Artist in focus: Liu Shiyuan

Liu Shiyuan, The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth, 2013.

Artist and global citizen Liu Shiyuan is a young generation Chinese artist. She comes from Beijing and lives currently between China and Copenhagen, Denmark. Her multiplicity as an artist has gained her presentation across continents. Liu Shiyuan’s visually colorful photography and video montage, and her approach to cultural patterns perform traditions from new angles. In her body of works, monochromatic tones meet performative arrays.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What made you decide to move to Copenhagen Denmark, as you have lived in so many places?

Liu Shiyuan: I was born and grew up in Beijing. I studied in The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Then after that, I went to NYC to get my MFA from the School of Visual Arts. I´m a very typical Beijing person, my dialogue accent and my behavior are pretty local Beijing type. I got used to living in a big city where there´s a lot of competitions going on. I like it, it makes me always have to work harder and be a better person and so on. So I actually never thought about moving to a place like Denmark. But I met my husband in Beijing in 2009 while he was doing his exchange studies there. We kept the relationship going even when we were living 8000 miles away from each other. He is Danish, and that is the reason why I am living in Denmark now.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How has your choice of living in multiple places changed your artistic identity and your perspective into things?

Liu Shiyuan: I got influenced by this kind of “international” life style a lot. Meeting with people from different places, it brought me a bigger image of understanding the world. I started thinking about things in a totally different way. By living with three different languages, my words are getting less, but my emotions are getting more. There´s so many things coming to me every day that I cannot even explain, they are too big and too complicated to be expressed by any language. That is why I work as a visual artist.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the best aspects of living in Copenhagen as an artist, in what ways do you think it is special there?

Liu Shiyuan: I found out here in Denmark that the “artists” (not including the Danish artists living outside of Denmark) are not like the “artists” I understood at all. I still don´t know what I can do here to the Danish society as an immigrant, except continue what I used to do. And I think doing art is enough for me. I don´t care where I live, as long as the life goes on. I travel a lot every year, we bring our baby with us to wherever we go. So home for us could be at any new places. We also stay in Berlin for a lot of time, since it´s very close to Copenhagen, so I guess besides Beijing, Berlin could be our second city.

Do you feel Scandinavian now?

Not very.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about your time spent in New Yock City, how did you experience the living and studying. Could you explain what ingredients did the art education give you?

Liu Shiyuan: I went to NYC in 2010, when I was 24. And I graduated from CAFA in Beijing in 2009, so there was only one year I was doing some stuff in Beijing in the time between. I wouldn´t call it a career, I only built my own performance group, and we made two conceptual theater pieces. I´m still very proud of the works and the people I was working with in my team, because the two pieces ARE really good whenever I watch the video recordings again. It was really for fun, for doing something new, without thinking it is the beginning of anyone´s career. People from the art circle didn´t even think I was an artist. But I was a very serious student in NYC, I never wasted my time, I never gave myself a chance to do so-so stuff, I had to make sure my artwork was going in the best way as it could. It was really the fantastic two years in my life that I really put my art practice together, clear everything up. I was working very hard, having a BF on the other side of the earth, so I spent most of my time in the studio while in school.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your primary medium of working now, or are you making art with different and varying tools and efforts?

I am very hard on myself. Every time I make a new proposal, I begin from imagining I have never done art before. This is exhausted I agree, a lot of artists don’t work like this, but I just couldn´t help. I don´t have a studio in Denmark, I don´t put my works on the wall, and when I start a new project, I try not to look at my old works. So, I don´t think about the medium or the tools. Rather, the ideas are all coming from a brand new clean mind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have created video works together with sound artist Kristian Mondrup Nielsen; how do these works usually develop?

Liu Shiyuan: I am also a video artist. But I know nothing about sound, so I work with Kristian Mondrup Nielsen when I need sound in my work. He is a very professional musician, for finishing the sound part of my work, he also needs to cooperate with other people. The process usually starts from renting a recording room, inviting people to play, then he mixes the sound by himself, and the final step is mastering.

Liu Shiyuan, The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth, 2013
Liu Shiyuan, The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth, March 2013, Medium: Single channel video, color, 6mins, video still.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your Wonderland’ color photography series was on display at the Frieze New York in May 2016 with Leo Xu Projects. This collage of photography brought to mind European food ingredients. Are these works influenced by Danish meals?

Liu Shiyuan: Maybe. Danish food can be very conceptual sometimes, because they really care about where the ingredients come from, if the farming is bad for the environment. So when you go to a good restaurant in Denmark, often what you get can look very minimal, no exaggerations. But the taste is just so good because of all the effort behind the curtain, the carrots taste like the best carrots you have ever had, the black coffee tastes like it has milk in it. This way that they treat the ingredients is very similar to how I treat the elements in my artwork. I show how I fully respect the pictures I use in my photos, just simply placing them on “the plate”. ‘Wonderland’ is also related to how fictions are influencing our real life.

In that series of photos, the amount of humor equals the same amount of sadness. So when you look at them, they are actually not food any more, they become the actors on the stage.

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does the word Bentu, meaning native soil, personally resonate in you? It was a title of the exhibition, in which Fondation Louis Vuitton represented contemporary Chinese artists, who are crossing boundaries across traditions and geographical places, or are transforming something?

Liu Shiyuan: Bentu was the group exhibition I attended in January 2016. The defenition of Bentu definitely doesn´t mean a location or a pin on the map. I think it´s more like the root of you, the foundation of your understanding of things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is a lot of discussion going on about the role of Chinese contemporary artists as part of the art market booming in Chinese centers. Do you want to say something specific about the phenomenon?

There´s a boom of something in China, but I´m not sure if it is mainly related to the art market. Among all the money China got every year there´s only 5% coming from art. So I think the discussion is more on the economical level. It is very scary if you go visit a small city in China, you see new buildings everywhere, but they are empty. So I guess it´s like someone took a loan from the bank to build them while hoping a lot of people can also take loans to buy them. So the whole thing is holy. I am actually very bad at thinking about money, so maybe I shouldn´t talk too much about economy.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you see older generations contemporary Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei influencing your thinking or methods of working, or something like that?

Liu Shiyuan: He definitely made me thought about my art practice a lot, especially in NYC when almost everyone was asking me about him. Sometimes I explained a bit about how understandings can get twisted between cultures, sometimes I just answer he is not my uncle I don´t know.

liu-shiyuan-as-simple-as-clay-2013-photography-installation
Liu Shiyuan, As Simple As Clay, 2013, Photography exhibition, C-prints. Courtesy of Liu Shiyuan and Leo Xu projects.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Would you like to say something specific about the galleries, which represent you in Beijing and in Copenhagen. Do you feel that there is a common nominator now in the international art world, meaning that the patterns of working and featuring artists can be too similar?

Liu Shiyuan: Definitely. The culture of mixing thing has been going on for a long time, and now it starts to seem a bit boring. I don´t think the way most of the people use the word “international” is right.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As your art works have been exhibited in different platforms and sites; in museums, galleries, and art fairs, however, who would be an ideal collector for your art?

Liu Shiyuan: Anyone who loves the works. For me, and also my galleries I believe, the best is not always the biggest. Of course, my artworks only have few editions, sometimes they are unique, so I hope the collectors are willing to show them again somewhere, to let more people see them, to make the works live forever in a way.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think there is something unique for being a woman contemporary artist that has a new empowering resonance?

Liu Shiyuan: Actually I don´t feel any difference as being a woman. I don´t really know the art world a lot, maybe some people think there´s too few female Chinese artists, so we need to dig more out. But for me, I don´t think about it, it has been a long long long time that I didn´t think of myself as a woman, but I do remind myself all the time that I am an artist.

***

Liu Shiyuan’s website: http://www.shiyuanliu.com/index.html

Visitor experiences at Frieze 2015

 

Brazilian artist Martha Araújo’s piece Para um corpo nas suas impossibilidades, (For a body in its impossilibities) was created in 1985. Now at 2015 Frieze Art Fair, we celebrate the corporeal experience at the skateboard ramp dressed in suits that are patched with Velcro straps. The user-experience is less of a performance, and more of a subjective experience, which is very much according to the manifesto written by the artist. Martha Araújo (born in 1943) wrote the following:

Believing in the impossible is also a way of making art, for it is to doubt the impossibilities that make our dreams and follies feasible. Our proposal consists of experiencing situations in which the body crawls (on the ground floor) and tries to climb vertically. It is a search to achieve utopia; an exercise in transcendence. For this we will wear two pairs of overalls with several strips of Velcro attached to them vertically and horizontally. We will also use  a runner rug measuring 6.00 x 2.00 m, stuck to a skate track-type wooden framework. The Velcro strips on the overalls are the elements that fix the bodies to the rug.

 

The project was curated in the Frame section of the art fair by Galeria Jaqueline Martins from São Paulo. The gallery won the prize for most innovative Stand Prize this year. The stand is comprised of the ramp and few suits, which the public can wear and then try the structure. The booth also has black and white photographs from 1985, which document artist Araújo and her crew experimenting with the concept. At Frieze, these photographs are on sale, and so are the suits. The ramp belonging to the artwork can be reproduced with the suits.

Another visitor intervention at the Frieze was Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto’s Coffee/Tea project. Being one of the Frieze 2015 Projects, the artist created a three-dimensional personal test experience that included multiple-choice questionnaire. The maze-like structure was among the gallery booths, having several rooms, in which visitors/viewers make a choice between two objects or situations. Different choices lead through rooms and doors and then to the exit, where participants discover which personality suits the course of actions they chose. Here is my test in photographic documentation.

In the beginning, the structure encourages you to think that you are boarding a spaceship, artist has written a dark statement on the wall:

The world is ending. You are selected to board a spaceship with one animal. Which will you bring? A. Peacock, B. Horse, C. Tiger, D. Sheep

As we don’t actually make this choice between four animals; we can choose to enter between two doors, one on the right and one on the left. Behind the left door there is a table with teacups and tea poured on them. Today I’m happy they would offer tea. Through my next choice, I’m encountering two kinds of blue on the floor; the other one looks like tiled, so will follow that one. Not quite getting the sitdown-point, where would have to ponder between the choices, rather stay moving and opening doors. Then, not quite sure how, suddenly entering the door with ‘intodetails’ exit floor mat in black-and-white. Feels like a fast experience. There was another blue, this time gymnastic mat on the floor with wooden board in the middle. A chance to balance a little bit, and the exit was right there.

Is there anything in common with these two art projects? Martha Araújo’s art dates back to the mid- 1980s, and Aki Sasamoto’s project is very recent. The getting-involvedness, and the intellectual mind vs. trust yourself and let your body lead the way -issue; has both of these projects. Sasamoto’s making choices project encounters also our bodily input, as this is about experience. The color blue seems to be a fascinating factor in both projects.  Araújo’s and Sasamoto’s projects will be living in the form of re-enactments. Being convinced that there will be more photography and live-documentations happening.

Frieze NY2014: reading sculpturally sensuous terms

Philosopher Gilles Deleuze has suggested that among the arts, sculpture presents perhaps best those qualities that are materially sensational. The sensation of stone, metal and marble vibrate according to strong or weak beats. Then, there are protuberances and cavities in the material that resonate with each other. The set-up of the sculpture with large empty space between the groups, or within a single group, makes it that one no longer knows whether it is the light or air that sculpts or is sculpted (Deleuze: What is Philosophy).

 

Maria Nepomuceno’s installation. courtesy: @A Gentil Carioca

Sensations attached to the materiality in sculptures relate to ideas of tactility (perceptible to the touch; tangible). Our experiences of materiality has shifted, as 21-century cultural landscapes keep molding our tactility through complex body-digital technology relationships, changing our imagination of the virtual spaces. Contemporary sculpture is reflecting some of these shifts, showing powerfully the time beyond the current, the moment at hand. Among some of the interventions, Frieze 2014 in New York City paraded a loss of the technological overrule. The disengagement from materiality at large, was shown in some works. There were works that were pointing to our roots of craftsmanship, bringing back materiality of different scales, and putting out the new spatial engagements. Noteworthy is that large scale is not necessarily the most powerful signifier, but some minimal portions or material may also integrate ideas. An example of this kind was installation with smaller details and nuances by artist Maria Nepomuceno. The artist was presented at Frieze NYC by A Gentil Cariocas Gallery from Rio de Janeiro.

Nepomuceno draws on Brazilian craft traditions using weaving and braiding techniques, as well as her own designs to build biomorphic sculptural forms. The sculpted appears as seductive when the colors and patterns nourish imagination. The lingering movement and rhythm comes from the way of installing sculptures in the space, some scattered forming a logic. The artist allows sculptures to spread across space like vegetation. Rope and necklaces are used as raw material in the works, and the materials take a natural spiral form. The artists has been using body and nature as inspiration, creating infinity, and shaping of living organisms. The ancient traditions and techniques are a source for her art,  as she gives materials a new form and content.

Another woman artist in Frieze show was talented Jumana Manna, presented by New York’s CRG Gallery. The artist recently exhibited her works at Sculpture Center in Long Island City titled Menace of Origins. Manna’s piece at the art fair was titled Crowd connecting closely to her recent show, and echoing of same elements and materiality.  The artist has explored a notion of relics in her works. Using archaeology as a device, she has explored ruins and architectural forms that reminiscence human presence. The works that build ideas and are structurally challenging explore the construction of power, nationalism, gender, and history through material relationships. Manna works mainly with sculpture and video, often pairing them together to create surprising events.

Jumana Manna, Crowd, 2013. Plaster, Plastic Net, Egg Cartons. courtesy: @CRG gallery.

Respectively,  Liz Larner’s sculpture spoke from the Frieze exhibition of Los Angeles based gallery Regen Projects. Her bold sculpture was physically large and airy at the same time. A free-standing metal sculpture displays a cold aesthetic. Her sculpture “V (planchette)” (2014) has a smooth aluminum surface, which is painted a chalky black. It is curvy suggesting motion, giving feelings according to the angle it is viewed from. It is wider at its base, leaner in the middle, large and flowing at the top. The statuesque nature promises balance, but gives a hint of character that might be leading to odd and ambiguous places.

Liz Larner, V (porchette), 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Regen Projects.

Rémy Markowitsch’s five-part group of wooden sculptures took the stage curated by Berlin-based Galerie EIGEN + ART.  His installation FALL uses two different historical events as material, namely four of the sculptures mimic the painting Absturtz (the Fall) by Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, depicting Alpine climbers that were created for the 1894 World’s Fair in Antwerp. The fifth figure comes from a different source, representing a German mountaineer Toni Kurz, who died when attempting to climb the north face of the Eiger in 1936. Sculptures are nude, so they come across as timeless, without specific location.  His installation is accompanied by his other work showing mountains, which give out a feel of nostalgia to the romantic past times when climbing at the world’s highest mountains produced heroes, while there were sacrifices, and danger involved.

Remy Markowitsch, FALL, 2013. 5 wooden figures, rope, carabineer, dimensions variable. courtesy: @Galerie EIGEN+ART

Lehman Maupin (New York/Hong Kong) brought in a large sculpture installation called Library II-II by artist Liu Wei. This sculpture is made from thousands of books and it weights nearly a ton. The gallery told that they had to reinforce the floor underneath the sculpture so its weight was supported.  Liu Wei’s sculpture will be part of an exhibition Bringing the World into the World at the Queens Museum (opens on June 15). Around the sculpture, space is altered and tilted. The work notes literariness of our civilizations. The inventions of paper; dimensionality that comes with the written cultures and around ancient canopies of words. Lingua and library, freedom of press, freedom of writing, utterances. But more than any literal connotations of the material itself, the sculptural challenges beyond the apparent, parafrazing, the architectural of the cities and urban life cycles, as our connection to global spaces, and disconnectedness from the traditions.

Frieze 2014, Liu Wei, Library II-II, 2013. courtesy: @Lehmann Maupin

Galeria Fortes Vilaça from São Paulo presented Erica Verzutti’s concrete sculptures that were academic and playful at the same time. The gallery commented that Verzutti’s works gained a lot of attention at the Frieze art fair, due to their brilliant interactive quality, and sense of humor. The sculptures are semantically pointing to archeological pasts, many of them depicting minerals and natural stones that appear as traces of nature. Playfulness comes from the interactive quality of her sculptures, some parts are loose (like egg-shape stones) and can be organized differently. Double Sunset is a bit different from her other works, some of them on stands. The work on the wall showcases two basketballs as a colorful urban signifier of play and sports, when they are installed in the concrete. But ultimately the viewer has a chance for interpretation. A woman’s bust, femininity paraded?

Erica Verzutti, Double Sunset, 2014. Concrete and basketballs. Courtesy: @Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

One show-stopper at Frieze was a pale installation composed of a single cage, which was hanging from the ceiling with nothing around it but the white walls. Wilfredo Prieto was the artist curated by Nogueras Blanchard gallery from Barcelona. It evidantly showed how to be captured, a sentiment so fearful, yet potentially something that makes art appealing to its viewers. The possibilities are endless to imagine how to relate to the cage as an object, to think what are the experiences and feelings attached to its awful shape. It represents zoo-like ready-made feelings, and it reminds of a consumer-object relationship without pointing to a specific direct target, except the art fair itself? Who would need a shark-cage? Who needs this kind of art? A question, what are the sensations attached to our art-viewing, comes to mind. Is art made for humans as animals? Weird crescendo of concepts makes it art?

Wilfredo Prieto, Shark Cage, 2012. courtesy: @Nogueras Blanchard.

Shark cage illustrates a perfect example of the first position. The piece does not allow for the poetic metaphor and is in itself a clear statement, provocative and critical of its environment, in this case an art fair. The presentation of this work becomes a pitched battle between the object, the context and the interpretation of the viewer. The artist participates only as a facilitator of such a meeting. A strict representation of the cage, without any further intervention, is what turns us all into potential sharks. (Alex Nogueras&Rebeca Blanchard)

 

Tobias Putrih, Macula, 2014. courtesy: @Galerie Greta Meert.

One of the favorite was Tobias Putrih who is internationally acclaimed artist working with such modest materials as cardboard and plywood. Those are exactly the materials that are hard to work with, as there is the air element that challenges them. Putrih’s two sculptures were presented by Galerie Greta Meert from Brussels. The cardboard was transparent enough to create a surface, which circulates light. His sculptural objects are attractive and sensual enough, as much as they project intellectual and architectural propositions, definitely aiming to shape our viewing experience. Touchable, palpable, airy, anything between transparent and materialwise poetic.

Last, but not least, Paul McCarthy’s large blue head sculpture belonged to New York gallery Hauser Wirth’s exhibition titled On the Fabric of the Human Body. His large heads are like prop-objects, and comment a tradition of beheaded figures in art history. Together with works from Rita Ackerman, Louise Bourgeois, Isa Genzken; McCarthy’s sculpture worked as expressive part of the art fair, expressing body that reinvents and transgresses.

Paul McCarthy, White Snow Head, 2012-2013, Silicone, fiberglass, steel.
Paul McCarthy, White Snow Head, 2012-2013. Silicone, fiberglass, steel. courtesy: @HAUSER&WIRTH

As a summary, what comes to mind is the movement of the virtual; our contemporary lifestyles embedded with mediascapes (term coined by Arjun Appadurai in 1990). The global cultural flow affects both the artists and the viewers, who are participants of the art world. The historical referencing opens to ideas of homogenization of the arts. Repetitive use of similar motives over and over again would easily define the art, and block any motion. Such would be the case if the consumer culture says that art should be purely digitalized! As we want to consume while we eat, rest, and start again with the same. Contrastively, art should provoke us, make us move from our comfort zones, let us move in between the sculptural, sense the provocative. It can touch our sensibilities. It should stop us from numbness.

images: Firstindigo&Lifestyle