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AS: I’d like to start by talking about Love Poem, currently on view as part of the group show “Unordinary Space” at Shanghai Aurora Museum. The work’s use of text and language, and the processing of the image material behind the words, seems different from your approach in earlier works. Can you tell us something of how this piece came about?
LS: I don’t think the piece is so different from my previous work. From the beginning, I’ve dealt with the value of people’s emotion in fictional worlds, and how that bleeds into the real world. The beauty of language is not from what you say, but how you say it. I have long wanted to do something with poetry. It seems to me that poetry, especially love poetry, has been forgotten in modern society. I wanted to bring love poetry into an international, multilingual context, and to bridge the gap between interpersonal emotions from many different cultures and ages.
AS: Much of your work is rich in images. As Simple as Clay (2013), exhibited at Shanghai Yuz Museum of Contemporary Art, must include about 2,500. Although the work originates in thoughts of haptically experiencing these images, they (as in other works) are all indirectly encountered. All of these images must have once “belonged” to someone. How do you feel about the relationship between the image and the experience?
LS: As Simple As Clay started with the images being isolated individually, removed from their cultural contexts and put into the greater context of the artwork. I translated the word “clay” into several languages and used Google as the universal tool to find images. The result was a breaking down of cultural and geographical borders. The reason why I used Google image search is that I wanted to not only speak for myself. Art should not be a vehicle or funnel for the artist—it should speak from and to more people than the artist.
AS: Many works use vibrant color, such as the amazing red stairwell, OMG Welcome (2015) in your Leo Xu Projects show, “From Happiness To Whatever.” What guides your decisions in choosing colors and their intensities?
LS: I have a background in painting; I studied for fifteen years before I started my undergrad work. From that, I am very familiar with the effects of color and how to control it, and how to express the comfort of contrasts and brushstrokes. I began using images made with lenses because I started to question my craft as a painter. When you paint, you start with a blank canvas, and everything you do from there is about yourself. Now, I would rather hide my skills as a painter, and instead reflect reality with photos or film. The way I use color is with great respect to the original object.
AS: One of my favorite works is Extreme Deep Field (2013). It seems to reference Thomas Ruff’s photos of deep space, as well as Giorgio Agamben’s words on being contemporary (“In an expanding universe, the most remote galaxies move away from us at a speed so great that their light is never able to reach us. What we perceive as the darkness of the heavens is this light that, though traveling toward us, cannot reach us, since the galaxies from which the light originates move away from us at a velocity greater than the speed of light…To perceive, in the darkness of the present, this light that strives to reach us but cannot”), but with a quirky humor. Do you intend the works to be funny as well as profound, or do they just come out that way?
LS: I always try to put irony and humor into my works—not blatantly, but hiding just beneath the surface. For me, making these simple images was like a game. I started with a five-by-five-centimeter picture of space and enlarged it to double-size. I then drew very symbolic stars on top of it in Illustrator. The stars resemble the stars on discounted goods at the supermarket more than real stars. I repeated the process of enlarging and drawing until the image was three square meters. In this way I created digital depth, since every time I enlarged the picture, some parts became more pixelated, contrasting the drawing I made on top of it, which was very sharp. In the end, I had artificial space made from a NASA-produced photo of actual space. The result was a bit surprising to me. It turned out to be very beautiful and cerebral, compared to the original photo.
Liu Shiyuan (Chinese, b. 1985) is an artist who lives and works between Beijing and Copenhagen. She is represented by Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai.
Her upcoming projects include a solo presentation with Leo Xu Projects at Frieze New York in May. Her work is also featured in the group show “Bentu: Chinese Artists in a Time of Turbulence and Transformation” at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris.
Andrew Stooke is an artist and educator working in Shanghai and London. He currently leads an experimental art program exploring new models of Sino-foreign cooperation.