The drive to Liu Wei’s studio in Beijing’s 798 Art District is a dystopian one. A vast sea of rubble stretches out as far as the eye can see. Shattered bricks, concrete slabs and metal scraps from the homes that once stood there blanket the ground, while an occasional figure, bundled in layers of clothing, sorts through the debris. Coal is burnt all around for heating, and the air is brown and acrid. This is the rapidly urbanising landscape of Beijing, where the old is flattened to make way for the new, and where progress and development barrels forth at an accelerated rate. The artist’s 32,000sqft studio, a space he has inhabited for 10 years, is scheduled to be demolished next year.
It seems a fitting backdrop to the artist’s work. Liu began his career as a member of Beijing’s subversive Post- Sense Sensibility movement of the late ’90s, which moved away from the political idealism that dominated Chinese contemporary art, instead embracing conceptual art and improvisation.
For more than a decade, Wei has been experimenting with different materials to assemble his geometric sculptures, using found objects such as door frames, bits of metal, wooden beams and scraps of furniture. Architecture and urbanism frequently emerge as themes in the artist’s work. Even his brightly coloured paintings— abstract planes of vertical and horizontal lines—are an attempt to create order out of the pervading chaos of the contemporary urban landscape.
A maquette of his exhibition space for the Bentu show sits in the office and reflects a distinct departure from his complex 3D constructions. “I’m aiming for a fake, flat atmosphere for the exhibition,” he explains. “It’s something different than my usual work. It’s a new starting point, a work and idea in progress. But I don’t know what it means yet.”
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