Tread care­fully at artist Liu’s lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion

Shanghai Daily - - ART - Wang Jie qi­pao When you were a child, you re­ceived the tra­di­tional train­ing in ce­ram­ics, how­ever later you worked hard to un­shackle such tra­di­tion. What does tra­di­tion mean to you?

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

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