Graduate artist Liu Xinyi’s playfully political Chinese Art Centre installation


Chinese artist Liu Xinyi’s commentary on international politics, an installation made up of exercise grippers, encourages its audience to actively play with world powers. The work is part of an exhibition initiative of the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester.

Civil Diplomacy

'Civil Diplomacy' by emerging Chinese artist Liu Xinyi, on show at the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester, UK, from 21 May to 17 September 2011.

Interested in learning more about Liu Xinyi? Click here to visit the artist’s website.

Tension in the presence of power

Called Civil Diplomacy (2011), the installation consists of nine rows of exercise grippers, the handles of which have been spray-painted with the flags of today’s power nations, a different country on each handle. The grippers are ordered alphabetically across the wall in an attempt to skirt any connotation of a political hierarchy.

With the hope of “bringing nations together”, Liu invites his audience to take each gripper off the wall and squeeze it; he sees this physical act as a way of “playing” with political power. Each tool becomes more difficult to squeeze as participants ascend or descend Liu’s wall, and through their interaction with the installation, audience members experience the physical strain of this “meta-political” act of “diplomacy”.

He encourages audience members to photograph their experience with the artwork and has requested that these photographed encounters be presented on the blog run by the Chinese Art Centre.

First show of power

Civil Diplomacy was exhibited through the Chinese Art Centre’s First Step programme, an initiative which is dedicated to featuring the work of recent graduates or emerging artists of Chinese descent. Through First Step, artists like Liu are given the opportunity to show a new work for four months in the public and well-frequented stairwell of the Chinese Art Centre. Liu designed Civil Diplomacy to take advantage of this close proximity to passers-by: he chose to make direct audience interaction a necessary part of the work.

Fascination with political play

The lighthearted nod to international politics apparent in Civil Diplomacy is characteristic of Liu’s oeuvre of puns on political symbols, which play with the construction of political knowledge. His sculptures and installations reference historical and political symbols, and question the viewer’s perception and acceptance of these symbols.

Liu Xinyi is among a generation of Chinese artists studying, living and working between the UK and China. He was educated at the Academy of Art, Hangzhou and subsequently gained a Masters in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Civil Diplomacy is one of the first installations Liu has shown since graduating from Goldsmiths in 2010.


Related Topics: installation art, political art, globalisation of art, Manchester art happenings

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