Liu Jianhua - Liu Jianhua - Liu Jianhua
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[楼主] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 13:46:43
Liu Jianhua 刘建华


Born in 1962 in Ji'An, Jiangxi province, Liu Jianhua worked in a Jingdezhen Pottery and Porcelain Factory at the age of fifteen until 1985. Then he studied sculpture at the Department of Fine Art of the Institute of Ceramics in Jingdezhen. He graduated in 1989. After staying a few years in Yunnan he now lives in Shanghai, teaching sculpture in the Art college of the Shanghai University and producing works, which mainly consist in ceramics sculptures and installations. He participated to various exhibitions in China and abroad including the 2nd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Federation Tower, Moscow, Singapore Biennale 2006, Sculpture Square, Singapore, The Secret of Clay:From Gauguin to Gormley, Tate Liverpool, London, Alors la chine?, Center Pompidou, Paris, France, The 34th Basel International Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland, The 50th Biennale di Venezia, China Pavilion; Guangdong Art Museum, Guangzhou; Art Gallery of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing

Liu Jianhua's resume (click here)

Unharmonious Variation
— Liu Jianhua, who will never compromise
by Lu Rongzhi

Born in 1962, Liu Jianhua had a very unique childhood. At 12, he was sent to Jingdezhen to study after his uncle, Liu Yuanchang, the prestigious industrial artists. At 14, he was accepted by Jingdezhen’s Ceramic Factory, and in the following eight years he received regular education in the workshop of ceramic technique. With his talents and his efforts, he won China’s top “Bai Hua” (a hundred flowers) Prize when he was 20. But it was just a beginning of his career as an artist. Since then, he has been trying to surpass, not the older generation, or his peers, but himself. From then on, he would never compromise.

In 1978, when at his uncle’s place reading, Liu Jianhua was touched by Rodin L'art. From then, he made up his mind to explore in the field of fine art. In the following three years, he dedicated himself to studying in the best fine art school. Everyday, he had to ride bicycle to study charcoal drawing. At 22, he left the factory and was enrolled by the Institute of Jingdezhen Ceramics majoring in sculpture. The Institue of Jingdezhen Ceramics only admitted two students from Liu’s Jiangxi Province, and Liu was one of them. Liu cherished this opportunity and worked very hard in college. He subscribed a number of major domestic fine arts journals, from which he got to know about the Stars Fines Arts Association, and was able to learn something about foreign arts. While he was digesting all these new information, he tried hard to go beyond the ceramic-making techniques which he had been so familiar, and to experiment with different materials and styles in all areas of fine arts. As a student, Liu Jianghua already demonstrated his unique personality and style. Back then, it is a period when everybody tried to conform, to be identical and harmonious. But Liu was indulging himself in an inharmonious style, and kept challenging himself.

Liu Jianhua entered college when the so-called “85 New Trend” movement was on its peak. When he graduated in 1989, he was assigned to work in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, where the cultural elites of Southwestern United University had left an very liberal atmosphere for artists and scholars alike. Among the artists in the Southwest are some 85 New Trenders including Mao Quhui, Zhang Xiaogang, and Ye Yongqing in Kunming. These artists are full of ideas and are ideal about fine arts. They later formed the Southwestern University School, which are well known in the history of Contemporary arts of China. During this period of time, Liu Jianghua’s art activities are relatively pure and free, since there is nowhere for him to sell his works. Therefore, the artworks he created are purely for his own enjoyment and satisfaction. From 1989 to 1997, he made quite a few bold experimental works, which he still keeps for himself.

However, to earn a living in Kunming, Liu Jianhua was hired to make copies of some city sculptures. In 1994, there came a turning point for Liu’s career as an artist. Firstly, he got a son and became a father. Secondly, he examined his artist career retrospectively. He questioned the meaning of city sculptures and started to raise question about it, both theoretic and practical. Along with Li Ji and Zeng Xiaofeng, Liu Jianghua organized the “Attention to Southwestern Arts Exhibition”, in which he showed two installation works in response to the questions regarding the topic of city sculpture. These works showed the popular culture back then. Before the exhibition, Liu Jianhua has followed the normality of the modernists’ approach, and held a relative pure view that “the art is the art for the sake of art.” After the exhibition, Liu Jianhua’s interactions with artists in Kunming became more frequent. The topic he related to in his works also extended to humanity, society, reality and all the contradiction and conflicts among them.

In this year, Liu Jianhua started his Dissymmetry color sculpture series. The series show various combinations of Sun Yat Sen's uniforms, military uniforms and female body parts, naked lower body parts in particular. Liu Jianhua may look gentle and cultivated, but in these works he shows a black humor with compulsive and intense visual impact. For instance, in one of works, a broken hand of an aged man was laid on a white, tender and spread-out thigh. You can hardly relate his works to himself in real life. In this series, he employs some ready-made materials, including the color sculpture structure used in grotto arts. On the surface of the sculpture, he put paints directly in order to minimize color tones. This technique was quite unusual in China at that time.

Liu Jianhua’s earlier works to a large extent are a response to the economic reform and economic development. Since the economic reform, the capitalist economy has created unprecedented impact to every corner of the society. However, while the external living conditions are under rapid transformation, people’s inner heart can not catch up with the fundamental external change, which leads to an unstable society. That is the information Liu wanted to deliver in his “Dissymmetry” series. His criticism and satire on the society is obscure and indefinite. He conceals his revolt against tradition and paternity violence under elegant outer wears. Deep in the bottom of his inner heart lies his anxiety and alienation from the society , which are completely concealed by the noisy symbols in his works. Thus, Liu Jianhua planned a long way of exploration and adventure. His artworks, manifested by his life experiences, are now waiting for us to decipher.

Liu Jianhua attended the sculpture exhibition held in Chengdu, Sichuan Province in 1995, which was organized by Wang Lin. Liu’s works received nationwide attention in this exhibition. After the exhibition, the vulgar and amputated female body parts replaced the Sun Yat Sen’s Uniform and became the symbol of his artworks, making him a rising star in China’s contemporary arts world. Once showed, his Merriment series, which he started 1998, became very popular both in the market and in academic exhibitions. Liu also made headless and armless beauties in cheong-sams on ceramic plates. He believes that the image of head often limits views of imagination. On the contrary, armless bodies can remind us of female bodies’ passivity and helplessness when consumed, and also described the irreversible trend that female bodies become more and more materialized since the opening-up policy and the economic reform.

The sofa chairs appeared in his Infatuated Memories series, along headless and armless beauties in cheong-sam. On one hand, cheong-sam stands for the traditional Chinese women in the feudal periods. At the same time, it also implies the sexual fantasy and the possession desire of Chinese males. It represents the corruption of the capitalist class, and reminds people of the notion of bad girls. On the other hand, sofa chair is a symbol for the western modern life, implying those men who enjoy power, money and status. Combining it with sexy bodies, the works definitely implies sex and sexual fantasy. It may be taken as the artist’s memory of his immature and repressive youth. As one of the 1960s generation, he grew up in an repressive environment where the relation between boys and girls are often awkward and unnatural, which made the youngsters even more curious about sex.. In the ceramic plates, there are a lot of females, who sit or lie with sexy postures in sofa chairs, which to some extent reflects Liu’s repressive sexual desire and imagination when he was young.

Liu Jianhua has developed experiences and skills in ceramic making in Jingdezhen in his earlier years. It seems that in his whole life he has been trying to get rid of the perfectionism which is embedded in the ceramic making industry. In doing so, he kept employing different media and material, to challenge the conventional beliefs about ceramic arts. One example is Where Are We Today? in 2000. It is a conceptual video work. With scenic settings, this work reflects the ridiculously high cost for rapid urban development and the tragedy of the helpless ordinary urban dwellers. The photographic work is independent from his color sculpture series. Liu’s criticism against over-urbanization in this work is obvious. In a colorful and festive environment, there lies crisis everywhere. At the same time, Liu shows a strong desire to reduce ordinary people to technical ceramics. Starting from 2001, Liu began his White series, which turned a lot everyday items into many hard but fragile ceramics. In 2002, the number of air crashes was unusually high. From those images of the chaotic and fragmented scenes, Liu got his inspirations for more creations.

In 2003, when Liu Jianhua was working in Jingdezhen, the city was celebrating its one-thousandth anniversaries with massive urban development projects. Bulldozers and rooters were all over the places, turning the old city into shambles. A lot of big old trees were chopped down, lying in every corner of the city. Witnessing the destruction of a two-thousand-year old historic and cultural city, Liu was deeply shocked. Taking as models the trees that had been chopped down, he made ceramic trees, which are very fragile. It is the work Transformation of Memories. With the rapid development of national economy and blind expansion of many big cities, it’s the first time for Liu to present a personal and unharmonious interpretation as a critical artist. It reveals people’s apathy and heartlessness in front of the destruction of traditions and living environments. In the pursuit of constant transformation, the fundamentals of a five-thousand-year culture have been lost. The rotting trees in a world of desires and lusts are replaced with empty broken ceramic trees, which reflect the melancholy deep in his heart.

Although Liu Jianhua is bettern known for his ceramic works, he is also a social critic, and a researcher who is not afraid of experimenting with different materials. In his works, concepts and ideas always come first before he actually starts the creation. For him, it seems that the final artworks are just byproducts, while the process is more significant. One typical example is “Donation”, in which he presented during the Express Exhibition in 2004. Cooperating with Shanghai Charity Federation, who helped to find the needy ones, Liu tried to raise funds through express delivery staff. Although the result was not as satisfying as he had expected, he still felt content with it, because a work’s meaning lies in its process.

In Sustainable Trapezoid Scenery, an installation work, Liu Jianhua employs mortise and tenon connection which has been widely used in traditional Chinese architecture. It creates a strong sense of primitiveness as if there were hand made. The ladder represents people’s desire to climb up in social status. On the ladder are transparent glass container, with gravel, sand and dirt inside and used everyday items on the top. These everyday items are replicated with white porcelain. All these ladders are placed vertically in a closed space, look like architectural urban forest. The white porcelain items are sealed in fragile glass containers, representing samples from human’s world. It is obvious that Liu Jianhua is trying to portrait the living tragedies of ordinary people in urban development.

While Liu is experimenting with different materials, he is also creating color sculpture series. From 2000 to 2002, he worked in Kunming and Jingdezhen, replicating all kinds of everyday items using green and white porcelain in high temperature. Everyday, Fragile, for example, is a combination of installation series interacting with each other. One of the series was selected to represent the China sector in Venice Biennale 2003. However, because of the SARS crisis, the work didn’t make it in Venice, but was showed in the Gallery of Guangdong and participated in Venice Biennale on internet. As a variation of Everyday, Fragile, Reflection in Water replicated symbolic architectures of China’s most developed cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, with green and white porcelain. With different sizes and light effects, Liu creates a mirage-like fantasizing effect.

Interior Space, showed in the 20th anniversary of Hanart T. Z. Gallery in Hong Kong, is another variation of Liu’s experiments with green and white porcelain, and another peak of his non-compromising self-challenge. In this work, bricks of white porcelain are placed on the floor. Some of the porcelain bricks are broken or bear obvious blemishes. Thus, by creating broken ceramics, he completely abandons the tradition that ceramics must be perfect. During this period, Liu continued his white porcelain works and proved that he had already abandoned the colorful tradition in ceramic making. By using white porcelain, he followed the modern Minimalism which prefers to use the white color. With the abstract vocabulary implied in Interior Space, Liu does not delivery his concepts by narrating anymore, but deliver his message directly. Thus, he embarked on the field of conceptual art.

In 2004, Liu Jianhua participated in Shanghai Duolun Youth Grand Fine Arts Exhibition, under the name “Xie Wang”. In the exhibition, every participant, under fake names, presented works of a variety of styles. Liu selected a newly-graduated fine art student to draw an oil painting named “Struggle for the New Goal”. He specifically asked the student to use the illusionary and misty style of Germany Artist Gerhard Richter, to mock the fashion of copying Richter’s style in China’s art field at that time. The work describes the moment when Beijing won out in the competition of hosing the 2008 Olympic Games. Liu studies the video in which Wang Qishan, Mayor of Beijing swung the Olympic flag at the closure ceremony of Athens’ Olympics and Liu counted that the mayor swung for exactly 12 times. It gave him the inspiration to create the “Struggle for the New Goal”. Illusionary Scene in 2005 is yet another video work, in which Liu put gambling chips into piles on Waitan and Pudong of Shanghai. It implies that Shanghai has become the major battle ground for global capitals to gamble in China. Shanghai has taken this role since 1920s, and when it is described in such a large size, there is a perplexing attraction and behind its magnificence, there are a lot uncertain factors. Another work, the Floating Object which will be displayed in Taiwan is a crystal-made model of Taiwan Island and a cute little ceramic panda, symbolizing the barrier of communication between Taiwan and the Mainland.

In January 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia crashed on its way returning to the Earth, which shocked the whole world and Liu Jianhua as well. In 2005, he created an installation work called Dream using the fragmented ceramics, and tried to incorporate it with video clippings. In 2006, he was invited to present his Dream installation work in Singapore’s first Biennale. In the same year, he was also invited to the Shanghai Biennale and the documentary exhibition in Shanghai Contemporary Arts Gallery. The work Will You Let Me Know? was presented in Shanghai Contemporary Arts Gallery, which summarizes the two-year period since he has relocated to Shanghai. In 50 book-like steel boards, he engraved 100 questions in Chinese, English, French, German, and Japanese relating to a variety of topics such as why the viewers think Shanghai is attractive. As you can imagine, there are all kinds of answers to these question, and you can hardly find the standard one.

The Investigation of Yiwu, which was presented in Shanghai Biennial, is Liu’s first installation work that is created with ready-made items completely. He bought dozens of thousands of cheap goods from Yiwu, and poured them from a container, representing China’s large exports of cheap commodities and the chain reaction and tension it has caused for the global economy, capital, merchandise, asset and energy. The practical goods that are made in Yiwu are piled up in the work remind us the popular culture, the low cost machining, and the cheap labor-intensive manufacturing. It is representative of the popular aesthetics and the configuration of China in its economic and social transformation. Now, there are about 6,000 to 8, 000 foreigner businessmen in Yiwu, with more than 1,000 container shipped everyday to 212 countries or regions in the world, which created complicated and unpredictable interaction between China and the whole world.

Ceramic has a history of thousands of years in China, and was exported when China was powerful. Therefore, it bears significant symbolic meaning for Chinese culture. Trained with traditional ceramic making technique that has focused on perfection, Liu, on the contrary, has kept overthrowing the ceramic tradition as well. He has been constantly experimenting with different forms and materials. Even when his style is praised widely, he still keeps challenging himself and exploring in new frontier. With his non-compromising spirit, his bravery and originality, he is pushing himself to an extreme. While trying to establish a new paradigm, he incorporates it with traditional techniques of ceramic making and provides contemporary arts with more possibility in materials. The core value of Liu’s works lie in his attitude towards life. He has been trying to reach the high-point no matter what kind of issues he is dealing, society, gender, humanity, environment, nation or culture. He does not only criticize and analyze these issues, but also raise new ideas and provide new insights into them at the same time.
[沙发:1楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 14:08:28
Polychrome Ceramics

"I wasn't yet 15 when I went to work in a famous porcelain factory in Jingdezhen, where I learned the art of making ceramics and how to create sculptures of traditional figures. Later, I grew tired of it because I felt it wasn't really art. After 8 years of working there, I won a place at the academy to study sculpture. At the time, I took a particular interest in realism which I felt was real art, and I was certain that I could never go back to using the materials I had used in the past."

"The 1999 work 'Memories of Infatuation' marks a substantive change in terms of the material used, which is traditional Chinese porcelain, created with the most traditional methods of ceramic production."

--Liu Jianhua

Under the influence of the vigorous "New Wave Art" movement, Liu Jianhua, as an artist who graduated from the College of Ceramics in the 1980s, does indeed seem to have ample reason for abandoning the most traditional techniques of ceramic production, and this is precisely what he has done. In his early "Concealed" series, he expressed himself almost exclusively in the language of sculpture, from his choice of fibre glass laminate as material to the deliberately hand-sculpture, from his choice of fibre glass laminate as material to the deliberately hand-sculpted effect in every fold of clothes and flexing of muscle on his figures. With the series "Obsessive Memories", fibre glass production techniques and the difficulty of controlling the roughness of muscle texture began to conflict with the smooth elegance that Liu sought in his work, and as a result, he was compelled to return to the ceramic factory he had worked in for 8 years and resume working with a long-abandoned material. The production and colouring techniques of ceramics bestow these works with fast colour, vibrant tones and a smooth, lustrous surface; what has been abandoned is the idea of "sculptedness" that has been at the nucleus of Western modernist sculpture since Rodin.

A handicraft quality is gradually establishing itself in the vocabulary of Liu Jianhua's work.

Disharmony series, Mixed media, 1994-1997











Polychrome Ceramics, Cheongsam and Chinese Porcelain


"In visual experience, the symbolic value of the objects of daily life evokes many associations and fantasies. This is my main reason for using Sun Yat-Sen jackets, cheongsam, sofas, bathtubs and women in various combinations."

--Liu Jianhua

Since the beginning of the 1990s, Liu Jianhua has been using all sorts of Chinese style apparel as a leitmotif in his work, from Sun Yat-Sen jackets and double-breasted suits to cheongsam, with Chinese male dress being the main symbolic element used in his cryptic, discordant series of compositions. Whether it is the Sun Yat-Sen jacket or the double-breasted suit, they appear as a certain kind of ideological symbol, and the underlying meaning of Liu's works also leans toward the contemplation of the ideology of his native land. The emergence of his style is closely linked to the trend toward conceptualism and symbolism by contemporary Chinese art in the 1980s, the influence of which can be seen in the discordant juxtaposition of symbols in Liu's work, which emphasizes the artist's interpretation and elaboration of cultural perspectives over the viewer's participatory experience. The appearance of the cheongsam in his compositions marks the beginning of a transition of his style from the figurative to the experimental. From the very beginning, "Obsessive Memories" is a coming together of the cheongsam and the female form, which on the one hand visually emphasizes the eroticism of milk-white thighs and pert breasts, but on the other hand deliberately overlooks the subject's details and instead uses incidental symbols such as the sofa or the bathtub to give an air of finality to the existence of that eroticism. More importantly, the decrease in size of Liu's compositions, which coincides with their adoption of the brightly-coloured cheongsam, also has the effect of turning the viewer's contemplation of the work into something akin to how he might consider a plaything, just as the absence of facial expressions of hand gestures deprives the audience of important means of passing judgement.

It is an awkward situation that we seem to have been led into: we cannot help but want to fondle the plaything, yet lack the cultural basis to justify our doing so.


"It is my hope that when people see my work, they will fell an inner rush and a sense of awakening."
--Liu Jianhua

Lacunae in visual imagery is an extension of the modes of modelling in Liu Jianhua's work. Since the earliest "Concealed "series, markers of human characteristics have been consistently absent throughout the artist's changes in material and symbols, an absence which may well persist into the future. Ultimately, we can detect in Liu's work the conflict between changes in tastes and changes in space and time, but what we cannot see are the individual entities which either produced these changes or were produced by them. This seems to be the perfect portrait of visual experience in contemporary society: just as flipping through fashionable magazines, we are exposed to endless bright and colourful images which we endlessly accept without retaining any memory of - and if there is any memory at all which is retained, it will merely be of the outer shell of commerce and culture.

The absence of the individual has the effect of making Liu's works resemble reality even more, in the form of a visual orgy more extreme than reality itself. In this visual orgy, all the doors of memory open only to material things and culture, while the existence and experience of the individual self are deliberately ignored.

Starting with the "Concealed" series, Liu Jianhua has been concerned with the oppressiveness of culture toward the individual, and has continually created symbols and conditions of discordance as means of revealing the existence of this oppressive power. With the use of a feminine symbol like the cheongsam in "Obsessive Memories", he began to place his work in an internationalized, globalised cultural context for our contemplation. Through the absence of the individual and the presence of eroticism, he fosters a ruminatory attitude on the part of the viewer toward the work which hints at the true relationship between the Western art world and the contemporary art of Third World countries. Assuming the guise of a cunning court jester, Liu pretends to do his best to conform, but all the while utilizes the constant shifts from sculpture to polychrome ceramics to handicraft to make the creator ( a Third World artist ) disappear into his creation( a Third World work of art). Ultimately, he has made the decision simply to serve up the depersonalised outer shell of cultural on pastel and blue underglaze porcelain, creating in the name of culture an exotic feast at which there are no individual entities - not even the artist himself in the form of an individual - but only the culture which is present, and nominalism of culture.

Strictly speaking, the exploitation of traditional resources by contemporary Chinese art at the beginning of the 1990s was not a logical outcome of its own development. Rather, it was a manifestation of colonialism - under the illusory blueprint of globalisation-on the cultures of Third World countries. Whatever the purpose post modernist theory has in mind in its advocating of diversity, the pursuit of diversity has in fact led to the creation of what might be called a "vulgar vision". To Euro-centrists, the interpretation of contemporary Chinese art involves the process of decoding Chinese symbolism, but to contemporary Chinese artist intent on seizing the opportunity, this very Chinese symbolism represents the only means by which they can internationalize their art. The significance of Liu Jianhua lies in the way in which he uses a playful approach to make profound revelations about the predicament confronting contemporary Chinese art, and poses questions regarding his own country's cultural development and Western culture's right of choice. Unlike many contemporary Chinese artist, the question he poses do not focus on party politics and the political system, but instead extend to the issue of the existence of individual entities and ties this in with Western culture's right of choice over matters such as diversity, pluralism and how art should be viewed.

In Liu Jianhua's art, we can hear a voice which hints to us that the only way in which we can shake off the sort of mentality that only understands Chinese culture through pigeonholing and views it with a sightseer's eye, as well as the opportunism existing at the core of contemporary art, is to approach it from a point of view that takes in persons and objects as individual entities. Perhaps this is the only way that contemporary Chinese art can be restored to Chinese society, and provide a worthwhile, dignified Chinese response to the cultural fate of Third World countries under the irreversible trend towards globalization.

Pi Li
13 January 2001

Translated by Trevor Morris

Merriment, porcelain, 56 x 56 x 9 cm, 1999-2000

Play (series), porcelain, 56 x 56 x 9 cm, 1999-2000

Play series installation views, 1999-2000

Play series installation views, 1999-2000

Play series installation views, 1999-2000

Obsessive memories, porcelain, 58 x 55 x 40 cm, 1999

Obsessive memories, porcelain, 58 x 55 x 40 cm, 1999


Pastels and Blue Underglaze

"Two contexts are of particular importance: one is the ending of the cold war, and the other is the effect of post-colonial culture. To Westerners, post-colonial culture means the search for pluralism in cultural expression as a substitute for a Eurocentric cultural hegemony. As they would like to prove that as the leaders of global culture they have the ability to determine the direction for the world, they need to bring in cultures from outside the Eurocentic circle to make them part of their mixed platter of international art. Under these circumstances, it happens that at the moment China is playing the part of the spring roll on this international mixed platter."
-Li Xianting, "Should We Be the Spring Roll on the Mixed Platter of International Art?"

"Rebellious clothing and antiquated aesthetics have finally fallen in with one another. I know that it's a cunning ploy, seeking a bit of beneficence from one's ancestors in order to break new ground in the here and now! Some mingt say that to be a pioneer of the cutting-edge means swimming against the flow, but I'm no pioneer, and neither am I an actor on television. I don't have a reason, just insuppressible exuberance."
-Yan Jun, Zhoumo Huabao ("Weekend Pictorial")

If the appearance of cheongsam in "Obsessive Memories" may be said to be a bit dubious and an affront to the nationalistic among us then everything becomes even more overt in the 2000 series "Games", which serves up cheongsam-clad Oriental women reclining on Oriental porcelain. The idea that they are playthings to be fondled, already implicit in "obsessive Memories", is now made even more obvious and extreme, evoking a sense of rumination and luxurious enjoyment. More than anything, "Games" resembles a scrumptious dish prepared with Chinese culture as its recipe.

Who is the diner who will enjoy this meal? And who is the chef who prepared it?

[板凳:2楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 14:13:10

Where are we today?, photograph, 2000
[地板:3楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 14:19:34
Reflect in the water, ceramic, light, 2002-2003

[4楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 14:26:46
Regular Fragile
Porcelain installation, dimensions variable

Regular – Fragile

On july 25th, 2003, the works made by Mr. Liu Jianhua were shown in the Chinese Pavilion of the 50th Venice Biennale in Guangdong Museum of Art.

About 1000 works made from the white porcelain by Mr. Liu Jianhua ere shown in the space of about 50 m2. His plan was started in 2000 and carried out from July 2002 to April 2003. He created his works by duplicating the daily utensils.

From Fragments to a New Entirety
(for the exhibition Liu Jianhua: Regular/Fragile, at Oxburgh Hall and King's Lynn Arts Centre)

Dr. Sook-Kyung Lee
Exhibition Curator

‘Liu Jianhua: Regular/Fragile’ is the first UK solo exhibition at a public venue of an internationally recognised Chinese artist, Liu Jianhua. First shown at the Chinese Pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2003, Liu’s installation work ‘Regular/Fragile’ has been received enthusiastically by the international art world, and perceived as one of the seminal works created by contemporary Chinese artists. It contains around 1,000 pieces of white porcelain ceramic sculpture that are replicas of everyday objects such as hats, shoes, toys and books amongst many other. These seemingly mundane yet visually remarkable objects are the fragments of daily life that encapsulate personal memories as well as cultural references.

The loss of memories and the predicament of lost traditions are the dilemmas universally experienced in many parts of the globe where economic and social changes force its inhabitants to abandon their existing values. In a society like China, where these changes happen at an extremely rapid pace and to a great extent, the reminiscence of the past seems to exist only in distant memories. Several artists living and working in China have commented upon this issue, expressing their concerns over the uncertainty of such an intense and rapid transformation. In the case of Liu Jianhua, a thoughtful observation and realistic, yet poetic, description of this transformation convey the artist’s unease about current dilemmas which his country is experiencing.

White porcelain, the material Liu employs in ‘Regular/Fragile’, has rich historical implications as well as strong visual presence. Made of the finest clay and fired under high temperature, white porcelain has a pristine and almost translucent surface that transforms what it depicts into a somewhat abstract entity. For an artist like Liu Jianhua, who has experimented with a diverse range of materials and methods from fibreglass and steel to photography and video, the choice of white porcelain is nothing less than a
decisive statement. It is not accidental that his uncle is a renowned ceramic artist accredited as a National Master and that he started his artistic career at Jingdezhen, China’s historical capital of ceramic production since the Ming dynasty. However, Liu’s use of the material seems to be particularly purposeful, emphasising its contrasting characteristics of purity and fragility. Used in the context of social commentary, in particular, the material, with its serene and poignant quality, enriches the artist’s perceptive views on the human cost of capitalist developments and the instability of ordinary life.

However, the significance of Liu’s work extends beyond his chosen material. It is the artist’s intricate yet unrestricted representation of his subject matter that encourages viewers to create their own interpretations and narratives. Rather than imposing certain views or confining the work’s meaning, Liu often presents the fragments of reality as they are, creating a rich matrix of open-ended narratives. Shown simultaneously at Oxburgh Hall, a 15th century Tudor manor house managed by the National Trust, and at King’s Lynn Arts Centre, a ‘white cube’ contemporary art gallery, ‘Regular/Fragile’ extends such narratives into a wider context of cultural difference and historic distinctiveness. What we regard as history and heritage is juxtaposed with contemporary life and current affairs, and the tradition of the West is contrasted with the modernity of the East. Meanwhile, the newly commissioned photographs show the endless rows of high-rise flats in today’s Shanghai, reminding us of the Hall’s history as a family home. They also raise the question as to whether a home could become a sign of status and vanity beyond its domestic function. Highly stacked casino chips look as precarious as these flats, and they transform the artist’s cautious observation into a considered critique. Together with ‘Regular/Fragile’, Liu’s work enables us to view and interact with the contrasting yet inter-related elements of daily life in a new and thought-provoking way.

As with any site-specific art projects, the characteristics and cultural milieus of exhibition venues have been considered carefully for this exhibition. It was not the case of finding a suitable backcloth for ‘Regular/Fragile’. Rather, the initial aim was to find a meaningful contemporary art work for Oxburgh Hall to extend its existing programmes and audiences. My choice of this particular body of work was appreciated by both Oxburgh Hall and King’s Lynn Arts Centre, who were developing a collaborative project titled ‘Contemporary Art at Oxburgh Hall’. The project consisted of two exhibitions – a group exhibition of emerging artists, ‘Fresh Interventions’, which happened from April to June in 2007, and this exhibition, ‘Liu Jianhua: Regular/Fragile’.

My curatorial intention was to have two very distinguished yet symbiotic exhibitions, emphasising different approaches to site-specific art projects. ‘Fresh Interventions’ focused on presenting new talents in the region, providing the participating artists with more opportunities and resources for their artistic developments. The four artists, Wil Bolton, Joy Layton, Alexander Paterson and Diana Stickley, were encouraged to research the history and collection of the venue for several months, and they created new commissions that responded directly to their research. For the exhibition of Liu Jianhua, the curatorial mediation centred on the contextual siting of the artist’s well-known work, ‘Regular/Fragile’. The expectations were to create a new layer of the meaning and interpretation of this work, as well as to add a new dimension to the visitor experience for the site.

Liu Jianhua made a research visit to Oxburgh Hall in April 2007, and agreed to produce a series of new photographs for the exhibition, along with ‘Regular/Fragile’. His original plan was to show around sixty small to medium photographs, but he later acknowledged Oxburgh Hall’s concern over the lack of available space, and decided to exhibit nine large format photographs instead. At this stage, the intention was to replace a selection of the Hall’s existing paintings with these photographic works, in order to create a physical and artistic integration of the original collection and the new commission. However, this plan also faced difficulties in terms of the unfeasibility of any kind of hanging and of replacing paintings, as well as of the impact to the continuity of the Hall’s painting collection. In the end, the framed photos were leaned on furniture and walls across the Hall’s ground floor rooms. Unfortunately, however, these works were withdrawn from the display immediately after the opening day by Oxburgh Hall. Despite the unilateral and extraordinary nature of such an act, Liu Jianhua embraced the Hall’s concern over losing its ‘regular’ visitors’ support, and decided not to object to this somewhat hasty judgement.

The process of installation as a whole was indeed a continuing series of proposals, discussions and compromises. Unlike ordinary contemporary art exhibition taking place at a conventional art museum or gallery, this exhibition had to be modified at every stage due to the nature and related limitations of a historic building. Of course, such a condition had been considered from an early stage of the project and it was not an entirely restrictive experience. The artist responded to limitations with a great understanding, and the Hall tried to accommodate artistic needs, despite their lack of experience in exhibiting contemporary art. After all, ‘Contemporary Art at Oxburgh Hall’ was the first contemporary art project taking place at the Hall, and everyone involved was expected to be fully aware, if not entirely welcoming, of such a challenge.

It is true that there was a certain degree of unease about compromises throughout the cooperation. Oxburgh Hall was particularly concerned about the volume and impact of ‘Regular/Fragile’, and the artist subsequently modified his plan during his research visit in April and decided to divide the installation into two venues. This decision was welcomed by both Oxburgh Hall and King’s Lynn Arts Centre, being a practical solution for the Hall’s concern, and at the same time, creating an interesting artistic statement generated by the connection and contrast between the venues. Discussions and compromises continued to the very last day of installation, particularly in terms of conservation issues and visitor movements. Some agreements were more difficult to be made than others, but for the success of this experiment, it was evident that we had to make difficult compromises.

It may not be very obvious that there were certain restrictions Liu Jianhua had to accommodate, and in turn, that Oxburgh Hall had to provide the artist with more space than they would have liked. The most serious challenge surfaced when the Hall requested an early closure of the exhibition, claiming that the response from its volunteers and visitors was largely adverse. Curator’s talks and guided tours were offered as ways of communicating with audiences who were unfamiliar with contemporary art, but these suggestions were never taken up by the Hall. The door that had just been open to experiments and new ideas seemed to be already closing, not being able to endure a long-term vision, let alone to honour a professional commitment. The exhibition only lasted six weeks, four weeks short of the agreed duration.

The negative response from the audience was not entirely surprising. Controversy and debate had been expected from the outset, and one of the main aims of the project has always been examining, if not unnerving, the given frames and existing norms. Commissioning contemporary art for heritage sites has proved to be problematic in other cases too, whilst its value in terms of widening audiences and stimulating inter-disciplinary innovation has been regarded as particularly beneficial. For instance, we were very much aware of a collaborative project happened in the East region in 2005, titled ‘Contemporary Art in Historic Places’. This was developed by Commissions East, the National Trust and English Heritage to commission artists to produce projects inspired by some of the region’s most outstanding historic venues, such as Felbrigg Hall and Orford Ness. Although diverse in artistic styles, media and subjects, the new commissions all made great impacts on the visitor experience by both altering the way visitors view the sites and by enriching the venues’ history through new interpretations.

By commissioning Chinese artist Liu Jianhua, furthermore, this project aimed to explore the question of cultural differences as well as of historic juxtaposition. The existing collection of artefacts at Oxburgh Hall, such as ceramic figurines from China and other ‘exotic’ objects, was a direct inspiration for questioning the problematic notions of Englishness and otherness. The burden of the nation’s colonial past seemed to have been lifted by glorified versions of memory, and the heritage of other cultures appeared to be reduced into the object of undifferentiated curiosity. ‘Regular/Fragile’ was an intentional interruption of a construction of history, since history itself could be perceived as the subject of idealisation and of both conscious and unconscious modification of memories. The non-contextual and random representation of other cultures could also be regarded as symptomatic of a kind of prejudice that undervalues cultural and ethnic differences. The main aim of the project was, therefore, to raise and share these questions with the Hall’s staff, volunteers and visitors, and to offer an alternative perspective for viewing English heritage that is appropriate for twenty first century Britain. When Oxburgh Hall agreed to hold this exhibition, I presumed that the heritage site was also trying to enliven its history and to engage with a wider audience.

Marking our time in the Hall’s ongoing history may seem controversial in regard to the preservation of the site’s past. The negative response this exhibition has provoked could be understood in line with the question as to whether we should let the property speak for itself or whether we should interact with its present and future in an active manner. My belief is that art can help historic places resume the culturally dynamic role they had in the past, and in turn, history can help art expand its realm and further its appreciation. The mixture of different cultures, or the de-centring of English heritage, might have made this symbiotic relationship harder to be established than originally anticipated. Art often evokes unexpected confrontations and dilemmas, but it is precisely the reason why it is so enticing and valuable. Just like history does not stop with the last private owner of heritage properties, art does not cease with temporary hesitation or hostility. Conformity is one of the least favourable virtues for art and the artist – it is encouraging that Liu Jianhua’s exhibition has stirred certain views on history and culture and left a legacy that would become a history of its own in the future.

[5楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 14:53:52
Regular Fragile - in Centre Pompidou

[6楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 15:02:56

Wooden shelves with jars containing various materials used in building construction...

[7楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 15:14:36
Memory metamorphosis

[8楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 15:24:14
Indoor space
ceramic installation 450 x 250 x 20 cm

[9楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 15:31:45
This work was realized for the exhibition "Courier" in 2004.

About 40 artists were asked to produce small work that could fit in a suitcase to be transported and presented by a courier. Advertisings were published in local magazine inviting people to call a courier company phone number to enjoy a free exhibition at home.

Liu Jianhua displayed piggy banks in the suitcase asking viewers to make a donation for a disabled little girl.

[10楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 15:47:44
"Xie Wang
Strive New Goal
Oil on canvas 2004"

The origin of this work is very simple.The title of the of the exhibition is the Shanghai Duolun Exhibition of Young Artists-it is‘youthful’,but with the unavoidable traces of rough imitation.lchoose the form of the chimerical and the illusive,as simplistic as possible.It is also one of the trends in Chinese contemporary art. The image captures the emotional moment when Beijing mayor Wang Qishan waved the Olympic flag at the closing ceremony of the Athens Olympic Games;this scene has a profound significance,and attunes to the passionate patriotic sentiments of today. While fully displaying the hypothesized‘spatial degree of freedom’,this piece aims to differ from previous works. It is at once a‘Youth Art Exhibition’,a‘substitute’,and an‘idea’,with the flow of the above concepts all the more prominent.

[11楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 15:52:17
Installation, video, 1200 x 900 x 80 cm

[12楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 16:39:37
In Singapore Biennale.

This installation is a symbolic representation of the space shuttle Columbia which crashed a few years ago.

The video related this tragedy and questions the motivation of the human kind to always defy nature by using high technologies...

[13楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 17:26:19
Can You Tell Me?
Installation, variable dimensions

A series of stainless steel books with 100 questions on Shanghai in English, Chinese, French and Japanese.

[14楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 17:31:42
Floating object
crystal porcelain 60 x 26 x 12 cm

[15楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 17:39:44
Yiwu Survey
installation, 1100 x 800 x 325 cm

Yiwu is a city famous for being products wholesaler place in China. 
Through this installation the artist also points out the Chinese consumerism society and the economic development of the last few years.

[16楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 17:44:10
24 hours of continuous delusion

[17楼] art-pa-pa 2009-06-30 17:50:27
Export -- Cargo Transit
A solo exhibition by Liu Jianhua
2007.9.6 – 10.26
Shanghai Gallery of Art at Three on the Bund

In a non-colonial society, the attitude of a sick man in the presence of a medical practitioner is one of confidence. —Frantz Fanon

They can't represent themselves; they must be represented. —Karl Marx

The gallery has been transformed into a space that is neither a workshop nor a warehouse. Piles of sterilized rubbish and industrial waste are placed inside the atrium, with its openings sealed with plexi-glass cases. Only one of them is fitted with a wooden door similar to the one used for the gallery's warehouse. Inside the exhibition space are six rubbish packages in varying sizes all sealed with plexi-glass and tagged as “Art Export”. The intention here is to export imported rubbish as artwork again, therefore implanting new values to the so called “goods”.

A rubbish baler is also included in the exhibition. Along with wastes scattered on the floor, it is as if the processes of classification and packing are frozen in time. Although the plexi-glass keeps the rubbish at bay, the garish trash is literally flowing outward from the gallery’s atrium, swallowing up everything in sight. The plexi-glass and cipollini green marble transform “foreign” trash into beautiful paintings. Sound also constitutes an interesting component of this project. The rumbles from passing ships and machines in operation reiterate the real steam whistle as heard from the actual window facing the Huangpu River. The shuttling cargo ships together with the river scene therefore provide an animated background for our imagination. It is as if we have extended a conveyor belt from the gallery directly to the river where the cargos are anchored. The goods will soon be exported. This is Shanghai…

In the gallery, “foreign” rubbish of different kinds and shapes from abroad is now spruced up by Liu as export goods in the name of art. He points to a double-edged sword and questions the status quo of China’s modern history relative to contemporary artistic production. The use of industrial waste from major countries that have signed the Basel Convention (Switzerland, Basel, 1989) as the primary material is not only to shed light on issues of environmental protection or social justice, but to reflect on the problems with China’s modern history and present social reality. Liu’s past socially engaged projects include Regular Fragile (2001-03), Yiwu Investigation (2006) and Can You Tell Me (2006). His use of “foreign” rubbish as the subject matter has everything to do with the literal translation of this word “foreign”, which suggests colonization and Chinese history.

Early colonization centers on military aggression and looting, as evident in the Opium War and Sino-Japanese Naval Battle. However, during the post-colonial era, the colonizers dominate the thinking of their outpost by penetrating their economy and culture. Putting it differently, the colonized have turned from accepting passively the cruel reality to actively adopting the very logic of the colonizer. Thus, what are the roles of society and culture during this never equal cultural exchange? While investigating the colonizer’s crime, to what extent is it necessary to review ourselves? From being colonized to self-colonization, from feeling the pain of the lack of our own spirit and cultural identity to deriving pleasure by consuming the colonizer’s food and money, this has been the spiritual journey for the individuals and also the whole nation. In this project, one thing we must mention --- the place where the “foreign” rubbish comes from --- Guangdong is also where historical events like “Opium Destroyed at Hu Men” and “Quell the British Corps at Sanyuanli” occurred, but today it has become the base for importing “foreign” rubbish, and it is from here that poisonous rubbish is disseminated to different areas around China.

Liu puts forward three questions in this exhibition:

A, How have China and the West been communicated with one another with respect to trade and culture? This is a very important thought that would redefine world history.
B, Shanghai, the Bund, and the Shanghai Gallery of Art, represent respectively the memory of colonial culture, form an experimental site for questioning post-colonial culture. The artist explores the possibility of this project by revealing the complexity of the site from a historical and academic angle. Liu’s objective is to contemplate the psychology and the state of being through the visual quality of this exhibition.
C, Can art be exported? As art that is! Can we recognize the status quo and value of Chinese contemporary art by itself?

Early industrial age not only generated cheap products, but also rubbish and pollution that mankind could not digest, as well as the new ethics in the new big family of human being. For Chinese people at present, many of them gain much less by taking a shortcut to pursue an industrial civilization. It has been one hundred and seventy years since the Opium War that symbolized the beginning of exchange of goods and thinking between China and the West. During this period, the influx of multinational capital has introduced exotic culture to China, but without altering the methodology that western countries use to view our culture. From borrowing republicanism to reform semi-feudal and semi-colonial society to embracing Marxism originated from Germany as a way to emancipate the mass, we have been making arduous attempts for breakthrough in thought systems and national sentiment, notwithstanding the many past defeats.

In The Location of Culture by cultural theorist Homi Bhabha, Bhabha talks about Third World countries in the context of language and Post-colonialism.

Culture becomes as much an uncomfortable, disturbing practice of survival and supplementary – between art and politics, past and present, the public and the private – as its resplendent being is a moment of pleasure, enlightenment or liberation.

Bhabha refers to the survival strategies of culture of those nations that have been colonized with respect to culture and spirit, an applicable case for China. Bhabha claims that in light of cultural hybridity between the colonizer and the colonized, there exists an ambivalence between love and hatred that arises out of mutual inclusiveness that has little to do with the colonizer. On the one hand, it can be regarded as “favors” from the colonizer; on the other hand, it is the consequence of the recreancy of the colonized. One and a half century and ago, Guangdong fought against the British invaders bravely. Today it is in Guangdong where poisonous “foreign” rubbish is smuggled and sold. It is not the problem of Guangdong, neither of China, but the issue of a biased dialogic system between developed countries and developing countries. Liu is aware of these problems and wishes to interfere by way of art. Through shifting the materiality and value judgment, Liu provides multi-faceted viewpoints that deal with economic and political values, individual’s rights and art, and tackles the old problems like “Who we are” and the current cultural predicament.

In general terms, there is a colonial contra-modernity at work in the eighteen-and nineteen-century matices of Western modernity that, if acknowledged, would question the historicism that analogically links, in a linear narrative, late capitalism and the fragmentary, simulacral, pastiche symptoms of post-modernity.

“The Bund was once the financial and economic center in Shanghai in 1920-1930s. Today, it still manifests the characteristics of nobility with its resplendent past. Three on the Bund is a fashionable landmark. This exhibition possesses an explicit attitude towards art and is open to challenge which is closer to the very nature of art,” says Liu, “Shanghai has always been the focus of attention for both the east and the west. Since China’s first opening of treaty ports in middle 18th century, passively accepting the “advanced mode” of the foreign countries has been a portrayal of modern colonial culture, which was halted until the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In 1978 China decided to apply a new social development mode – to “shake hand” with the world actively for the prosperity and future of the whole nation. In the past thirty years, political systems have been more open and economics developing rapidly. Along with the globalization, China’s economy and trade integrate with the world. China has played a crucial role for stabilizing the global economy and its sustainable development. Under such a background, the living environment and national resources of China have been stricken severely and huge price has been paid. No matter how we define modern and post-modern, there is something unavoidable --- that colonial culture brings to China not only the contradictory and agony, post-modernity, if it exists, is entwined with the colonial context even more tightly. This could be proved from the large-scale aphasia symptoms from the society to the art circle in China.

Liu continues, “When China is conducting international trade with countries from around the world for mutual benefit, the rubbish from industrial production and public living and consumption in many western developed countries is continuously being transported to China and to other Third World countries illegally for incinerating or so-called recycling. The low-value recycled rubbish has caused vital pollution to the environment for the costal areas in China, and at the same time, the poisonous material has eroded both the minds and bodies of the public. According to European Constitution and Basel Convention signed in 1989, exporting poisonous rubbish to the Third World countries from the developed countries is strictly prohibited. However, transporting the rubbish to China is like compelling the Chinese to accept their lifestyle, or standard. The fact that we are accepting passively an unequal standard is a true portraiture of today’s world order. It is wrong to transport opium to other countries; it is ridiculous to start a war. Why should the victims accept it? Although it has been ages, past opium is today’s “foreign” rubbish.

A remarkable peculiarity is that (the English) always write the personal pronoun I with a capital letter. May be we do not consider this Great I as an unintended proof how much an Englishman thinks of his own consequence?

To sum up, we realize clearly that developed countries consider their national interest as paramount, which in fact reflects different political viewpoints. From economy, finance, culture to art, no matter how the imperial powers vary themselves, they are always the one who gain at the end. At least, so the colonizer is hoping.

Cao Weijun
Shanghai Gallery of Art
Three on the Bund

[18楼] art-pa-pa 2009-07-02 11:52:50
About Export-Cargo Transit
Solo Exhibition by Liu Jianhua

Interviewer: Chan Ho Yeung David (D)
Interviewee: Liu Jianhua (L)

D: After reading the statement by Cao Weijun, do you have anything to add?

L: Cao’s article is quite close to my original idea as clearly stated in his article. Since last year, I have been conducting investigations for this project, for my previous works already focused on social problems. China is developing very fast now, way too fast. With economic globalization, there emerges a different system/institutionality and also a different economic relationship between the west and China. However, China has produced something quite different from the west. In many western countries, they go according to existing public systems and established modes of economic development, thus they can compare and learn from their past experiences. However, in China, everything is brand new. I think this is something quite significant. My work is divided into two parts. One part pays attention to our psychology as a form of potential that is concealed; the other part focuses on dealing with social problems. I think we need to pay closer attention to social problems in order to create more relevance for contemporary art. This is where my interest lies.

D: Can you elaborate on your choice of using imported industrial waste as the base material for this exhibition, what does it represent? What kind of meaning can the audience deduce from it?

L: This is a problem with China. Other countries may have similar problems, but it is more pronounced in China. I think “foreign rubbish” is a unique problem connected with rapid economic growth that has no historical precedence. On the one hand, western countries have always interfered with the affairs of developing countries. As stated in the book Empire, the concept of empire is not expressed with military power as done before, but with integration of economy, trade and other forms of expressions. China, as the fastest developing country, is not competing with western countries. The use of “foreign rubbish” may expose some inherent social problems. The reason I choose the Shanghai Gallery of Art has everything to do with the site and its history. The history of the Bund makes this place an ideal venue to illustrate the historical background of colonial culture from early last century. Pudong, which is facing directly from the Bund, is an outcome of China’s new economic development. It follows that the colonial history and culture of the Bund together with the rising new culture of Pudong are blended into one space. In my mind, SGA is the ideal place to exhibit this work, because it makes the work more powerful and broaden its readings. “Foreign rubbish” is not a superficial phenomenon. It contains a lot of information. I didn’t know whether I would be able to realize this project when I had this idea in the first place.

D: How does the artwork relate to the given site, how are decisions made in terms of the placement of “waste” in the gallery?

L: After all, we are not doing an exhibition that deals with sciences or environmental protection. We are doing an art exhibition. But since we have chosen this topic, we inevitably have to face the issue of reconstructing this space. A number of influential exhibitions have been held here. The atrium is the most interesting part to my mind. The atrium is a floating space with a sense of movement. By bringing “foreign rubbish” into this space, I hope that it would suggest a warehouse to some extent. For those who are familiar with this architectural landmark, they would feel suffocated by this situation. For those who come for the first time, they are looking at a painting made with rubbish and plexi-glass. The title “Export – Cargo Transit” suggests two meanings. First, “export” here means importing “foreign rubbish” into China from foreign countries. For outsiders, it is export. If this artwork is taken by a collector from the west, the artwork is then being re-exported from China. Another meaning is the concept behind this project. Can rubbish be identified as art? I want to propose a question for art through my exhibition. Contemporary art lies in its experimental nature. It does not carry a literal concept nor a standard form. This is a very important concept for this project. The material in the space facing the atrium has to cohere with what is inside the atrium. The rubbish in the atrium has been classified, which brings pleasure to the viewers. Outside the atrium is a baler, which functions as a machine that processes the rubbish into art for export. This project simulates a complete system, which includes a warehouse, a center, an assembly line, and a rubbish embankment with the Bund scenery as the backdrop. The whole space is floating and constantly shifting. There is a random characteristic to this work that is acting according to different environments. It is a huge challenge for me.

D: How do you pick those words on the wall for “foreign rubbish”?

L: It is very simple. I put information I have gathered instead of a description. I wish to strengthen the impression of the foreign rubbish with the texts, and the viewers would only be made aware of the hidden issue by this information. Then, the audience would start to think about the intention behind the artwork. In the middle of the gallery, I opened up a window which acts as a line of demarcation, from which we can see the restaurants along the Bund [often patronized by westerners] representative of the current life style. The words to the left side of the window are in Chinese, and to the right side in English that suggest the difference between China and the west. The words I put are from local and foreign media which elaborate different takes on foreign rubbish.

D: This exhibition presents an open platform, one that establishes an equilibrium where different cycles are co-existing and are in active negotiation with one another. Specifically, cycles of classification, history, interpretation, goods, power, production, and so forth… can you elaborate more on this scenario?

L: I have no idea. Every viewer may bring a different feeling. Chinese and westerners hold very different value standards. It is impossible to judge art with a standard now. However, the work would be enriched if it is displayed as a concept. Thus, the viewers still find their own answers and meaning in the artwork. I trust my work evokes thinking and translation in terms of culture.

D:In terms of the power relation between China and the “west”, one potential reading of this show is that you are painting a rather binary picture, specifically on the foreign exploitation of China. To what extent are you interested in exposing the faults of this society and the emergence of another form of negotiation with economic globalization in this context?

L: First, western countries must have problems because “foreign rubbish” goes through their customs department. If their customs department had been responsible, this wouldn’t have happened. On the contrary, if the Chinese Customs had controlled this issue well, this also wouldn’t have happened here. I did research in Guangdong Province and witnessed the transport of the rubbish there with huge trucks. The materials that can be recycled are picked out, while for those cannot will be buried. However, the products made from materials as extracted from the rubbish must have quality problem. And the rubbish buried or burnt must have done great damage to the environment and the public. I saw with my own eyes that the rivers so black that it was impossible to see through the water and the workers, without any protection gears, were picking up rubbish along the river. This work is intended to reflect on the relationship between developed and developing countries. Although China has entered WTO, we are still not able to talk to the west as an equal partner. National confidence needs a strong system and economic base to support itself. But this will take more than one hundred years for its arts and culture to reach this point.

D: Personally it will be very provocative to “export” this project to the west so to speak, to see what other readings for this exhibition are possible and also the audience reactions from a different geopolitical context.

L: I have to think about it. This work is a milestone for me. I hope, during the next few years, all my works will be come out of a longer term commitment. I’ve spent a really long time on this work. Now I feel happy to see it finally realized.

Sep 4, 2007,
Three on the Bund

[19楼] art-pa-pa 2009-07-02 11:53:35
EXPORT- Cargo Transit
Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China

The Shanghai Gallery of Art sits inside an elegant post-renaissance structure along the city’s historic bund. Erected in 1916, during the heyday of capitalist expansionism into the far-east, the building was a home for international banks. Today, a situation often considered a sequel to that turn-of-the-century jazz-age, the building embodies Shanghai’s new-found extravagance. Recently renovated by Phillipe Stark, Bund No.3 hosts such luxury stores as Armani, HUGO BOSS and Jean Georges Restaurant. It is undeniably a befitting place for Liu Jianhua’s colossal installation, EXPORT-Cargo Transit to lay its post-colonial wrath.
In early September as crowds from around the world were descending on Shanghai for it’s premiere SHContemporary art fair, the artist, Liu Jianhua was busy transporting ten tons of "foreign" refuse from Guangdong Province and installing it into this cosmopolitan landmark. Plastic medicine bottles, computer parts, encasings, filters, foils, shredded resins, adhesive backings and beyond sprawl about the gallery in categorically determined bales. Against the exterior wall a massive bank of loose debris climbs up to the windows and reveals the brand new city of Pudong, posing as the epitome of progress across the river. An overloaded industrial baling machine emerges from the mess. At the center of the space Phillipe Stark’s signature atrium is stuffed solid with colorful waste.
The rubbish is easily re-contextualized as captivating, consumable art. There are even some inside slights- a wall of a zillion crushed white medicine bottles seems to be making a joke about Damien Hirst while everything else speaks of Barry Leva. Broad yellow swatches of fiber-glass fabric are packaged against dark ragged rubber in transparent containers labeled as ART EXPORT. A move that, given the context, appears superfluous. At the exhibition opening, international art world elite clamor about prices and dimensions. On the walls of the space news clippings in both Chinese and English reveal the urgency of what’s really going on. “80 per cent of the world's electronic rubbish is transferred to Asia every year, 90 per cent or 36 million metric tones ends up in China; in one processing town there is no potable water, 80% of the children have lead poisoning.”
All of Liu’s garbage has all been illegally imported to China from the developed world (New Zealand, US, England, Canada, Europe, Japan, etc.) Paradoxically, all of the countries guilty of this late-capital crime have signed the Basel Convention – a pact of wealthier nations that agrees to stop exporting garbage to poorer nations. Under the pretense of being shipped to China for its inexpensive recycling facilities the refuse often ends up being disposed of illegally, creating irreversible environmental pollution and health problems for workers in an area that ironically once hosted the Opium Wars.

The convoluted global market dynamic is presented here in multiple overlapping instances, one more entrenched then the next. Liu has shown us developed to developing world dumping as a reciprocal business, as a by-product of of rapid modernization and as a warning that the current dialectic, once transparent, falls apart. The historical dimension of culture, goods, power, production and consumption is further articulated by the site-specificity of the piece. Standing at the gates of East and West at a time when Chinese art market (until recently, exclusively an export business) performances have bewildered even the most seasoned of speculators, this garbage ties the loop of complicity tightly across the channels.

Mathieu Borysevicz
14 September 2007

[20楼] art-pa-pa 2009-07-02 12:05:42
More articles....

Transformation of the Everyday
Eugene Tan

In 2000, when the Chinese artists duo Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi relieved themselves on the Tate Modern’s edition of Marcel Duchamp’s iconic Fountain of 1917 as part of an unauthorised performance, interesting issues were highlighted. While the two artists described their act as a homage to Duchamp, it was generally perceived as a publicity-seeking act, very much in line with their previous performance-based works and highlighting the spectacle that characterises certain aspects of contemporary Chinese art. What this also serves to underline is the complex relationship that Chinese contemporary art has with art in Europe and America, which revolves largely around issues of influence and contextualisation. With understanding and perceptions of Chinese art still based on European and American perspectives of contemporary art development, much contemporary art in China still revolves around attempts to either explain away or affirm their belated adoption of artistic styles or modes of expression derived from the West. The work of Liu Jianhua, however, makes no apologist attempt to do so. While Liu’s work reflects the contemporary situation that China faces and its relationship to the West, it also reveals the complexities and intricacies underlying this relationship. This can be seen in the relationships that Liu’s work has with that of Duchamp, specifically Fountain, one of the most significant works in the development of art in the West, a relationship that goes beyond their similarity in the use of porcelain.

Trained as a ceramicist in Jingdezhen, China, Liu’s work has employed ceramics and porcelain in ways that challenge their use in traditional techniques of Chinese ceramic production. In Liu’s work, there is a shift in sculptural language away from moulding and forming to copying and appropriating. This is evident in Regular/Fragile (2003), which consists of countless white porcelain replicas of various objects, such as locks, hammers, bottles, telephones, etc., random objects that are related only by their use in daily life. Liu’s work has often been interpreted in relation to China’s rapid economic development and industrialisation and its role in the globalised economy. This aspect of Liu’s work draws attention to how much of the consumer goods that are produced in the world today originate in China, due primarily to its low labour, capital and other costs of production. This, however, comes at the expense of detrimental effects for China’s society and environment in terms of pollution, social effects, etc.,. The use of porcelain in Liu’s work, meanwhile, alludes to the precariousness and insustainability of this situation, porcelain being a visually compelling but fragile material. While this interpretation of Liu’s work is significant in highlighting the position of China in relation to the global order, there is yet another more significant aspect to Liu’s work, which reflects the complex ontological relation between the production of consumer goods in China and the international art system, thereby also reflecting upon the recent, rapid growth of the Chinese contemporary art market.

Cai and Jian’s act of relieving themselves, even if it was not onto Duchamp’s Fountain directly, but onto the perspex casing of the work, highlights the fact that despite Duchamp’s attempt to remove the industrially-produced urinal from everyday, real-life context and its insertion into an art context, it can still be used as a urinal and has functional value as a urinal if properly installed. Its removal from its daily context has not eliminated the urinal of its use value, and that it is possible for it to return to the realm of the everyday if ever the decision was made. Duchamp’s gesture of nomination and transformation of everyday objects into works of art, although one of the most significant developments in art of the 20th Century, however, did not remove them from their everyday context in a sense. By contrast, everyday objects in Liu’s work undergo a different ontological transformation, as well as a transformation in cultural significance. In Regular/Fragile, through Liu’s transformation of everyday objects into white porcelain surrogates, the objects are standardised and their differences eradicated. Being made of the same material, they also become visually similar. Their use value as objects is expunged and they are no longer able to function in the same way as the objects on which they are modelled. Instead, they are transformed, literally, into art objects through traditional Chinese methods of art making and reinvested with value, not use value but economic value. In their new guise as art objects, they are made to acquire cultural and economic value as such through the art system. Therefore, whereas Duchamp’s readymades also subverted the art system and structures of its time, Liu’s work embodies a reflexivity which knowingly transforms everyday objects into objects for cultural consumption, for the art system. Liu’s Regular/Fragile can therefore be seen to reflect the complex and intricate relationship between art and everyday life, particularly in the context of contemporary Chinese society.

Regular/Fragile highlights how economic progress and financial rewards have become the overriding concerns of contemporary Chinese society, at the expense of everything else. This is, furthermore, a sensibility which has even infiltrated the art system and has led to the position where art is seen as another more lucrative form of investment and acquired for its speculative potential, which has resulted in the phenomenal growth of the Chinese art market in recent years. Liu’s work pertinently reflects the situation where due to the intricate relationship between art and life that now exists, development of art and culture in China is now being driven in undesirable directions, which will have detrimental and lasting effects upon Chinese culture and society.

[21楼] art-pa-pa 2009-07-02 12:06:10

Projecting dreams
Liu Jianhua’s spiritual things

There is a picture occupying two pages of Liu Jianhua’s catalogue ‘Daily – fragile’ ( 2003) which has caught my attention. That catalogue documents his important series of everyday objects made of white porcelain; in this photo, a hand (his own?) lifts a porcelain crash helmet, revealing a skull made of the same material (1). In another image several white helmets are on display on a simple old-fashioned, wooden shelf, neatly lined up as if they were in a shop or in a storeroom. The same skull lies amongst them now (2). This work reminds me of all those ancient paintings where monks, thinkers, gentlemen are portrayed sitting in their studio with a skull clearly visible on the writing table. It was simply and directly called in Latin ‘memento mori’: something meant to remind us that we, too, will die.
In contemporary life ‘death’ tends to be generally ignored, it is not a subject for frequent thought, but rather something we try not to think about. We no longer seem to be able to deal with it naturally, either in speech or in behaviour, therefore the skull Liu Jianhua has placed beside the helmets strikes the viewer instantly. But while the renaissance skulls were real and carried the history and the heritage – and the bodily features – of the person who had been their ‘master’, Liu Jianhua’s skull, although highly disquieting, does not relate to any individual person; it has been cast from a mould like the other innumerable objects in his work.
We cannot deny the fact that ‘death’ is as ‘daily’ as those many things accurately reproduced in porcelain by the sculptor: shoes, bags, miniature cars, fruits, hats, vacuum bottles…. In another respect, though, we might find it problematic to juxtapose ‘concrete things’ to the representation of something which is so un-material and super-temporal as death. I believe that Liu Jianhua has included the skull here alongside those everyday objects to remind us how important the ‘spirit’ is, despite the fact that it is nowadays overwhelmed by so many material things…

I feel that this example synthesises well two major components of the artist’s creative process, and of his poetic. From the very beginning of his independent artistic career – just after his graduation from the Sculpture department of the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute (1989) - he has striven to express a certain distress, an uneasiness of the ‘spirit’ when it is captured, contained, restrained within ‘matter’. We can imagine how this relation, this dilemma, becomes relevant, basic for someone who has to deal daily with ‘matter’ like a sculptor. Being a sculptor, one has to develop a special sensitivity towards ‘materials’, the physical, concrete aspect of every work. One has to translate abstract ideas, concepts, into something tangible, heavy, three-dimensional – in a way, a paradox! This is nothing new, obviously: we all know that masters like Michelangelo, Bernini, Canova (just to mention some of the most famous) have managed to overcome the ‘prosaic’ aspect of sculpture, and have reached incredible spiritual and emotional results.
Liu Jianhua laments that the sculptural tradition in China isn’t nearly as relevant as in the West, and remembers that in the Eighties he agreed with an essay published in the ‘China Art Journal’, where the writer was complaining about the low quality of the contemporary sculptural works, mainly limited to rhetorical, Pharaonic, kitsch city sculptures, which were spread out throughout the country.

Conjugating spirit and material
“Stranger” (1989) is the earliest sculpture by Liu Jianhua I have in mind. It is made of wood, a material the artist often experimented with, back then, although it was not taught in his department (3). “Stranger” has a thin, elongated shape with a vaguely African flavour, it is simple and essential in its volumes; the surface is left uneven to reveal the cuts and gouges inflicted by the tool. By doing so the very nature of the wood – its specific hardness and the fact that one has to ‘remove’ portions of material, bit by bit, from the original block – is revealed at its best. The head is small and the facial traits are rendered with few lines – thick lips, wide nose, round eyes. The trunk is slender, without arms, and it widens on the hips; at this point something protrudes, something in between a weapon (a stick ?) and a considerably-sized phallus. As a whole, the sculpture appears to be far removed from the Chinese style and taste, no wonder the artist has chosen the title ‘stranger’ for it. This figure, in its hierarchic posture, resembles a tribal totem and looks primitive, natural, strong, unsophisticated.
One year later Liu Jianhua started the series called ‘Life series’ (1990) (4), in unpainted terracotta. Here the shapes are even more simplified and geometric, in between anthropomorphic (but if there are human beings, they have no head) and zoomorphic. They even borrow some patterns from the vegetal world. A few of the works are made of two components, facing one another, as if to express the feminine and masculine principles, whose combination generates ‘life’: a clever sculptural way to express the ‘same old yin-yang’ Chinese principle. The surface of the rounded figures is scratched all over with free-hand-lines; again, beside some hints to the masters Liu Jianhua was looking at in that period (here I think of Arp), the feeling is of some raw material, like the huts made of mud mixed with straw one can find in African rural architecture, something very basic and deeply imbued with its original energy. At that time Liu Jianhua had already moved to Yunnan, and it is very possible that the local character – the exuberance of natural forms, the genuine and unpretentious yet forceful traits of the local artworks and handicrafts – had started to influence his taste. The sculptor is very quick to catch the atmosphere of the places he visits, and to encapsulate it into his own creations with great delicacy.

The next series I am aware of is entitled ‘Natural series – green life’ (1991/92) and it is mainly realised in fibreglass. Here the artist stresses the phytomorphic aspect: parts of the human body are mingled with tree branches as in a hymn to a pantheistic sentiment about the world (5). The fibreglass is chosen because it is a cheap material which stands for the extremely expensive bronze, and is therefore painted in a dark green with ‘rusty’ details.
These works are even more slender and long-limbed, almost without volume: they refer to pictorial lines rather than to three-dimensional sculptures. Suspended between symbolism and abstraction, they pay a lot of attention to the treatment of the surface, which is at times smooth and shiny, at other times rough and uneven.

Liu Jianhua has always been very well-informed about what was going on in his country since the ’85 movement, even though when he was working in a porcelain factory in Jingdezhen (from 77 to 85) and in the following years, when he was studying sculpture at the local Academy (1985-89), the environment did not allow him to explore his own need for a new artistic expression, different both from socialist realism and from the traditional iconology inspired by Buddhist and Taoist figures (luohan, Guanyin…). I have the impression that during his first years in Kunming he had the chance and the need to go through a process of synthesis and personal elaboration of what he had been seeing in books (amongst others, he was so lucky to have access to a book on Rodin when he was fourteenth) on Western masters, and of the new possibilities emerging in his country: to give expression to personal, intimate feelings.
This period’s works are spontaneous, honest in their naivete, careful in their approach towards the different characteristic of materials and subjects.
The series that followed – we know by now that Liu Jianhua feels the need to express his ideas through several works, which, when seen together, can better illustrate them – has a more complicated title: ‘A Spiritual Direction – leaving the mainstream’ series (1993) (6). These sculptures, made of dark green fibreglass, continue the previous themes and become more abstract, resembling slim totems suspended on exiguous supports (like filiform legs) which make them gravitate towards the sky rather than down to the earth. Their centre of gravity is dangerously unbalanced, their equilibrium is precarious and it seems to rely on a sophisticated calculation of static forces. Considering the fact that this series is meant to be ‘striving for a spiritual goal’, we understand how difficult it must have been to express the quest for lightness, for immateriality, having to deal with volumes and textures.

There is a single work dating from 1994, larger than the previous ones, entitled ‘The dream’s body’ (fibreglass) (7): in it, the sense of disequilibrium is accentuated, and so is the feeling of a ‘burden’ concretely represented by a block of rectangular material, which does not recall any organic morphology. The block seems to suffocate, to weigh down a human being whose only visible parts are the legs (dangerously leaning on the footboard) and the arms, spread out towards the sky in a desperate attempt to free the rest of the body from the thick, suffocating solidification of bust and head.
We have noticed how Liu Jianhua makes the best use of materials and techniques according to his expressive needs: here, legs and arms are realistically rendered, with polished surface, while the block of raw material is rough, irregular, disquieting, resembling the ‘chaos of origin’, when the single existences had not been shaped yet.
An earlier work, entitled ‘Dream’ (1991) (8) displays a similar technical skill, but is more classical, devoid of expressionistic tension: a young naked woman is sitting pensively on… nothing: the support is left to our imagination.
It is interesting to notice that one of the more important recent works by Liu Jianhua is also called ‘Dream’ (2005) and actually the terms he has used, although they differ slightly in Chinese, both carry the feeling that those ‘dreams’ are illusory. These subtleties cannot be rendered in English with a single word.

While the early works are rather personal , the artist tends to show more and more clearly his concern for social and global problems; the series of works ‘Disharmony’ (1994-97) is a clear example of this.
The artist has started this series in the year 1994. By that time he was well acquainted with the local artists, who had become his friends and colleagues; amongst them Mao Xuhui, Li Ji, Tang Zhigang. In 1994 they held an exhibition together in which Liu Jianhua built his first ‘installation’ work, made of magazines, plaster casts and iron structures.
As he said, the atmosphere of the show was more successful than most of the works on display, which were very experimental and therefore not so mature artistically. He recalls that the artists decided to hold a show together solely in order to communicate, to create a debate and an event which could arouse some attention: a very ‘genuine’ approach quite difficult to find nowadays.
The ‘Disharmony’ series has been, as the artist himself admits, one of the first works where his deep concern towards social issues is expressed clearly and strongly. In it, he uses some lower parts of naked female dummies juxtaposing them to some ‘official’ men’s outfits, namely those jackets worn by cadres, called ‘zhongshanzhuang’ from the ‘father of the motherland’, Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) who was very fond of them. When I first met Liu Jianhua in Kunming, in September 1997, he was taking pictures of this series. The juxtaposition of the two elements (again, male and female) and the exposure of the most intimate parts of the female body, life-size, make these works very strong and controversial. Sculpturally, it is interesting to see how Liu Jianhua has given the women’s legs and limbs a very plump, sensual feeling, while the men’s world is represented by blue, greenish or dark-grey jackets, standing stiff and martial, like empty shells. I think he has glued and processed the jackets to make them stand in the posture he needed. These technical virtuosities have never been a problem for the artist; rather, he likes the challenge of making the apparently impossible possible.

Another similar series, slightly more demure, is called ‘Concealed’ (1994) (10): in it, naked female arms emerge from men’s garments, embracing them. I believe these works precede the ‘Disharmony’ ones.

I remember that when I saw the work I wondered why Liu Jianhua was so deeply influenced by issues which have a very strong impact in the Chinese society – namely corruption, and the abuse of power by people who use it in a very authoritarian and often discriminatory way: those who wear the ‘official’ garments often do that. “Are these problems so relevant to his personal life and artistic creation?” I wondered. In a recent conversation he confirmed how deeply he cares for the society he lives in, and how its development affects him, especially after he has become a father and he has started to be concerned for his young son’s future.
When I asked him whether he thought that artworks could change or influence society, he admitted that this is beyond the artist’s power; however, being more alert, sensitive and critical, artists can become aware of problems earlier than the ‘man in the street’, and point out the shortcomings, speeding up the process of self-consciousness.

Forgetting about this never-ending issue, I would like to point out that here men and women’s torsos are headless; a characteristic we have already found in some previous works and which will be carried on. The head is considered superfluous for the communicative and aesthetic aim of the works. I believe Liu Jianhua deliberately avoids making the same mistake of the protagonist of the famous Chinese proverb “to draw a snake with legs”: he won’t use any element which isn’t strictly necessary.

The following series is the one which showed Liu Jianhua to be one of the leading emergent artists in contemporary China, and has allowed him to take part in many shows abroad. The title is ‘Obsessive memories’ (from 1998 on).
I think one of the most important events in the artist’s career is the fact that eight years after having left Jingdezhen, the domain of porcelain, where he felt somehow suffocated by the traditional heritage of consolidated patterns and techniques, allowing him no creative space, he found a new opportunity. The artist had by then achieved a certain self-confidence and a break from his former environment for a while enabled him to realize that porcelain, a material he mastered so well, had so many more new techniques and themes for him to explore.
In a few words: he has gone back to Jingdezhen and to the factory where he had been working, carrying a well-defined idea in his mind, that of juxtaposing traditional patterns from different backgrounds (pottery and tailoring, for instance) combining them to express very powerful concepts. He has taken advantage of his knowledge of porcelain and of the skill of the local craftsmen. Here the women bodies, in the past symbolised by naked parts of dummies, are sensuous naked legs wearing high heeled shoes, and an armless, headless torso dressed up in the most precious qipao. (11). Everything is made in the most exquisite, shiny, preciously decorated porcelain.
The qipao is a very feminine dress, usually made to measure, that follows the body curves closely and reveals a great part of the legs through two side-cleavages. They are the symbol of a modern, westernised Chinese era, which had its golden period in Shanghai of the 30s, where women were explicitly using their sex-appeal to attract men in a way definitely different from the traditional Chinese one. Nowadays, the qipao is worn by waitresses in good restaurants and in similar venues, by the bride in weddings and on special occasions.
The first headless (and arm-less) women are, similar to the young girl in the 1991’s ‘Dream’ and to the 1994’s ‘The body of dream’, sitting on imaginary chairs, in precarious balance, sustained only by the back wing of the qipao (12).
In Liu Jianhua’s ‘obsessive memories’, those symbols of lasciviousness, of corruption, of sensuality, become more and more allusive: from the sitting position they are stretched out on plates, sofas, even bathtubs. The combination of colours and patterns is very accurate, and extremely detailed in the decoration, which makes use of all the traditional motives mastered through the centuries in Jingdezhen’s factories.
The males (in the earliest works of the series they were still represented by a stiff zhongshanzhuang jacket) are no longer there: that part is now played by the viewer who is the one to enjoy such triumphs of masculinist imagination. I think it is not relevant whether he is Western or Chinese: the visual pleasure is very much the same .
I find it very interesting that in the catalogue which illustrates this series of works, and which is entitled ‘Delight and illusion’, the first two-pages of pictures in the book offer a panorama of ‘today’s Kunming’, followed on the second page by a portrait of the artist shopping for food in a supermarket, pushing a trolley. I think Liu Jianhua wants to stress the fact that globalization has changed the appearance of many places in the world so much, that even some of the most local, national symbols (i.e. the qipao) have lost their original meaning. One could also say that traditional China, with its morality and codes of values, has been reduced to several empty symbols and offered as a tempting dish for world consumption. It is a concept similar to the one outlined by the Chinese art critic Li Xianting few years ago, that Chinese contemporary art, being celebrated and enjoyed in the West is like ‘spring-rolls’, a kind of food which is now more popular abroad than at home.

What I really appreciate in the catalogue ‘Delight and Illusion’ is the way it has been designed by the artist, as a part of his artistic production: the photographs he chooses are central to his point. There is an important section in which he carefully illustrates the concrete realization of the works. This is long and complicated because of the high level of technical skills involved in his work: many craftsmen and craftswomen are invited to concretize the artist’s idea. Some paint, some control the oven, some give the final retouches. The whole process, which passes through several hands, is conscientiously documented, and this makes us understand that Liu Jianhua does not consider himself as a merely ‘conceptual’ artist, someone who uses his mind only: his hands, his eyes and his ‘belly’ (as we say in Italy) have a major part in the creation.

Addition of all the colours = white
I believe the next series is ‘Reflexes in the water’ (2001-2002), a humorous skyline of Shanghai’s, Beijing’s, Guangzhou’s, Shenzhen’s most famous buildings on the Pudong bank of the Huangpu river. The porcelain work, a long line of repeated buildings (it can be several meters, depending on the exhibition space), is to be hung on the wall at about 1.5 meters from the floor. The distorted buildings are wavy as if they were reflected in the water, and, being lit from above, strangely enough, project a straighter shadow on the wall underneath, creating a kind of paradox between a ‘drunk’ reality and its surprisingly ‘sober’ reflection (13b).
Initially the artist produced this works painting the buildings in vivacious colours (13), but then for some reason – maybe the fact that colours anyhow fade in the water – the artist decided to use a clean, shiny, pure white porcelain, and the effect became aesthetically much more sophisticated. Moreover, due to its paleness, the resemblance of the skyline to a ghost city was even greater.
The result charmed the artist so much that he decided to stick to the pure white for further, very successful series.

The next work I am going to talk about was chosen to be part of the Chinese Pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale, but could not be shown there because of the SARS epidemics. It is the series I have mentioned at the beginning of this essay: ‘Daily – Fragile’. I remember when Liu Jianhua first showed me the photos of the earliest works. It was the 31st of December, 2002, and we were in Kunming celebrating with some good friends. The artist had not only re-produced a large number of everyday objects in white porcelain already, but had photographed them in the open air on a mountain near Kunming, making them become part of the landscape (14).
Talking recently about this work, Liu Jianhua says that it was inspired by a strong personal concern, by fear – the feeling of how fragile our everyday life is - embodied by the objects which accompany us everywhere. He told me that in that period he was especially afraid to fly, although he had to do it often for his work, especially to go to and from Jingdezhen, because he had heard of several airplane accidents. In one of them, a child who was going back home with some pelouches he had bought, died, and a Teddy bear was seen floating on the sea beside the remains of the plane – a scary sight, indeed. Liu Jianhua’s strong family ties, and his affection towards his young son, caused him many anxieties about the triviality of material needs and about the essential frailty of human life. Amongst the dozens of objects he has reproduced we will notice many toys and a Teddy bear.
Other things have been chosen especially because the switch between their original material into one as easy to break as porcelain strengthens the paradoxical effect. For instance, hammers, crash helmets, guns, locks, boxing gloves, weights: these are all objects considered to be extremely resistant to strong impacts, and which are even designed to crash into other things. In this new state they lose all their traditional qualities, and become as fragile as the others.
The artist has immortalized a very significant composition of three objects: on a porcelain pillow lies the skull I mentioned above, beside the small model of an airplane. I consider it the artist’s self-portrait in that special psychological state (15).

Liu Jianhua has changed the display of the works many times in recent exhibitions, according to the venue and to the situation: the objects have at times been shown on shelves, as if paraphrasing the contemporary consumerist optic where everything is seen as commercial. In other cases, they were hung on the wall and from the ceiling, floating in the air, creating a destabilising effect on the viewers, surrounded by a crowd of familiar yet very disquieting daily objects, which had lost their familiar role and become completely useless. In the project for the Venice Biennale pavilion, which was exhibited in Guangzhou and Beijing, the artist built up a three-dimensional map of Venice, where tall object such as boots and bottles were to represent Venice’s churches and towers. Venice itself, nowadays one of the most commercial cities in the world, where souvenirs and useless items are on sale at every corner, had been transformed into a display of pure white, shiny, but extremely fragile, beautiful objects.

Site-specific projects
In the year 2004 Liu Jianhua received many invitations to exhibitions, some of which required artworks with specific spatial or thematic qualities. This attitude is by no means new in art: we know that some of the best works of the past were commissioned from the artists, whose skill was to be able to express their creativity even within strict limitations.
The artist has chosen to go on using white porcelain: which, with its pure and frail appearance, proves to be really fascinating. The artist plays with the inner quality of the material, and with the fact that any object changes greatly after having been re-made, becoming aesthetically appealing.
Amongst the works he has realised in this profitable year, there is ‘Variation of shape’ (2004, 3), where the artist has re-done some oil drums in white porcelain, imagining them placed in a natural environment, a park (16). The surface of the object is not perfect; rather, it is cracked and lumpy. These drums pretend to record the ‘history’ of the fuel, but where the real ones are dirty and have sullied our earth, during the years, in Liu Jianhua’s work ideally they become a ‘reminder’, a clean and shiny, innocuous monument to an era which we wish will end soon – the era of (black) petroleum.

The work called ‘Transformation of memory’ (2004) was chosen for the 7th International Sculpture and Installation Exhibition in Venice (17); it conveys an experience shared by millions of Chinese people in the last twenty years or so. I often have heard stories of people going back to their parents’ house after no more than a week’s absence, and finding it difficult to recognise the location because the street had changed so drastically: all the trees had been cut and strewn on the ground. It is a really shocking experience, which leaves us with a sense of anger and of waste. Liu Jianhua has embodied this kind of collective, common memory into his porcelain trunks cast from moulds. Their fragile appearance hopefully stirs up strong memories and a greater concern for the environment.

Other ‘site-specific’ works of that year are ‘Indoor space’, a kind of mattress made of porcelain squares arranged diagonally on the floor and ‘To strive for a new goal’, a painting which was part of an unusual exhibition held at the Doland Musem in Shanghai. In it, many established artists changed their name and exhibited newly-made works under false names, pretending to be young, unknown artists. Liu Jianhua’s work is a painting which, I think, satirizes the major goal China is striving for lately, the Olympic games in 2008. Lately, these and the technique employed by the German painter Gerhard Richter have influenced greatly the Chinese artists in both the artistic and economic respect. Here the artist disguises himself under the name of Xie Wang.
The amusing ‘Courier’ exhibition, which was put up by several artists from Shanghai and with the cooperation of BizArt, had to be booked by phone, and was taken to your home in a suitcase (every work had to be ‘portable’) by a courier who had been trained to perform and became a major protagonist. Liu Jianhua’s work, entitled ‘Donation’, aimed to draw the viewer’s attention to a humanitarian case and invited everybody to help through a donation, therefore starting an interaction between artist and viewer.

Another dream
The latest work by Liu Jianhua I have seen is the large and complex installation made for MC1, the First Biennale of Chinese Contemporary Art in Montpellier, France. (At the same time he had been invited to take part in the 2006 Singapore Biennale). This ambitious and successful work, which won the artist the first prize, is composed of more than 6000 objects of white porcelain, which arrived in France complete, only to be broken into pieces on the spot, and amassed on the floor to create the shape of a missile (18), (19). On the wall in front of the missile’s head, there is the projection of a video with episodes of defeats in the human history of cosmic exploration.
The documentary which records the installation of the work shows the opening of the boxes containing an enormous quantity and variety of those white porcelain objects we are by now acquainted with. I wonder what was the artist’s state of mind when he broke all his own creations. The disquieting atmosphere created by the myriad of white crocks is augmented by the tone of the video projected in the background. This recalls two major tragedies: one in 1986 with the explosion of the missile Challenger, and then again in 2003 with the Columbus. The terrified silence in which hundreds of people got the news that all the 7 astronauts had died is eloquent enough to make us wonder about the sense of these experiments.
The sentence which concludes Liu Jianhua’s video, referring to the ‘conquest of the cosmos’, reads:“is this the last dream we need to realize?”

In this work the artist’s deep concern for human fate is expressed in both a universal and very personal way: the white objects, which have become, in a way, his symbol, and have characterised his work for years, have become part of the history of the whole world.

I have started this essay talking about death and now I realise that the last sentences are on the same subject. I do not mean that Liu Jianhua’s thought is circumscribed by it, but I definitely think his worries about recent developments in the world are seriously grounded and that a more self-aware approach towards‘modernization’ and all the material values which are now widely accepted is the sign of a mature and critical eye.
Being an artist, and therefore a dreamer, Liu Jianhua transforms his fears and his wishes into works which are his personal suggestions, his‘projects’ for a better world.

Monica Dematté
Vigolo Vattaro, 27 July 2006

Special thanks to Catherine Marshall
[22楼] art-pa-pa 2009-07-02 12:06:42

Next Leap

I have seen Liu’s work in Europe, China, and Japan. It is always clear in concept and makes a simple and strong impression on me. However, the content behind this impression is not simple; it is diverse and complex. I would like to consider the cause of both the simplicity and complexity

One element of complexity is the diversity of style in Liu’s work. He has gone through many stylistic changes in the last 15 years, changes that probably reflect changes in Chinese society. These changes in his work also represent changes in his thinking, ways of developing ideas, and sources of inspiration.

Early works showing women wearing a qipao seated on a sofa or in bathtubs or on plates are based on a curious gaze directed toward pop culture and kitsch in current Chinese society. They illustrate both the charm and ugliness of the materialistic culture and strong attention on the Chinese style fashions in the traditional medium of ceramic sculpture. Liu had studied the techniques and modes of expression of traditional ceramics in JingDeZhen, the most famous city for ceramic production since the Min dynasty, since he was fifteen years old. He applied these techniques to comment divers visions on present Chinese society.

In the early 90’s, young Liu watched the changes taking place in society with surprise and curiosity. He accepted the challenge of integrating everything he saw in front of him - traditional culture, the idealist culture of the Mao Zedong period, and the new consumer culture imported from the West - and successfully and decisively formed a new style of ceramic art. According to the artist, the concept of these works is the conflict and confrontation between tradition and modernity, consumer economy and spiritual life, a culture that is disappearing and a newly created daily objects. This art gives spectators profound insights into the reality of the society that surrounds us. They also make us think about the relation between art and politics. In most modern countries, people believe that art can and should be free and independent from any conventional systems of morals, common sense, or esthetics. In China, however, art is often inseparable from political or moral ideas. It deals with the same issues from different points of view, different mode of thinking. That is why it is necessary to consider the relationship between daily life and pop art, questions about an ideal society, and social commentary in art.

In 2001,the artist shifted from his early colorful ceramic figures to large, flexible installations containing ordinary everyday objects made of white ceramic. The white porcelain seems to be a tool for freeing the reality of daily life and giving more diverse meanings to its existence. The use of white porcelain is an extension of Liu’s already familiar techniques and modes of expression but is an even more metaphoric medium than the types of ceramic material he has used in the past. The objects are scattered on the floor or hung on the walls. They sometimes take concrete shapes, sometimes abstract, but always portray a whole and independent subject. By this means, Liu freed himself from the small scale of individual ceramic pieces and the limited connotations of realistic colors. Regular Fragile(日常・易砕), shown at Mori Art Museum in 2005, is an example of this style.

One of the large scale installations with blue-white ceramic sculptures, dream, was first seen in Chinese Contemporary Art Biennale in Montpellier, France in June, 2005 and won the First prize MC1, and then at the Singapore Biennale in 2006. The work consists of a news clip video of the explosion of the space shuttle “Challenger” and “Columbia” projected on the front wall and, under it, a number of ceramic daily objects broken by the artist and spread out in the shape of a space craft on the floor. This tragic accident is remembered throughout the world. The work first tells us about the human dream of a positive future but then brings us to the moment of its collapse. We discover here fragments of our daily life which have lost any positive aim or implication for the future of mankind. This art teaches us about the tragedy, collapse and impossibility of human effort in the reality of this world yet also tells us that only way to survive is to continue to dream and project positive visions of the world may be. The meaning it creates is far deeper than any simple arguments we might make and its significance may transcend our own time and history.

In 2004, Liu showed a painting titled Struggle for New Aim, commenting on the desire of China to hold the Olympic games. In 2006, he presented an installation called YiWu Survey, which did not contain any ceramic objects, in the Shanghai Biennale. It was made up of real daily objects overflowing from a red cargo container, creating an image of the Chinese economy expanding throughout the world. These works represent a major turning point. If an artist is bound by particular materials and methods for making art, he will never be able to get away from the conventional academic approach. Since the basic condition of contemporary art is a reliance on concepts, artworks must not be limited by materials or methods. Liu has come a long way from his starting point as an artisan in the process of becoming an artist, and has now reached the most extreme level of artistic practice.

This observation brings us to two fundamental questions: What is art and what is the identity of the artist? It is not easy to answer these questions, but all of Liu’s art is tied to them. This is especially evident in the recent work, Will you let me know? It consists of 100 questions concerning the city of Shanghai and the life of people living there. The questions are engraved on metal books spread open on long tables. Through this work, Liu explores the identity of China and himself. It recalls that famous phrase found in a title of a painting by Paul Gauguin, Where Have We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

The charm of Liu’s art lies in its integrated and dynamic use of materials and its well-defined subject matter and perceptive questions. It sets out across the endless sea of signs that comprises the reality of society and human life today. The meanings of signs are never unitary or definite; they fluctuate and change. Liu’s vision of political, social, and esthetic subjects gives a distinctive quality to his work. He sees reality from an elevated, bird’s-eye point of view. For him, seeing is thinking and the speed of change is the only way to capture today’s reality.

Liu Jianhua is now standing in middle of a terra incognita where he has never been before, He is exposed and naked, no longer protected by the simple identity of a ceramist. He is exploring a new way of being and working in a new arena of art. The result, which appears in this exhibition, is truly fascinating.

Fumio Nanjo
18th Jan. Tokyo
[23楼] art-pa-pa 2009-07-02 12:08:43

by Edward Lucie-Smith

Liu Jianhua is one of contemporary China’s best-known artists, and also one of its most acute social critics. Some of the reactions to his recent exhibition in Britain, split between the Fermoy Art Gallery in King’s Lynn and the nearby National Trust property Oxburgh Hall, indicate that the sharp edge of his social commentary can also make its effect in a non-Chinese context.

Liu Jianhua is best known for his work in porcelain, though he does not work exclusively in this medium. The choice of porcelain as a medium is closely linked not only to his own life-experience, but also to the history of China. Born in 1962, he was sent at the age of twelve to work with his uncle Liu Yuanchang, an industrial designer, in the city of Jingdezhen. This has a history of porcelain production that goes back nearly two thousand years. Just after the year 1000, the Northern Song emperor Zhenzhong decreed that all the porcelain made for the court should come from Jingdezhen. The kilns there continued to supply the court throughout the rest of China’s imperial history. They also made immense quantities of porcelain for non-imperial clients, and these wares traveled throughout the world – to Japan, to Safavid Peria and Ottoman Turkey, and of course to Western Europe. Porcelain, together with silk, became a symbol of China’s technical and industrial superiority. In fact, when we speak of the Industrial Revolution that began in Europe just after the middle of the 18th century, we now tend to forget that important aspects of industrial production had existed in China for many centuries before that.

When he was fourteen, two years after his arrival in Jingdezhen, Liu Jianhua went to work in the city’s main Ceramic Factory. He stayed there for eight years, learning every aspect of ceramic technique and receiving China’s top prize for ceramic work.

The years he spent at the factory were those that immediately followed the Cultural Revolution, which came to an end with Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. Not coincidentally perhaps, 1976 was the year in which Liu first came into meaningful contact with western contemporary or near-contemporary art. He discovered a book that illustrated the work of the great French sculptor Rodin and was inspired by it.

When he was 22 Liu transferred to the Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute and began to study fine art, as opposed to industrial design. It was a time when the first Chinese contemporary art groups were beginning to make their appearance, notably the Xing Xing [‘Stars’] group that burst on to the scene in 1979, when its members hung their work on the railings outside the National Gallery of China in Beijing. Chased away by po:ice, they set up again in a nearby park, and by unofficial count attracted nearly 40,000 visitors. Liu subscribed to a number of the Chinese-language fine arts journals that appeared at that time, from which he learned something about western contemporary art. Though there was still strong pressure to conform to officially approved styles, he began to make experimental work in his own time.

In 1989 he graduated, and was sent to Kunming, the capital of the Chinese province of Yunnan. Situated to the far west of China, Yunnan shares frontiers with Myanmar [Burma] and Vietnam. Kunming is traditionally one of China’s gateways to the West. In recent decades, it has been famous for its bohemian life-style, with a number of small restaurants and clubs that also function as unofficial galleries. In Kunming Liu encountered a number of Chinese contemporary artists who have since become well-known internationally, among them Zhang Xiaogang, Mao Quhui and Li Ji.

One formative experience in Kunming was a humdrum commission to make copies of some pieces of public sculpture that stood in the city. As Liu had already realized, China does not have a great record in this department of art. The failure has been due to several factors. The most obvious is that landscape, not the human body, occupies the central position in the history of Chinese art – certainly from Song times onward. Often in China where one might expect to see a statue, what one gets instead is a ‘scholar’s rock’ – supposedly natural rock formations that act as metaphors for landscape. Another factor, shorter term but still powerful, was the proliferation of Soviet-style heroic sculpture fostered by Mao’s regime. These monuments were artistic failures that tended to give Chinese sculpture a bad name.

After Mao’s death, the rulers of China embarked on a new economic policy whose success has led to the financial boom that now impresses both the Chinese themselves and outside observers. At one point in history, under the Han and Tang dynasties, China probably represented 25% of the whole global economy. Many Chinese intellectuals would not be sorry to see that situation return. Yet they – and this applies to leading Chinese artists as well as to writers and theoreticians – are aware that this success has been achieved at a considerable cultural cost. China has suddenly become a consumer society, besotted by all the toys and trinkets that this kind of society has to offer.

It is this situation that Liu Jianhua examined in the installations made for the Fermoy Gallery and for the public rooms at Oxburgh.

Porcelain is a material that can be used to replicate almost any other substance with uncanny fidelity. In the 18th century, for example, both Chinese and European artists made pieces for the table, such as tureens, which were deceptively faithful replicas of various vegetables and fruits. These forms – cabbages for example – are part of Liu’s repertoire. But he makes replicas of many other objects as well. There are items of clothing – straw hats and women’s boots – also items so familiar in our daily lives that we hardly notice them: everything from hammers set out in rows on the floor to a baby’s bottle planted on an Oxburgh centre table.

In the installation made for the Fermoy, the tone was openly critical of modern existence, not merely of the new situation in China. The objects were heaped up to form a kind of funerary monument, while in front of this there was a skull resting on a porcelain cushion and accompanied by a model airplane .- the traditional emblem of death accompanied by an emblem of the new internationalism, a symbol of global travel and global trade. At Oxburgh, things were more ambiguous – drifts of white objects were placed under the furniture and in front of a fireplace. In the library, a group of porcelain books were placed in front of the shelves that held their real counterparts.

Surprisingly, it was the installations at Oxburgh that touched a nerve. Visitors protested, takings at the gift shop fell, and the run of the show was unilaterally cut short by the National Trust’s manager of the property.

The National Trust has been struggling for some years to rid itself or a reputation for narrow-minded elitism and conservatism. Indeed the presence of Liu’s work in one of its most celebrated properties could be seen as part of this effort. The fuss the exhibition aroused tends to indicate why the effort was necessary. And why it continues to be necessary.

There are, however, wider and more interesting implications. Liu’s work is ‘democratic’, in the sense that it avoids the monumental, and relies on the multiplication of replicas of everyday objects, which can be shown in a wide variety of different configurations. The replicas do not set out to deceive. In fact, they cannot deceive, simply because they are white. In metaphorical terms, they function as ghosts of the things they imitate. They appear to be useful but are in fact fragile and without utility. They speak of the way in which we clutter our lives with possessions we don’t need. The repetitions of the same object, the same form, reinforce this. Not just one porcelain hammer but dozens of them.

At Oxburgh this took on a strange resonance. The house was built in the late 15th century, but extensively altered in the 19th, to accord with Victorian ideas about what was ‘baronial’. Much of the house, and especially the suite of state rooms where Liu’s interventions were made, is historical fiction rather than historical fact. I suspect this fiction deceives many visitors – it offers a dream of the past, and an escape from modern industrial society. Liu’s work challenged their expectations in a way that apparently aroused real anger.

In the circumstances, it was perhaps a good thing that no room could be found at Oxburgh for a series of altered photographs that Liu originally intended to show there, in addition to the items in porcelain. They consisted of a series of views of Shanghai, with piles of gigantic gambling chips obstructing one’s view of the buildings. These images are another metaphor for the Chinese economic boom. They can also be seen, in a more detached sense, as metaphors for things that have happened in England. The 15th century saw a boom in the eastern counties of England based on the success of the English wool industry. This created the wealth that led to the creation of an ambitious house – castellated but not really a functional castle. The re-handling of the building in the 19th century was funded by the British industrial revolution. For a while this made Britain as central to the global economy as China had been, some centuries previously.

Liu’s interventions at Oxburgh aroused irritation, and sometimes anger, because they created a mis-match of expectations. Visitors expected a comfortable historical fairy story, and what they got, instead of this, was something resembling an economic and moral lesson. Perhaps this was too much to take from an outsider – a Chinese.
[24楼] art-pa-pa 2009-07-02 14:22:50
Crown of Desire
2008, steel, plastic, 39 diam. x 40 h cm

The Boxing Age
2002-2008, porcelain, variable dimensions

Unreal Scene
2008, steel, plastic, glue, 304 x 280 cm, 247 x 59 cm, 102 x 25 cm

[25楼] guest 2013-05-21 17:07:17
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