Liu Xi

Artist in Residence - AiR in S12

Liu Xi 

 

During the month of August 2021, S12 has the great pleasure of hosting the virtual residency of Chinese artist Liu Xi in our workshop where she is collaborating with workshop manager Timothy Belliveau in producing glass objects for her upcoming solo exhibition Blood, body and lace in our gallery, with a scheduled opening on the 10th of September.

 

Ever since our first residencies in 2010, S12 has had a great number of guest artists from many countries and continents. From Asia, we have received visitors from both Japan and Taiwan, but Liu Xi will be our first Chinese guest. In recent years, and through previous exhibitions in Norway, with many of them in Bergen, we have all had the opportunity to  gain insight into important contemporary art from this important cultural nation.

 

Liu Xi elaborates on this image as one of China’s young and feminist artists who has shown a unique ability to express herself both deeply personally and at the same time remarkably politically through her art. Liu Xi however speaks only on her own behalf. Her work is as such based on her very private, and often intimate references. As an artist, she is best known for her objects in ceramics and porcelain. In our workshop, she will furthermore use her experience with these materials to make objects in glass.

A personal history

 

Liu Xi is both an artist and a feminist. She is therefore also seen by many as representative of a new generation of women. Still, far more than purely establishing a social rhetoric in a public domain, Liu Xi formulates a personal and individual story through her chosen materials: ceramics, porcelain and glass.

 

She was born in 1986 in Shandong Province, in northern China. Her upbringing was, in her own words, complicated and isolated, and she openly talks about how the feeling of inferiority systematically was imposed on her from childhood. Growing up in a Maoist China, she experienced for herself, and by observing previous generations of women, a revolutionary regime that dismissed feminism as a redundant concept, since equality was supposedly guaranteed as an integral part of communism.

 

After graduating from the sculpture department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, she later moved to Shanghai and established her own studio there.

 

The noble art of ceramics  is old and burdened by tradition. Arts and crafts must be learned with humble patience and diligence. To this day, it is a respected and maintained ambition for young oriental artists to follow as closely as possible in the footsteps of their masters, as if to safeguard an unbroken chain, consisting of men, backwards in time. In art, however, Liu found ways by herself to shape her own, clear image. Through some affirmative action, gestures and exposures, she broke out of the patriarchal hegemony.

 

Some of her works have challenged social ethos and have broken norms, as in 2016 when she literally imprinted her own name  into the porcelain of the works in the series called It Takes Time. This was by many considered akin to a taboo, as an act that blatantly claimed that the work was hers, and not that of her masters, or a mere continuation of the revered  tradition.  The gesture also indicates that Liu Xi commercially brands herself by printing, so to speak, her own label.  Absolutely nothing else, however, in her artistic work indicates that she otherwise intends to sell her work off as designer goods or luxury items. Far from it. But by her signature she nevertheless establishes her art within a contemporary context, and with its own economical parameter. She treasures herself. By doing so, and through herself as an independent narrator and designer, she also steps out of the stigmatizing role as a victim. 

 

In 2018/19, she triggered even stronger reactions when she mounted a series of 52 abstracted shells, or conch-shaped objects with a clear resemblance to female genitals, in black porcelain on the gallery wall in the exhibition project Our God is Great. The use of the black color is  associated with the almost sacred calligraphy ink from another male-dominated tradition she thereby appropriates, and embodies as her own intimacy.

 

Liu’s designs, shapes and patterns are inspired by daily life, by the female anatomy, erotisism and by domestic life. Some of her objects in previous productions can remind us of used, twisted washcloths, knots of anxiety, interwoven bed linen, washboards, doormats, labias and phallic symbols. 

 

Through the interpretation, and elaboration of her chosen materials she adds a precious, poetic beauty to these so often considered basic, blatant, plain and mundane motives. In such a way she also elevates her own, and so many other women’s traditional environments and references, to be seen in a different light. In this reflection we are given an opportunity to  comprehend her world, and to realize how valuable it is. 

 

As with most artists, her work is also the subject of constant exploration and renewal, which often follows her own personal development.

 

In her latest series of Our God is Great, all the porcelain objects are gold-colored and with a pattern of lace pressed into the clay itself before firing. Gold is the colour of the Emperor. The elevated. The original hand-woven lace has in the same way, and throughout the centuries been regarded as both unattainably expensive, delicate and refined. In Liu’s work, a new generation of Chinese women can now embrace this distinction of sovereignty as their own, and embody this proud sophistication. They own their own beauty and are intimately, and in themselves what the lace represents.

About her work and techniques

Liu Xi is an artist in a long tradition of artisans. Ceramics and porcelain are the qualities she most often uses. The traditions in her field go, as previously mentioned, far, far back in time. The legacy rests on her shoulders, and Liu is a very sophisticated, conscientious technician. In her own words she says: “​​For me, craftsmanship is my duty. It is very important, but it is not the only condition”. She expresses fear of feeling too comfortable in her safety zone, and therefore constantly chooses to challenge both the tradition, the properties of the materials, and her own skills.

 

She frequently investigates new firing techniques. In the use of iron-rich mud, she  obtains a strong metallic structure. We have previously read how she combines classic porcelain and ink. In other works, she develops cream-colored qualities or even light pink surfaces and glazes.

 

The Norwegian ceramic artist and university professor Torbjørn Kvasbø describes how Liu Xi: “…closely combines craftsmanship and materials, hands, fingers and eyes, playfully seeking to unveil the clay’s vital, undiscovered potential, something she has not seen before, where formations and surfaces allow for further development. The clay is plastic. It can be shaped how she wants it and retain the shape it has at the point when she chooses to stop the process. She uses clay as an instrument for exploring texture, structure and form, color and construction. Her goal is to generate new knowledge, new meaningful visual reflections. Disturbing and ambiguous, immediate and overwhelming, beautiful and repulsive. … A continuous dialogue between knowledge, practice and cruel critical reflection.”

 

Together with our workshop manager Timothy Bellieau, Liu Xi works through August to produce glassworks for the independent and complex work of art she calls #WangXinhong, which in fragments and objects tells a disturbing story about a woman who has tried to change but failed.

 

Liu Xi has experience with glass from previous productions, as in the Heart Dirt series from 2017. In this material, she strives to bring out the expressive and sculptural. Also in the glass, she seeks to shape new arguments and new aesthetic qualities that make us feel, and contemplate, through real craftsmanship.

 

The virtual residency consists of regular work sessions between the artist and our workshop master. Liu Xi supervises via online video conferencing, and is, in the design of her work, particularly preoccupied with color nuances and tactile qualities in the objects. The biggest challenge lies in the application of the color red, which  is in itself very costly in use, and has a tendency to change ever so slightly in character, giving different shades and nuances depending on the size and design of the objects. In the elaboration on this specific work, both Liu Xi and workshop master Timothy Belliveau are confronted with the quintessential dilemma of glass. The material itself is seductively beautiful and elegant, even where it is supposed to convey pain and personal defeat. The artist solves this by designing the individual elements as dynamically fluid, dripping, stinging and sharp, even in a static state.

 

The project is supported by Bergen Kommune and the NGO Fritt Ord

Dates:  August - 2021
Liu Xi | S12 Galleri og Verksted