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Author: You Jin Interviewer: You Jin Translator: Wu Chenyun 2012

Sometimes things that are more familiar to us seem stranger. Nothing is featured but a tightly closed gate and a peeping dog. The sizzling sun of summer noon seems to make the whole world sink in silence. Something may have happened. Something may be going to happen. But at this moment, what prevails is nothing but pointless and overwhelming silence. The scene is so familiar to us that we never bother to include such a common and unattractive image into our memory. A sudden confrontation with it makes us feel quite strange. Then we remember: the gate and the high walls of the factory constitute the image of a typical factory of the 20th century when the "new enclosure movement" in suburb areas reached a climax in China. In the wake of the movement, a new concept came into being at the end of the last century in this country: Industrial Zone.

Nevertheless, the image to be displayed here is just a screenshot of time. There's no need to associate it with a variety of implications. The closed gate is just a closed gate and a dog is just a dog. Such a scene can be commonly seen in almost every Chinese village. But it seems there's a certain blank area in between which makes us often turn a blind eye to it. Now that it's presented on canvas by Liu Weijian, we no longer remain blind to it. Instead, we start to impose many other things on it. For instance, we'd associate it with things such as industrial zone and enclosure movement and wonder what has happened or is going to happen. But "at this moment" nothing is happening. There's neither narrative nor sentiment. In the real world, we pass by the gate many times. Under the dazzling sunshine, we don't have the strength or interest to fabricate a plot or cultivate some subtle emotions for it. What we see in our eyes is nothing but a glistening object under the blinding sunlight. But when seeing it in a painting, it's hard for us to accept the idea that nothing is happening for we're so used to looking for a brilliant story or profound theory behind art.

Liu Weijian has no intention to satisfy viewers' desire for fancy. Viewers cannot find traces of storytelling or preach in the objective and somewhat indifferent images in his painting. In other words, the hard facts he presents hardly leave room for romantic imagination. What has been recorded and put on display is the truth of life. It is so true that it's just like any ordinary noon moment in any ordinary suburb town. Noon like this is definitely not the beginning of a story. It's just a frozen moment of a certain time at a certain place. It's a pointless moment, just like any moment we pass by the gate. There's neither a fabricated plot nor artificial romance in Liu's work.
Such is an oft-perceived trait in most of Liu's recent works. In the past few years in particular, he's been recording what he sees with nothing but objectivity. Works such as Marginal Issues, Under the Burning Sun, Gas Tank, Public and Engine all represented what he sees in an objective manner. Some facts are astonishing, but we're not aware of them due to our everyday encounters with them. Liu captures such moments in time and confronts us with them. We take our time looking at it, finding it quite strange and remote but play a crucial role in our life. Works such as Monitor, Engine and Industrial Topics are all of this kind. When looking at them on the canvas, we begin to realize that they are actually objective reality. In real life, we tend to take a lot of detours when talking about reality. In other words, we talk about reality while trying to avoid it. Such ambiguity derives from the belief that "life is elsewhere". But Liu depicts specific objects (i.e. the engine and monitor) in the way they really are to reveal the true color of the environment and the era we live in and the truth of our life.

But no judgment is made in his work. It is often the case that when viewers are not able to get a brilliant story, they would turn to find some fresh and bold ideas. It is still the case in today's art scene. However, once again Liu's work let them down. The objects are depicted so objectively. The monitor installed on the wall is no different from those on the gate or warehouse that we see every day. Most of the time we don't feel a thing about them. When we pass by, we take no notice of such things. They will never become the subject matter of our conversation. The objects in his painting give out the same feelings: it's there and it's objective. But sometimes when we pass by a gate, it would suddenly hit us that there's a monitor here. It monitors people 24 hours a day and makes us quite uncomfortable. But we have to obey it and get accustomed to the presence of it. It's the rule. It's the environment we live in. It's just in most times we're not aware of it

It's only when the object becomes the subject matter of the painting that we start to truly pay attention to it. What is the monitor for? We wonder. As the painter doesn't fabricate any plot and presents nothing other than the truth (a monitor), he doesn't put forward any question for viewers. It is the object per se that prompts us to think. A monitor is made to monitor. It's the sole purpose of its mission. The meaning lies in itself and lays a foundation for its presence. Engine, excavator and gas tank all fall into this category. When seeing a monitor on top of a factory gate or an excavator on side of the road, we would never treat it as a piece of artwork. Such is determined by its social functionality. Such objects are imbued with the characteristics of the industrial era and reflect the environment surrounding them and the desires of human society. According to Liu Weijian: "Tools that are created by man rather than by the nature are the embodiment of human wisdom and desires."

Since the industrial significance of these objects is embedded in themselves rather than imbued by artists, the presence of "me" is not seen in the imagery. Does this mean the artist hasn't played a role?

Every summer Liu would spend nearly two months walking on the road. He would pick up a highway at random, walk along with it, and paint what he sees along the way. He once said that wherever he went, it was "a random choice". He never chooses what to see and just lets the scenes bump into him. Only in this way will the reality reveal its most real, primitive and natural status. And only in this way can the most real and natural objects be seen. However, the artist also makes choices during the process. For instance, to paint a monitor or gas tank is in fact a choice based on thinking. He chooses to reveal the general state of the reality: the reality of the industrial era.

In other words, Liu's paintings are a kind of "record" of the era he lives in. It's the era we all live in. In this regard, his paintings can be seen as bamboo slips in the early history of China, or as porcelain in Song Dynasty, trucks in the industrial era, and petroleum in the contemporary era. They are pictures of their own eras. Living in this contemporary era, Liu keeps a distance from reality and manages to reflect upon it from a historical perspective. As a result, no sign of subjectivity and emotions can be perceived from the images he presents. The things featured in his work are deeply rooted in the era and their fate is closely connected with it. In this regard, these works can be deemed as an embodiment of the artist's nostalgic complex. It's a tricky thing that although we think we live in the present, we actually live in the past as the present is constantly passing away. If the choice of subject matters is based on certain cultural awareness, the time-sensitive nostalgic complex reveals the nature of the artist. As mentioned above, what Liu chooses is a screenshot of time. For instance, Marginal Issues is the screenshot of transience, Industrial Topics, an era, and The Gate, a certain period of time. Liu captures some fragments among the hustle and bustle of life and makes them into the specimens of the era. Liu spoke of the idea of "specimen" when talking about his art creation. Instead of being a faithful representation of the reality, specimens are actually the reality itself. Nevertheless, they're dead reality. In a sense, by injecting verve into his painting, the subject matters appearing in his work are more like amber than specimens. They represent a kind of living state. Such a trait is vividly manifested in works such as Gas Tank and Public. The rough and bold brushwork imbues the paintings with a strong metallic sense, effectively enlivening the images.

Industrial Topics is more like a sort of impression from memory. The intensive composition evokes certain nostalgia among viewers, making them feel like looking at some historic pictures. Cold colors and blocky strokes fill the building and stack featured in the painting with a sense of sculpture as if time is frozen. The sun is shining, but the overall hue makes the sunshine so unreal. Viewers may wonder if they are seeing it in their dream. In this regard, it corresponds to the nostalgic melancholy aroused by the passing of time and sheds light on the smoky reality of this industrial era. The engine provides a somewhat dreamy perspective. Other than the blue sky and brown highway there's no other reference. All possible commentary is derived from the image, leaving any praise or criticism meaningless. The truck is a purely independent presence, existing only for the sake of itself. In works such as Engine and Gas Tank, in addition to some general traits of the certain social period, there's no specific indication of time or background. Such a characteristic can be seen even more vividly in Gas Tank, which features nothing but a thick block of yellow paint (or is that a pile of soil?) and gives out a sense of timelessness.

The realistic works of Liu Weijian represent real society in a natural way. The re-presentation relies neither on the construction of the plot nor on iconography. Instead, the artist manages to realize it by making use of some representative items and images of the era, for instance, a bunch of gas tanks on the ground. They are there as objective existence. Without imbuing them with any particular meaning, their existence per se can be deemed as a kind of record of facts, a witness to the history. As the products of the industrial era, they are definitely different from the natural landscape which touches only upon the inner emotions. They have their own context. The trucks, buildings and highways in cold colors in his work all appear to be tough, rough, dry and pale. As a matter of fact, such characteristics are closely related to their era. Things that have long been ignored by the majority of people are what Liu sees by his eyes along the way of his wandering. They represent a kind of zeitgeist that is easily ignored by the contemporaries.

Related Artists:
LIU WEIJIAN 刘唯艰
Related Exhibitions:
Liu Weijian: Under the Sun

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