based on traditional Chinese calligraphy writing at 508 King’s Road Gallery in Chelsea.

Inspired by Heart Sutra, a Buddhist wisdom that explores the ways in which humans can relieve themselves from the pains of daily life, Mengqi He’s show sought to embody this mantra. The discernible contrast between the fast-paced bustle of Chelsea’s King’s Road and the serene atmosphere within the gallery helped to envelope the audience into Mengqi’s performance. As soothing Chinese meditative music filled the room, Mengqi spoke to the each member of the audience and at the end of every conversation, Mengqi would ask each them to describe the most important word in their life. The aim of this question was to give a meaning and understanding to the personality of the individual, which in turn, created a story for the audience to follow as the performance continued.

It was striking to see how participants grappled with this seemingly straightforward question. Participants deliberated, muttered, hummed and hawed until some truly heartfelt responses began to emerge: ‘hope’ (希望) because of the loss of one’s parents at a young age; ‘success’(成功) amid career difficulties for another, and ‘love’(爱) for another. As Mengqi learned more about the stories of her audience, she translated these words into Chinese and wrote them onto rice paper before attaching it to a balloon. The air inside the balloon was a representation of the human body, which gradually deflates and fades away. As this occurs, the writing that is attached to the balloon, representing the human soul, falls back towards the ground so that the soul can be released.

As audience members collected their balloons at the end of the performance, there was a visible change in mood. Initially a cagey and hesitant audience, Mengqi He’s warm demeanour allowed participants to relax into a near-sedative calm. It was not until the close of her performance that the spell under which the audience had been held was broken. Respite, however brief, is a rare currency in today’s world but for those seeking it, Mengqi will be performing again at the GC Gallery in Tunbridge Wells on the 9th February. Mengqi is also currently undergoing psychology research into the alleviation of stress through meditation music and calligraphy. This, she hopes, will allow her to engage and connect with her audience on and even deeper level.

For further information about Mengqi He and her past performances (she was one of the selected artists for Venice Performance Week last December), please visit: and

For information about Mengqi’s company, Border Bender, please visit:

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