Preface for LIU JIANHUA


Leng Lin, Zhang Xiyuan

      In the past three decades when contemporary art in China thrives rapidly, the artworks possessing social significances experienced full development. Under the circumstances which narrative approaches, regionalism, cultural convergence and conflicts take place all the time, pure aesthetic experiences, as well as art which plays up its form, stay marginalized until recent years. With this as the background, Liu Jianhua’s artistic practice changes gradually, showing its special value in today’s context. His artworks are reminiscent of history, while themes of beauty and its form are reexamined. Liu’s concept of beauty correlates not only aesthetic meanings and visual occurrences, but also serves as a method to clarify his viewpoints. For example, his recent series Container and Blank Paper, largely differ from the early series Play, showing the artist’s change of approach to the form of art when he faces different problems, surroundings or contexts.

      Liu’s constant media, ceramics, has a natural connection with history, while it simultaneously has some specific perception of beauty formed through history. This makes his art aloof when it comes to social topics. Liu consciously converts the self-contained cultural forms into visual representations, which were showcased as celadon sculptures in his first solo exhibition at Beijing Commune: “Liu Jianhua: Untitled.” The works on show apparently asserted a non-narrative and anti-symbolic attitude, with an awareness of avoiding any references to personal socialization, which is undoubtedly differentiated from the past circumstances. In the dim gallery space with all the walls painted red, the light beam shone upon the works whose unfamiliar flatness only reveal vague appearances of the vessels and human faces, making any attempt of searching for the social connection to be simply futile. Liu shifts his attention from the obsession of narrative structures to repetitive consideration about the languages in his art. Retreating from of the prevailing styles in the current art scene of China, Liu pursued of new development in the context of traditional Chinese culture.

      Liu’s perspectives were clearly embodied in his recent artwork End of 2012, which appropriated the window style in Suzhou gardens that is originated from the ice crack of the surface of Geyao kiln chinaware glaze. Craftsmen of Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279) applied the crack form to woodiness pane, while Liu endowed the traditional style with new interpretations by utilizing ceramic. Consequently, a specific artwork on the basis of fact was realized, new meanings generated accordingly due to different materials, as well as different time and space. Distinguished from what we’re familiar with, Liu has constructed his own specificity and abstraction, which is traditional and ancient, but contemporaneously unfamiliar and brand new.

      The artist’s second solo exhibit at Beijing Commune “Liu Jianhua: Horizon” in 2009 also showcased the correlation between specificity and abstraction. Bones, a reed raft, containers or blank papers are visibly concrete existences. But when they were shaped by ceramic and glaze, the artworks lost their originally familiar appearances stage by stage, eventually reminding the audiences of minimalism. If the artist evidently retreated from narrative approaches and the system of symbols in 2008, he then took a much further step in the next exhibition “Horizon” and other artworks thereafter. All information or concept within linguistic structures was nullified in Liu’s artworks, which made both his previous decision and style impalpable. Permanence thus replaced instability.

      Once the method of tracing back to the history gets started, the horizon of artistic practices is greatly expanded. In Liu’s artwork Traces exhibited in UCCA, he modified "wulouhen", a Chinese calligraphic stroke, by adopting ceramic as the material and changing the traditional perception and aesthetic experiences. The term "wulouhen" (literally meaning the stains caused by leaking roofs) originated from the dialogue between two Chinese calligraphist maestros Yan Zhenqing (A.D. 709-784) and Huai Su (A.D. 725-785), and it's a metaphor which describes the brush writing as the stain which raindrops leave upon ragged walls. In this work, hundreds of black-glazed ceramic “condensed stains” seemingly drop along the white walls with their vigorous and natural appearances. The forms of both the ink marks and their invisible traces have well illustrated the characteristics of flow and condensation, which can be further elaborated to be contradictory and conversions took place during the process of long-term cultural development.

      Nowadays, China's milieu has gone through multiple paradoxical situations and gradually grown mature and complicated, which stimulates the artist to question the cultural origins during his artistic practices. The demand of searching for self identity from the reality has transformed into the exploration of forms and reduplicative art practices. Cultural geography is thus more crucial than the logic of art history.

      Porcelain serves as the major material in Liu's art. The pervasive style of his artworks in both his solo exhibitions "Untitled" and "Horizon" exposes the aestheticism of simplicity and purity of the celadon since Song Dynasty. Liu has strived to keep his art away from political or social context, emphasizing historical references as a point of departure to establish artistic forms. His artworks have shown resistance to a more unreal, complicated, and confusing society, and always kept distant from the audiences, from which a brand new attitude and direction of art have started taking shapes.

      When homogeneity’s getting more common in the international contemporary art world, Chinese contemporary art is looking for its own identity, which began from utilizing simple and straightforward symbols. When the symbol and narrative approaches became void, some artists, such as Liu, started seeking for the connection between the expression of forms and the origin of their own culture, mostly in a silent way. Along this road, Liu is going far and far away.