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Cauliflowers, stiletto heels, handbags, teddy bears, and telephones are only some of the hundreds of cast objects that dangle from the walls inside the Dowse Art Museum.
Chinese contemporary artist Liu Jianhua paid a visit to New Zealand to exhibit Transfer, which includes his most recent installation Square (2015), and Regular Fragile (2002) which was exhibited at the 2003 Venice Biennale.
Trained as a ceramicist in Jingdezhen, China, Liu’s best known work is in porcelain; creating a link between his personal history and the medium’s significance in China. The way he employs ceramics and porcelain challenges the traditional techniques of Chinese ceramic production. The history of porcelain production goes back nearly 2000 years and became a symbol of China’s technical and industrial superiority.
Regular Fragile is composed of 1500 porcelain replicas of banal, daily items, that privilege appearance and symbolism over function. Objects are selected by Liu at random, each object supplying a connection with the viewers through their familiarity and/or emotional attachment.
When entering the gallery, you are first drawn into the corner of the room where the objects almost touch. They then disperse outward creating a more breathable composition. Hanging from almost invisible threads, on examining the objects more intimately, you notice their fragility. The delicate nature of the ceramic material elevates their being into something precious, worthy of holding on to. But their fragility highlights our tenuous attachment to the things in our lives; and by cluttering the installation through the use of repetition, the work begins to represent the amount of stuff we accumulate—sometimes without even noticing.
Liu’s work has been interpreted in relation to China’s rapid economic development and industrialisation. Many consumerist goods that are produced in the world today originate in China, due primarily to low labour costs. The concept of value is evident through his work, as he has transformed mass produced items and abstracted them with a material that is highly regarded in the world. Value is also enhanced through their insertion into a gallery context. Where once these objects were produced and sold within a consumerist society, they are now valued through the art system, and consumed instead for cultural reasons.
Spectacular and subtle at the same time, Liu Jianhua has produced a work that provides a platform for viewers to connect to the things that surround them in their day to day lives. Things that generally go unnoticed, or are taken for granted, are highlighted, their vulnerability made apparent. They may be simple, banal objects that we see on the kitchen bench or in the living room, but they take on a greater importance through Liu’s work.
Transfer is open until July 10 at the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt.
Have a beer at the opening of Rupture/capture at Enjoy Public Art Gallery. Celebrating the work of artist in residence, Johanna Mechen.
March, 16 at 5:30pm, 1/147 Cuba Street.