2024 CAFA Graduation Season | Du Kairui: Rediscovering myself in the depths of my soul


On May 1, 2024 CAFA Graduation Season was officially unveiled at CAFA Art Museum. Just as the theme “Direction of the Heart” contains good wishes and sincere expectations for Class of 2024 at CAFA, 2024 CAFA Graduation Season does not only contain their art achievements,  their enthusiasm and perseverance in creation are also reflected, which further conveys the imagination and expectations of young students as they embark on the road to the future.

01 The Most Popular Image (Artist Du Kairui with “In the Soul”).jpg

The Most Popular Image (Artist Du Kairui with “In the Soul”)

In the Soul

By Du Kairui (Kerry Du), School of Experimental Art and Sci-Tech Art at CAFA

Q: Please introduce the inspiration and thinking behind your graduation creation.

Du Kairui: In 2016, after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I embarked on my professional artist career by opening a combined gallery and studio space in Chicago with three friends. A year later, we profoundly experienced the hardships and challenges of being professional artists, which ultimately led to the closure of our gallery and studio.

Subsequently, I secured a job opportunity in Europe as an international sales manager for a major fashion conglomerate. After six months, I was successfully promoted to the position of buyer for the group. After working in Europe for two years, I returned to my hometown of Chengdu and founded an international fashion brand agency, opening three concept fashion stores. My business philosophy, which combined artistic activities with commercial retail, was frequently featured in mainstream media such as ELLE magazine. In 2021, I was also named one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 industry elites. Despite the seemingly smooth career path, I gradually realized that this life did not bring me true happiness. Each day, I found myself entangled in the complexities of business operations and employee management, feeling that I had become a mere businesswoman, losing the initial passion that I once had for life.

02 Du Kairui's Trek to Yubeng Village in the Meili Snow Mountains.JPGDu Kairui's Trek to Yubeng Village in the Meili Snow Mountains

The turning point came three years ago during a journey to Yubeng Village in the Meili Snow Mountains. While trekking, it felt as though my soul was conversing with me, deeply asking, “What kind of life do you truly desire?” The sacred mountains, pristine air, and the simple-hearted people of the highlands led me to explore my true inner longings. Feeling a profound connection with nature, I set out to capture this inner voice by visiting numerous high-altitude regions, including the Meili Snow Mountains, Gongga Snow Mountain, Yala Snow Mountain, Genyen Massif, Namcha Barwa, Mount Kailash, Mount Everest, Muztagh Ata, and Mount Vinson in Antarctica.

03 Du Kairui's Travel Journal.JPG

Du Kairui's Travel Journal

During these journeys, I learned to shed my façades and face my true self honestly, rediscovering inner peace and direction. I gradually realized that what truly made me feel fulfilled and valuable was returning to my roots as an artist, solidifying my determination to pursue artistic creation once again.

06 Full View of the Work “In the Soul”.jpgFull View of the Work “In the Soul”

07 Side Details of the Work.JPGSide Details of the Work

08 Artist Du Kairui with Her Work “In the Soul”.JPGArtist Du Kairui with Her Work “In the Soul”

“In the Soul” tells the story of my journey inward, rediscovering myself in the depths of my soul. This work is not only an artistic expression of the relationship between nature and humanity but also a testament to my personal spiritual rebirth. Through this creation, I hope that viewers can also find their own inner peace and direction within the artwork. 

“In the Soul” is a work constructed from glass bricks. Its shape, color, material, and interactive viewing experience combine the feelings the Ranwu Lake Glacier evoked in me with those inspired by modern consumer society. Using industrially customizable ready-made objects, the piece invites viewers to enter a semi-private space through a narrow passage to self-reflect. In this space, they observe others while simultaneously being observed.

09 Side View.JPGSide View

10 Detail of the Middle Brick.jpgDetail of the Middle Brick

To me, “bricks” symbolize the development of human civilization and are emblematic of industrialization and urbanization. Human civilization is built upon bricks. By using transparent, tinted glass bricks to represent glaciers, I emphasize modern industrial standardization and mass production, while also exploring the mutual influence and shaping between humanity and nature.

11 Viewers with “In the Soul”.JPGA Viewer with “In the Soul”

Rusty jewelry and miniature sculptures of sacred mountains are encased within a central brick of the glacier installation. I attempt to convey the essence of impermanence—whether industrial products or natural creations, everything changes over time, but there is a spiritual continuity. Our lives should seek guidance from the soul within...

Q: When the exhibition was presented at CAFA Art Museum, what feedback have you received?

Du Kairui: During the preparation phase of the exhibition, I documented the setup process and briefly introduced my creative concept, sharing it on social media. This sparked widespread interest, with viewers eagerly anticipating the final presentation. After the exhibition opened, “In the Soul” received great appreciation for its colors and textures, particularly from children who often lingered around the piece. Ninety percent of the audience experienced a sense of “coldness” within the installation, a result of how I used materials, colors, and the viewing experience to stimulate their sensory perception.

13 Viewers with “In the Soul”.jpgA Viewer with “In the Soul”

On the second day of the exhibition, something deeply moved me. A girl, who was under immense pressure as she prepared for her college entrance exams, stood in front of the piece and began to weep. She had always struggled with self-confidence and frequently doubted herself. After learning about the concept behind “In the Soul,” she couldn’t hold back her tears. I didn’t ask her why she was crying; instead, I gently embraced her and told her, “Never forget to listen to the voice of your soul. The process of seeking answers from your soul will gradually reveal the truth. It will lead you to paths you never imagined, and you deserve all the best things in life.”

 15 The Artist Standing in the Work “In the Soul”.jpg

16 The Artist Standing in the Work “In the Soul”.JPGThe Artist Standing in the Work “In the Soul”

Social media has brought widespread attention to my work. Many viewers are drawn to and admire the “glacial blue” color, the crystalline texture, and the form of the piece. Each day, a steady stream of visitors comes to experience the “glacier,” and I’ve seen numerous photos of people sharing their moments with “In the Soul” online. While the majority of feedback has been positive, some viewers do not appreciate the form of this work, as it differs from their understanding of traditional art. This does not discourage me; everyone has different life experiences, and I cannot make everyone empathize with my work. If my piece can spark diverse discussions, as a creator, that also brings me great joy.

Q: What challenges did you encounter during the creative process, and how did you overcome them?

Du Kairui: The original concept of my work was to combine rusty jewelry with the imagery of glaciers, representing the impermanence of time and the pursuit of spirituality. This juxtaposition highlights the contrast between decay and endurance, reflecting on how both human creations and natural phenomena are subject to changes yet holding profound spiritual significance.

In the process of creating “In the Soul,” the first challenge I faced was selecting materials and achieving visual appeal. I needed to find a material that could convey the purity of glaciers while also embodying a modern industrial aesthetic. After numerous attempts, I ultimately chose glass bricks. This material, with its transparency and cold, hard texture, successfully blends the natural beauty of glaciers with the modernity of industrial design.

 17 First Version of Glass Brick Coloring.jpg

First Version of Glass Brick Coloring

Most of glass bricks in the market have a greenish tint, which significantly affects the color-firing process, making it challenging to achieve the desired glacier-like color. To address this, I decided to use high-quality ultra-clear glass. However, the reality is that most of so-called “ultra-clear glass” in the market still has a faint green tint. In search of the right material, I contacted over a dozen factories for ultra-clear glass samples and finally chose one to collaborate with. Unfortunately, their color samples only included two ordinary shades of blue, which were far from my ideal “glacier blue.” Over the next month, I worked closely with technicians at the factory, repeatedly testing and adjusting the samples. Eventually, we developed three different shades of “glacier blue” and used a gradient stacking method to successfully recreate the Ranwu Lake Glacier as I envisioned it.

18 Repeated Verification of Glass Brick Coloring.JPGRepeated Verification of Glass Brick Coloring

19 Final Version of Glass Brick Coloring.JPGFinal Version of Glass Brick Coloring

For the design of the exhibition space, I aimed to create an environment that could evoke a profound experience for the audience while maintaining a sense of privacy within the limited exhibition area. I designed a narrow passage leading to a semi-private space, allowing visitors to gradually immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the work as they enter. This design successfully achieved the intended effect.

Considering the interactive experience of the piece, I wanted the audience to not just view it but to deeply engage with its theme through a multi-sensory experience. By carefully designing a series of sensory stimuli through the work’s colors, textures, viewing methods, and interaction modes, I guided the audience to experience synesthetic reactions, enhancing interactivity and immersion. Through these designs, the audience could feel a sense of “coldness,” “oppression,” “being enclosed,” “being watched,” and a mix of “safety and uncertainty.” These sensations not only resonate with the natural characteristics of glaciers but also symbolize the complex relationship among humans, nature, and inner selves in modern society. This environment encourages the audience to reflect on their own situations and inner desires, exploring the deep connections between themselves and the world.

 20 Artist Du Kairui was coloring the Miniature Snow Mountain Model.JPG

Artist Du Kairui was coloring the Miniature Snow Mountain Model

 21 Construction Process of the Work “In the Soul”.JPG

22 Construction Process of the Work “In the Soul”.JPGConstruction Process of the Work “In the Soul”

During this creative process, I am immensely grateful to my graduate advisor, Professor Xu Zhen. With his extensive exhibition experience, he continuously guided me to focus on the on-site exhibition experience in my creation. From how to assemble and connect materials to maintain their texture for the audience, to ensuring the safety of interactions with the viewers, he provided me with invaluable advice and guidance. This guidance not only enhanced the overall quality of the work but also allowed “In the Soul” to better convey its themes and concepts.

Overcoming these challenges not only enhanced the integrity of the work but also imbued “In the Soul” with greater depth and impact.

Q: The theme of 2024 CAFA Graduation Season is “Direction of the Heart.” Do you still remember the aspirations you had when you were enrolled? As graduation approaches, how do you feel now? What are your expectations and aspirations for the future?

Du Kairui: When I first started my graduate studies, having just concluded a five-year stint in the commercial world, I was eager to return to artistic creation as a means of expression and exploration. The atmosphere and academic resources at the Central Academy of Fine Arts filled me with immense excitement, and each day was brimming with the motivation to learn and create.

23 Artist Du Kairui.JPGArtist Du Kairui

Now, as I approach graduation, my heart is filled with gratitude. I am thankful for the vast academic resources provided by CAFA and for the selfless guidance from every teacher.

In the future, I hope to continue my artistic practice, creating more impactful works that resonate with people. I aim to engage in more challenging projects, collaborate with outstanding artists and audiences, and expand my horizons and creative domains.

“Direction of the Heart” is not only a reflection on the past but also a vision for the future. I am determined to transform this yearning into motivation, striving to become an artist who faces both myself and the world with honesty and courage.

Courtesy of Du Kairui (Kerry Du), edited by CAFA ART INFO.