Liu Wei’s mirrored ‘puzzles’ and ‘collages’ are unveiled at White Cube Hong Kong.
The multimedia artist plays with architectural space, destabilising both the structural environment and viewers’ perceptions. With mirrors and steel, Liu Wei offers a ‘puzzle-d’ metaphor for China’s relentless progress and its social and political implications.
Running at White Cube Hong Kong until 24 October 2015, “Silver” is an impressive exhibition that engages with the architectural ‘white cube’, revealing Liu Wei’s continued investigations into materiality and form.
Following a major mid-career retrospective at UCCA in Beijing this spring, the exhibition features painting, sculpture and video that primarily employ ‘shiny’ materials such as mirrors and polished steel. The refractive nature of such elements creates a fragmentation of the architectural space as well as a destabilisation of the viewer’s perception of their surroundings.
Liu Wei (b. 1972) is part of a generation of artists who grew up during a period of rapid urbanisation in China, which created a constantly changing and unstable living environment. Artists started to react to the chaotic surroundings by experimenting with new approaches to art making.
Liu Wei was part of this subversive movement known as Post-Sense Sensibility (1999-2001), inspired in part by the 1997 YBAs (Young British Artists) Saatchi exhibition “Sensation” at the Royal Academy in London. The new art group included artists who were experimenting with extreme, avant-garde practices and going against the grain of institutionalised art. In 1999, Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun organised an underground exhibition entitled “Post-sense, Sensibility, Alien Bodies & Delusion” featuring the group’s experimental works. UCCA’s Philip Tinari curated an exhibition at Duddell’s in 2014, “The Aftermath: Post-Sense Sensibility, Fifteen Years On”, presenting recent works by the same group of artists.
Since the 1990s, Liu has continued to play with experimentation of concepts and materials alike, and imbues his work with a sense of irony, uncertainty and subversion, often using unexpected materials in strange configurations.
As quoted in the exhibition press release, Liu says:
Materiality is my understanding of art. I am only the intermediary, to provoke thought. This is democratic, but if I start providing explanations, I become an entity of power, hegemonic power.
In the exhibition, a series of dynamic sculptures made of mirrors hinged together at different angles interact with the architectural space of the gallery, creating as White Cube describes it “a fractured and fragmented spatial reality.”
There are found objects, like a wooden table, a modern chair and a formal chair in Dialogue, all fitted with irregular mirror shapes. These foreign elements seem to weigh down the original forms, while they also create organic-like structures or figures.
Geometry and architecture are also at the basis of the larger work, Puzzle (2014). Set on a plinth in the middle of the space, the sculpture comprises upright sections of mirror, fashioned in various organic shapes and placed together to form a makeshift enclosure. The mirrors reflect partial views of the passing audience as well as of the architectural surroundings, almost creating a window into a parallel dimension.
In a series of new, wall-based works entitled Crucifixion (2015) made of iron and metal, Liu again employs his collage or ‘bricolage’ skills. Thin rods of metal shaped into rectangles support irregular sheets of steel. At times, a number of these elements are superimposed, to create a three-dimensional, vortex-like effect, which plays with visibility and invisibility of spaces. Quoted in the press release, Liu explains why he addresses ‘crucifixion’ in his work:
Although the image of the Crucifixion is more of a Western tradition, I nevertheless feel it’s a necessity for me to include this in society – if not religion proper, at least religiosity. So the title pertains to the somatic and to my own attitude. But the form is also about stretching the shapes out and almost tearing them apart in a seemingly brutal fashion, into an almost cross-like shape.
Modernity and Urbanism
The show also features a series of paintings and a video that engage with “the relationship of modernity to urbanism, architecture and design and the political, social and anthropological exploration of the human condition”, as White Cube explains.
The oil on canvas paintings draw from digital images to create abstract cityscapes, through the juxtaposing of various layers of fine lines of colours that mimic architectural forms. The static projections of colour – rectangles and grids – in the video Shapeshifting (2014) reference both colour field painting and the neon lights and advertisements that are ubiquitous in today’s urban environment.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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