Tread carefully at artist Liu’s latest exhibition
Get ready to change into a pair of special shoes before entering “Mirror Effect,” artist Liu Jianhua’s solo exhibition. The show at Shanghai Museum of Glass features three of his large-scale installations and the whole floor is covered with 2.5 tons of broken glass.
There are windows framed with carved black glass, a rouge-hued high stele made of glass and concrete walls with glass book shapes, all conjuring up an overwhelming visual and sound experience for visitors.
The artist has been fairly active over the past few years.
His work “Trace” is in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection in the UK and his “Collected Letters,” a specially consigned work is on permanent display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
This month, apart from his exhibition at the Shanghai Museum of Glass, another of his daunting pieces will appear at West Bund Art & Design. Next month his solo-exhibition titled “Monument” will be unveiled at a monastery in Naples.
However the artist still prefers to hide himself behind his work: “My work already expresses everything that I want to say.”
Born in 1962 in Ji’an, Jiangxi Province, Liu was 12 when he was sent to work with his uncle, a Chinese arts and crafts master, in Jingdezhen, China’s capital of ceramic production since the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279).
“When I was a little boy, I was so bored making porcelain in Jingdezhen,” he recalled. “At that time, I told myself I wouldn’t stay there for long.”
Little did he realize that porcelain would one day become his signature medium.
Upon graduation, Liu left Jingdezhen and worked as a teacher at Yunnan Academy of Fine Art.
His early thought-provoking ceramic works of headless women in in different postures on ceramic plates won critical acclaim.
Liu opened up a new horizon for the appreciation of Chinese ceramics.
His early “Regular Fragile” series using ceramics to copy everything around daily life — from a flower, shoes and toys or even a pillow to a piece of paper and a bone — amazed viewers not only for their visual impact but also for their subtle zen-like meanings.
However, Liu was not content with just being called “a contemporary ceramic artist.” He moved onto installation art through various media, even garbage. In 2006, his “Yiwu Investigation” featuring a pile of Chinese export products collected from Yiwu in Zhejiang Province that flowed from an open shipping container was well received at the Shanghai Biennale.
Liu confessed that he belonged to the type of artist that “demands each firm step to ripen.”
“I’ve come a long way here, physically, aesthetically and philosophically, from Kunming to Shanghai, from ceramic art to installation art, from nobody to somebody,” he said. “For me, Rome was built in a day.”
He said he was extremely excited when Shanghai Museum of Glass invited him to do an exhibition, as glass in his eyes was “very similar to ceramics, as they are both related with nature and temperature.”
The three works, “Stele,” “Breathing Scenery” and “Black Body,” now on display at the exhibition were purposely made for the space.
“For example, I used 10 black glass frames on the 10 existing windows of the exhibition hall. I purposely sealed up some windows with concrete and left some totally open, the dramatic contrast giving the viewers some imagination of the outside world, while at the same time creating a depressed feel as well,” he said, “So I name this work ‘Breathing Scenery.’”
Glass has been an ancient material which culminates the wisdom of mankind. But for an artist, to fuse glass into the experiment of contemporary art is a big challenge. The particular trait of glass actually provides unlimited possibilities. I am a person always keen on materials. When I first learnt sculpture, I often adopted various materials for experiment. In fact, it was early in 2000 that I thought of using glass in my artwork, and such desire continued when finally a chance “knocked at my door.”
However, a piece of glass artwork really demands many complicated steps, especially considering the long duration, the patience and a calm mood to face various problems during the whole process.
I think it’s a combination of the both. True, I am gifted with a unique sensitivity, but such sensitivity is apparently not enough for an artist. A professional artist needs an accumulation of knowledge and a judgment toward his art direction.
True, the experience in Jingdezhen had a dramatic influence on my art path and later life. I nurtured a self-disciplined working attitude which enabled me to fully focus on work. I think this is the pre-requisite for every profession. Frankly speaking, I did want to escape from such traditional experience and look for a new art direction. So when I started my creations after graduation, I tried so hard to “run away from tradition.”
However with the erosion of time, today when I think deeper toward life and art, I suddenly realize how profound and meaningful such experience is for me. Life is like a circle, everything would get interwined and linked. Because of the technique and skills that I learned, I am able to solve various problems and make my own judgment. In fact, I use traditional techniques to break away from stereotypical thinking for new possibilities in art.
The change in space and volume really matters. For example, some of my works are exhibited inside the glass museum, conjuring up a subtle atmosphere that permeates the space there. While another of my works is exhibited outside the West Bund Art & Design, which certainly would create an unexpected “chemical reaction” with its surroundings. I suggest that you go to these two places and you will find your answer on site.
“Breathing Scenery,” glass and cement (above) and “Black Body,” glass and cement (right) — Ti Gong
Artist Liu Jianhua