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Liu Wei works a dense kind of magic, reconfiguring materials into strange and intriguing forms, presenting extraordinary transformations that are wonderful, impenetrable sculptural interpretations of the fabric of modern human existence. Liu’s art consists of a formalistic aesthetic of substance and surface that draws on hi-tech imagery, buildings and diverse environments in the urbanized world of production and materialized space. An artist whose dynamic and broad practice is not limited to a particular medium, Liu Wei’s sculptural works often engage with spatial structures that are built in and around us, forming the backdrop of human labor or habitation, throwing into relief the very fabric of our existence in the contemporary urbanized world. Born in the early 1970s, he is from the “in-between” generation of artists in China who tap into frameworks that move beyond the representation of the post-Mao era by constructing dense aesthetic objects and hyper-imagery that evoke a world of production, consumption and material surplus.
His works appear as a cumulative stacking of materials, whether mirrors, window or door frames, scrap metal, books or dog-chews, densely packed or rearranged into strange forms that are inherently familiar yet also alien transformations, playing on notions of use and uselessness, function and aesthetic, art and architecture. His works in the past few years have included series or clusters of works presented in installation, as well as vibrant paintings originating from digital imagery that are meticulously reworked by hand, evoking computer screens stuck in a state of glaring, competing lines flitting across the screen. Uniting his work is a linear quality that runs through both the paintings and the objects, which are often angular or sharply formal, cutting across or into space to form vigorous sculptural interventions.
Alien transformations playing on notions of function and aesthetic, art and architecture.
Liu’s methods involve human labor, as these are constructions with exacting forms that require working out as viable physical possibilities. Titles like Enigma and Puzzle therefore echo this process, while his latter works almost seem to present giant human puzzles in solid form, reminiscent of those little cubes of wood that one has to unravel and re-organise to achieve its original form. Layers and layers of accumulated materials are packed together and sawed, hammered and forged into cumbersome objects that are at once sublime and somewhat absurd. Cathedral-like forms engage space through their angular formalist qualities. In the “Density” series, wall assemblages made up of formal rectangular and square sections with mirrored surfaces recall modernist works form the 1950s or post-war interiors, and sculptures consist of huge pyramid and sphere forms cleanly cutting through a dense mass of book pages, creating smooth formal surfaces.
There is something satisfyingly solid in the work of Liu Wei, but the depth of his work has an ethical dimension, as he makes use of what is already here and draws it back into a meaningful material reinterpretation. His work is a bold assertion of the substantiality of human life, and his disciplined attention to aesthetics can be seen as a powerful appreciation of the possibility of form that is drawn from our ready-made post-industrial environment.
Liu Wei (Chinese, b. 1972) is an artist who lives and works in Beijing. He is represented by White Cube, London/Hong Kong/São Paulo; Lehmann Maupin, New York/Hong Kong; and Long March Space, Beijing.
Liu Wei’s future projects include solo exhibitions at White Cube, Hong Kong, opening on 15 September; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, in Fall 2016. Furthermore, his work is exhibited as part of the 13th Biennale de Lyon, on view through January.<br>Katie Hill is a lecturer, curator and director of the Office of Contemporary Chinese Art (OCCA), Oxford.
Image: Liu Wei, Density No.12, 2013, Courtesy of the artist and White Cube, London/Hong Kong/São Paulo. Photo credit: Ben Westoby