Liu Jianhua and the Beauty of Fragility


Despite his use of numerous materials, means and techniques, Liu Jianhua is the Chinese artist who best translates into contemporary language the innate expressive possibilities of porcelain as an artistic material. By using porcelain to emphasize shape without foregoing a philosophical narrative, he is able to explore the possibilities of an art which is tied to its very cultural origins, but at the same time is able to express the spiritual instances of contemporaneity.  

While in the first phase of his work he was predominantly interested in social matters, from 2008 onward, Liu’s objective has been to distance the observer from the chaotic accumulation of information and anxiety-generating concepts, creating space for reflections that are not bound to the present. His initial works, made of ready-made materialmixed with glass fiber, call attention to the imbalance of power in society. The cycle The Painted Sculpture Series–Disharmony and The Painted Sculpture Series–Secrecy (1993-1997), for example, in which female arms and legs poke through zhongshanzhuang—the uniform that was largely used in the Mao era—highlight the contradictions of a world which, hanging between tradition and change, tends to maintain the same schemes in relations of power.    

Along the same lines are porcelain sculptures from the cycles The Painted Sculpture Series–Memory of Infatuation and The Painted Sculpture Series–Merriment (1997-2000), created in Jingdezhen, one of the oldest and most important centers for the production of porcelain, where Liu studied and learned to practice the art. In these small-scale ceramic sculptures, made through a technique that has been traditionally used for historic and religious statuettes, the female figure is evoked by the qipao, a refined dress that fell into disuse during the Cultural Revolution, from which a pair of legs jut out. Reflected in these works are the memories of those born in the sixties, who grew up in a society with particularly severe rules with regards to sex. Headless, and sitting on a sofa with her legs crossed or laying in a provocative position on a decorated plate, in the Painted Sculpture Series the female figure—filtered by the male imagination—becomes an empty simulacrum; an entity built through purely outward signals.  

Both the zhongshanzhuang and the qipao are dresses which to Westerners immediately evoke China, as do the plates featuring decorations and colors that are particularly valued in and exported to the West. At the same time, the glazing techniques used by Liu when creating the Memory of Infatuation and Merriment series, developed in Jingdezhen during the Qing dynasty, maintain a strong relationship with tradition. Several of these plates recall the motifs on imperial white and blue dinnerware sets, while others include augural ideograms, 万寿无疆 (“long life without limits”), originally addressed to the emperor, and later redirected to Mao Zedong.   

Liu has used the porcelain silhouettes of headless and armless female bodies wearing the qipao in various installations. In one of these, he arranged them on a table surrounded by chairs, as if they were food waiting to be consumed. In another, again laying down on a lunch table within decorative plates, they are observed by the mannequin of a naked child or of a dog with a dangling tongue. The artist has made clear that with Merriment he does not intent to express judgment on the vision of woman in the male imagination, but rather to “put on the table” elements that are able to generate a myriad of reflections. At the symbolic level, in these works the characteristics of the porcelain and the female figures wearing the qipao allude to traditional Chinese culture, ready to be consumed in a banquet in honor of modernization and globalization. The contrast between the different constituent elements of the work creates a short circuit between personal sentiments, history, tradition, pop culture and consumer culture.   

The disharmony to which Liu makes reference in the title of one of the cycles of the series The Painted Sculpture runs through his body of work like a red thread, expressing itself in different ways through time. In the early 2000s the artist began identifying disharmonic elements in the loss of identity and in the tendency to homologate on the part of major Chinese metropolises that have adopted cultural, social and economic models introduced by globalization, which have induced mass migrations to big cities, the transformation of historical neighborhoods and a consumer explosion. Installations like Shadows in the Water (2002-2003), Transformation of Memories (2003-2004) or The Virtual Scene (2005-2008) express the turmoil triggered by these new scenarios. In Shadows in the Water Liu recreates the skylines of an imaginary modern metropolis, aligning identical white porcelain modules, simulating urban architecture, which he depicts through a corrugated silhouette. In each segment the artist features the tall buildings of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, cities that have undergone a remarkably rapid urban transformation. The succession of modules along a horizontal axis produces a potentially infinite skyline which, as a result of the shadows created by the right orientation of light, appears to be reflected on water. Based on the observation of reality, Shadows in the Water presents a virtual cityscape which, similar to a mirage, suggests that major international cities are becoming a sort of scenography created to represent the economic power of a nation rather than for the real needs of the people inhabiting them. The fragility and the pallor of the porcelain clash with the regal grandiosity of the new skyscrapers and with the sparkle of the lights of the metropolises, suggesting a hidden vulnerability. The sense of bewilderment in the face of the transformation of an historical city is also palpable in Transformation of Memories (2003-2004), in which pieces of hollow tree trunks in white porcelain are scattered throughout the exhibition space. Their hollow interior reveals the gridded structure that inhibits the porcelain from distorting itself and lends the work an unnatural and abstract character, which transmits a sense of vacuity and desolation. Liu created this work in Jingdezhen in 2003, at a time in which the city, with its thousand-year-old history, so loved by the artist, was in a state of decline due to extensive overbuilding and the destruction of countless trees amidst the indifference of the majority of its inhabitants. One need only think of the symbiotic relationship with nature expressed in traditional Chinese art to understand how traumatic it is for an artist to observe the transformation of natural landscapes, as well as an historical city, in which the artificial gains the upper hand.   


Another representation of this Chinese turning point and its consequences on society is found in The Virtual Scene (2005-2008), a multilevel reproduction of the city of Shanghai, created with plastic and metal casino tokens, as well as dice. The artist adds photographs to the installation which, in the foreground, show the buildings made of casino tokens and, in the background, the Shanghai skyline. In depicting such a shining and rich city, the different colors of the tokens and dice recall the lights that characterize the modern-day urban landscape of Shanghai. Yet again the subtext is the economic breakthrough experienced by China and the transformation of one of its major cities, which, at the national level, became the economic powerhouse of the country. Presented as an enormous casino, Shanghai comes off as a place where people’s fate is conditioned by the gamble of financial games.  

The desire for dominion, vulnerability, and a technological and financial challenge are all expressed in Liu’s work in a consequential fashion. A technological risk is portrayed in Dream (2005-2006), an installation created with white porcelain fragments that, together, form on the floor of the exposition space the silhouette of the Columbia Space Shuttle, which disintegrated over the skies of Texas in 2003 while reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. Among the fragments dispersed on the ground, which are reproductions of objects that the artist himself destroyed with a hammer, are tires, astronaut helmets, computer keyboards, monitors, radios, tools, footwear and various sizes of model airplanes. The installation also includes videos featuring old film clips of the disasters of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the Space Shuttle Challenger, the latter of which exploded in 1986, shortly after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Useless and destined to be dumped, the porcelain fragments that form the design of the Shuttle resemble the debris of an industrial society. They are a three-dimensional representation of the shattering of man’s dream of controlling the universe and the risks a society faces when it is entirely dependent on technology. Dream features objects we are familiar with; the pallor and evanescence of the porcelain showcases spectral shapes placed in a middle ground, between the rubble of history and the waste of a consumer society.       

The theme of waste is present in various works by Liu and serves as the foundation of his Yiwu Survey (2006), an installation in which a colorful cascade of small daily objects spills out of a cargo container, flooding the surrounding space. There is an enduring focus on globalization, with the addition of the role assumed by China in the worldwide geopolitical scene and the dissemination of a hyper-pop aesthetics, transmitted through the vast diffusion of low-cost goods intended for rapid consumption, only to be ultimately discarded. 

Displayed for the first time in 2006 at the Shanghai Biennale, Yiwu Survey features thousands of objects from Yiwu, an area of production and trade that spans millions of square meters, covered entirely of warehouses and booths. The majority of low-cost goods that invade the world market are from the city of Yiwu itself.  

Before becoming the largest and most important provider of merchandise destined for the global market, Yiwu was home to a little over 100,000 inhabitants who lived off small trade and agriculture, working in rice fields on the Yangzi river delta. Today Yiwu is home to over two million people, the majority of whom works in stores that do not exceed fourteen square meters, where at least five people—including an investor—work at all times, taking turns, so as not to stop the activity. With its low-cost merchandise, Yiwu contributes to reducing global inflation and influencing the cost of work, money, goods and stocks.  

The installation Yiwu Survey draws attention to the effect low-cost products have on an average person’s taste, as well as the ability of pop objects to influence the most refined design. It should not be forgotten that since the sixties many artists have created large-scale reproductions of ordinary objects, transcending their kitsch nature and elevating them to works of art. This method, which is still present in contemporary art—we might think of the works of Jeff Koons, Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst, Katharine Fritsch, Robert Therrien or William Pope—emphasizes that in art the image of an object is more important than the object itself.      

The theme of the effects of globalization, consumer culture and the waste that follows is also expressed in the installation Export-Cargo Transit (2007), comprised of heaps of trash scattered about the exposition space. One portion of the waste is presented as something to be preserved as it is protected by plexiglass coverings, and sometimes hung on the wall like paintings. China has long imported and recycled large quantities of waste from the West in order to obtain the initial material for the production of low-cost products, many of which are intended for the Western market. At the same time, alongside this legal market, which has been advantageous to China from an economic standpoint, a polluting clandestine traffic of industrial waste, which is harmful to one’s health, has developed. This phenomenon, with various and rather grave implications, has also pertained to other developing nations, specifically in the Third World. The installation Export-Cargo Transit presents grave problems, demonstrated by the halt imposed by China, which beginning in 2019 will stop the importation of various scrap material in order to reduce pollution and the potential entry of harmful waste.     


The material used and the topic taken on in Export-Cargo Transit have led Liu to directly face the language of the western avant-garde of the early and late nineteen hundreds. In fact, the use of waste material originated in the works of the pioneers of Modernism; we need only consider the Cubists Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Unlike what takes place in the Cubist works by these artists, Liu’s use of waste in Export-Cargo Transit is not intended to produce visual fascination; a visual fascination that we find in the French Nouveau Realisme of the Sixties (Daniel Spoerri, Arman) and in the sculptures of automobile parts compressed into a block by American John Chamberlain, or even in the works of many English sculptures from the eighties, especially Tony Cragg. Unlike these artists, Liu does not use scraps to devise actual sculptural compositions. The aim of the Export-Cargo Transit installation is to create an environment that is able to generate questions surrounding our existence in the world in an era of globalism, our relationship with nature, respect for others and economic laws which circumvent ethics, ultimately regulating human behaviors.       

Export-Cargo Transit represents the tail-end of a period in which social concerns were central to Liu’s work. From 2008 on, in fact, the social problems emphasized in previous works tend to disappear or to linger in the background, confronted in an indirect—and never explicit—manner. Art, according to Liu, must not cease to offer an opportunity to contemplate and does not necessarily have to burden the observer in order to induce an awareness of social issues. Detached from the present, which should be considered from a distance, a work must act as a spark that triggers a tide of unbridled thoughts; it must revisit the fundamental questions surrounding existence and open a space that allows for contemplation and meditation. In order to achieve this goal Liu exploits the ambiguity of what the spectator is faced with. We find a three-dimensional representation of this visual strategy in works such as Blank Paper (2009), Container (2009), Trace (2011), The End of 2012 (2011 and 2017), Untitled (2008) and Square (2014).       

In the case of Blank Paper we feel as though we are before sheets of paper hanging on a wall. Yet, in reality, they are porcelain slabs a few millimeters thick, whose corners are barely curved. Though the fineness (Because of the fact that Blank Paper is actually unglazed, this word might be misleading. So we suggest to get rid of it.)of the porcelain tend to deceive the eye, the contours projected on the walls from the shadows detach the work from two-dimensionality, accentuating its three-dimensional nature. The shadows are evocative of soot, as if they had been painted with ink. The subtle vibrations of white invoke the role played by this color in ancient Chinese landscape painting—emptiness as a flux of energy from which the infinite possibilities of form and writing can take shape. While Blank Paper repeats the same shape, the individual pieces are never perfectly equal; there is always a slight difference which makes them unique. Consequently, despite the geometry of shapes that are equally repeated, in Liu’s different pieces of Blank Paper, in which we perceive the hand which gives shape to the material, we find principles and methods that are diametrically opposed to those from American Minimalism, in which industrial material and mechanical equipment were used insofar as the works were expressions of the anonymity of great industrial production.   

A play on sensory perception is also found in Container and in Trace. Container revisits the shapes of vases and bowls from the Song Dynasty, a period in which the development of Chinese art and culture reached its pinnacle. Liu created them with typical celadon glaze for their exterior and a blood-red glaze for the interior, making them seem full of a dense red liquid when, in reality, they are empty. Once again, Liu provokes contrasting sensations in the observer: the shape and color of the exterior of the recipients transmit a sense of serenity, in continuity with Chinese tradition, while their interior evokes the viscosity and the color of blood.  

Also tending towards visual ambiguity is Trace, an installation comprised of black shiny ceramic droplets which, placed upon the white walls of the exhibition space, resemble large drops of ink on a sheet of paper. Trace alludes to the ancient technique of Chinese ink painting known as Wu Lou Hen, a term that describes the brushstrokes applied like stains left on a wall by water leaking from a damaged ceiling. The Wu Lou Hen technique has existed in China from the times of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 d.C). The spontaneous surfacing of these organic traces incited painters and calligraphers alike to find a source of inspiration in these phenomena provoked by nature and to develop a technique that was regulated by a particular rhythm of ink-bearing brushstrokes. Liu’s ceramics, which are reminiscent of large droplets of ink—shiny and black like the brushstrokes of a painter on an enormous sheet of paper—place the spectator in an illusory space that unites painting, sculpture, craftsmanship and calligraphy. Just as in old works by painters and calligraphers, the relationship between the blackness of the markings and the whiteness of the support is fundamental to the installation. In Chinese aesthetics this dichotomy finds one of its leading motivations in the relationship between emptiness and fullness, between the whiteness of the support and the blackness of the traces—a required relationship for an action to take place. The emptiness allows the markings and shapes to appear in all of their implications. Put differently, the blank space nourishes the potentiality of infinite forms, perpetuating the idea that reality is variable.       

Along the same lines as Blank Paper and Trace are Untitled(2008)—silhouettes of white porcelain vases hung at regular intervals like the thin white ceramic sheets lined up in Blank Paper—and The End of 2012, a work which is formally inspired by a common decorative motif in the windows of the pavilions of traditional Chinese gardens. Here Liu uses celadon ceramic to reproduce the stylized elements of grating created by the cracks which form on freshly thawed ice. In a language that is both traditional and new the work reunites the abstraction of stylized design with the careful observation of nature which generates it, and describes the intrinsic vitality in the changes of states and the cyclic repetition of phenomena. Once the frame which traditionally encloses the intertwining of segments is eliminated, Liu allows them to disperse across the wall as if they were following the fluid and harmonic movement of cubes detaching from a shattered sheet of ice, still connected by the liquid that contains them. The philosophical and spiritual scope of this work can be appreciated on different levels and can be attributed both to art’s ability to recreate itself while preserving a bond with tradition and to the concepts of boundaries and liberty and of order and disorder, evoked by a natural process of disintegration.        

The title of the work, The End of 2012, refers to the presumed Mayan prophesy according to which an event would take place in December of 2012, marking a profound change for humanity; perhaps even its ultimate annihilation. This prophesy and the various ways it can be interpreted and approached provided Liu a pretext for reflection—through an image that alludes to a harmonic and natural change—on the destiny of man, on his fears and on the expectations that emerge in sight of events which ultimately fail to come to fruition.     

Liu has used celadon multiple times since the year 2008, marking a turning point in his work due to the profound spirituality this finish expresses through the purity of its tenuous, transparent and assuaging color. Celadon, which was used in all its splendor during the Song Dynasty, is considered to have the ability to create a harmonic relationship between the natural and spiritual worlds. It is this very relationship that Liu seeks to assimilate in his sculptures. 

In 2017 Liu created a version of The End of 2012 with a glazed opaque black finish. Unlike celadon, which transmits a sense of lightness and airiness, this type of black enamel, which was used for the first time during the time of the Republic of China, conveys its heaviness. The basic design and idea are identical in both versions. Yet, while in the version in celadon the individual fragments seem weightless and free to distance themselves—pushed by a gentle movement—in the second version they seem to be the result of a violent rift.  

The two different finishes of The End of 2012 evoke contrasting sentiments and moods, just as those which alternate, intertwine and coexist in the lives of us all. Liu calls for his work to be accepted at an emotional level, for it to incite uplifting thoughts or—as in the case of the black opaque enamel version of The End of 2012—oppressive ones. Nevertheless, when a work of art carries a strong internal tension, its interpretation can cross unforeseen territories, taking on meanings and symbologies not yet contemplated by its very author. On more than one occasion, Liu has mentioned that his work is extraneous to the dynamics of conceptualism and minimalism; yet, inevitably, when a work is a variation of a pre-existing work, it will provoke questions surrounding its language and content. In the case of the second version of The End of 2012, for instance, we inevitably attempt to understand the way in which the color and the different type of glaze affect our perception of the work. These sorts of questions are not the exclusive prerogative of Analytic Painting and Minimalist Sculpture, which established themselves in the West in the late nineteen sixties; they do not only belong to the aesthetics of painters such as Robert Ryman or Robert Mangold, or sculptors such as Donald Judd or Sol LeWitt, for whom the meaning of a work is to be searched for within the work itself; in its conceptual, formal and linguistic structure, and not in the outside world. When faced with Liu’s work, we are not in the presence of structuralist or conceptual dynamics. For him, form is never self-referential; rather, it connects both to the real world and to its representation in traditional Chinese art. Though they emphasize form, his sculptures and installations are not to be interpreted exclusively as a function of their formal structure. They are never self-referential and, above all, were created in order to transmit their spiritual essence. At the same time, since the black re-proposal of The End of 2012 puts at stake the concept of repetition, inherent questions regarding the philosophy of language will rightly be posed. This testifies that, once launched into the world, the work of art assumes autonomy from its very author.       

To universalize a narrative such as the anticipation of the end of the world and to transport it into an almost abstract form which alludes to the natural disintegration of glass does not imply telling a story, but rather it describes a process that generates feelings and reflections in the spectator. In other words, just as a painting by Mark Rothko, Liu’s work is contemplative and allows the mind to be free of distractions in order to concentrate on the true nature of things. This is how Liu’s suggestion that his work is devoid of meaning and content must be read.

The installation Fallen Leaves (2012) also transforms the exhibitory space into a place of stillness and reflection: porcelain leaves that resemble dry leaves create neat pathways or are accumulated as if gently blown by the wind, evoking a sense of lightness, movement and change. Conversely, 1.2 Meters (2012), a work made entirely of vertical iron wires, which deceive the eye and make it difficult to distinguish between natural and artificial, closes the exhibitory space. 1.2 Meters was displayed at the Pace Gallery in Beijing together with Untitled 2012, a row of soft blue porcelain plates, upon which Liu uses a calligraphy pen to trace a cobalt blue line across horizontally, interrupted only on the parallelepiped that makes 1.2 Meters visible. Both works were found inside and outside of a white parallelepiped, respectively.       

The transparency of the porcelain, whose color encourages contemplation, invites us to perceive the line drawn across the plates as we would the horizon. The combination of the horizontal line on the plates and the vertical lines of 1.2 Meters creates a simple, calm and abstract ensemble, which Liu has often searched for in his works, while softening the sense of danger that a rigid material such as iron wire might transmit.  

Created with traditional materials, Untitled 2012 finds its origin in the private life of the artist, who began the work at a time in which his father was gravely ill. Liu himself has explained that, for him, drawing a straight line by hand every day on each plate was a source of comfort as it made him feel as if he were prolonging his father’s life. Untitled 2012 is, therefore, a representation of time in human life. The lines on the plates hanging around the white parallelepiped express a sense of cyclic nature, which is suspended in 1.2 Meters, an opening above a space that is disturbing, but not lacking in beauty, and occupied by thick vertical lines. Untitled 2012 universalizes the meaning of the cathartic gesture of the hand that makes a mark on the plates, transferring meaning from the artist’s personal life to philosophical questions such as the imperturbable passage of time in life, and sentiments such as love, empathy, loss, hope and fear.     

In Square (2014) Liu’s reflection shifts toward the relationship between perception and the ability to judge. Square is an installation which creates a pathway amidst large and dense golden drops set upon slabs of black steel. What appear to be drops of liquefied gold are, in reality, porcelain shapes which have been glazed after their first firing. Here Liu plays on the contrast between the hardness of the steel, which over time rusts and corrodes, and the fragility of the porcelain, which endures through time, despite our being led to believe the opposite. Undermining our ability to recognize materials and to appreciate their quality, Square places the spectator before his ability to judge, which also extends to people who hide their fragility behind an ostensible toughness, or seem pure like gold, when in fact they are not. 

The symbolism surrounding gold is ambiguous: while in many cultures it is evocative of the sacred, due to its luminosity and purity, it also has the ability to corrupt insofar as it is an object of desire that reaches beyond any real necessity. The wish to possess it reveals the weakness of man before his desires. The juxtaposition of materials with contrasting characteristics and their formal presentation—a circular mass within a square—are evocative of a middle ground, somewhere between reality and abstraction, triggering food for thought.   

We are able to recognize the subjects in Liu’s work not because his representation is realistic—it does not faithfully imitate reality—but because we are able to identify a form that places a distance between us and the work, allowing us to perceive its complexity and its spirituality. The poetic-imaginative dimension emerges free from the bonds imposed by reality, sometimes reaching abstraction, as in the case of The End of 2012 and Trace. In other works, such as A Reed Raft (2009) and Bone (2009), we recognize a ceramic leaf more than two meters long and a femur with unnatural dimensions. Neither the leaf nor the porcelain bone can be related to reality due to their size; they are purely form, beyond any contextualization. A Reed Raft and Bone exhibit some truth, but their dimensions make them an expression of the imagination; an abstraction. Reality and abstraction are presented as being complementary. Liu reminds us that a work of art and real life need one another in order for that which is to assume meaning.   

Though in 2008 Liu eliminated from his work all elements that might generate anxiety, he never entirely abandoned the social footprint which marked the first phase of his research. When one of his works expresses a notion of beauty, whatever the theme, it detaches from the present in order to assume a universal value through the aesthetic dimension. When he arrived in Naples in 2018 to visit the Cloister of Saint Catherine in Formiello and to meet the artisans who work the ceramics and papier-mâché, Liu came in contact with the varied, popular and multiethnic reality of the Porta Capuana district. His acknowledgement of this social reality and his encounter with the artisans prompted his project for the exhibit, which he entitled Monumenti, in which he brings together the two different cores of his work—the social core of his early years and the spiritual core of his works subsequent to 2008.      

The central portion of the exhibit is comprised of an installation made of twenty three pedestals covered in Vietri ceramic tiles, which, during the inauguration, becomes a stage for twenty four performers—all immigrants from different places of origin who live and work in the Porta Capuana district. On the central pedestal, which is the largest of all, are a mother and her son. The performers do not interact with the public, and at the end of the performance are substituted by an equal number of papier-mâché statues, made in Nola.  The statues resemble the performers, as testified by the videos presented on the mini screens, in which the immigrants tell their personal stories along with their photographic portraits printed on a brief questionnaire, filled out and signed by individual subjects and hung on the walls. These forms are reminiscent of the questionnaires that are completed and signed by consulates before authorizing entry into a nation. By putting them on display, Liu emphasizes that many individuals are unable to provide the necessary requisites and are, therefore, left without the possibility to move freely from one nation to another.       

Also comprising the installation are nearly two thousand flowers and branches made of white porcelain from Capodimonte, not unlike the ceramic flowers and branches produced in Jingdezhen, which Liu has used in other works since 2001.  As the artist himself has clarified, these candid and delicate porcelain pieces evoke a sense of fragility and solemnity which alludes to the uncertainty which permeates the life of migrants. 

The unfavorable life conditions of the immigrants who arrive in Naples and settle in the Porta Capuana district, and the adverse reality even of its poorest residents, are in stark contrast with the ancient buildings whose architectural sophistication tell the story of eras of splendor. The names of sovereigns, rich and noble families and powerful prelates have remained tied to many of these places. With his installation Liu redefines the concept of the monument as a celebratory construction in honor of illustrious and powerful men, and gives a voice to those who search for a place to live with dignity, far from their homeland, in places where they are often met with hostility. Contextually, he allows the subject to transcend his individuality and turns his story into a universal narrative. By encouraging us to compare ourselves to others, to consider others differently and to listen to them, Monuments inspires us to take on an omni-comprehensive view that includes ourselves and sees us all as equally important or insignificant. 

The majolica from Vietri, the porcelain from Capodimonte and the papier-mâché from Nola used by Liu in this installation are materials whose production is a deeply-rooted tradition in the Campania region. Just like the ceramics from Jingdezhen, those from Campania have been used to forge both humble objects for daily use as well as refined artistic handcraft. Papier-mâché, in turn, has been used both in China and in Italy for parade floats in popular festivals, as well as for the modelling of statues of divinities, devotional objects and actual works of art.  

Monumenti creates a link between the Chinese and local traditions, emphasizing how different knowledge and techniques can travel and be spread by man. Comparing ourselves to other cultures does not necessarily imply focusing on the differences; rather, it helps with identifying the elements that constitute a shared patrimony. Liu’s usage of porcelain and papier-mâché in the Naples exhibit alludes to his own culture, yet it also respects and evokes traditions that distinguish the spirit of the place. While, on one hand, Monumenti reveals the imbalances in the power relations within a society, it also underscores the importance of shared traditions in human relations.  

Demetrio Paparoni