Form is the most political

We are thrilled to bring you a review of Liu Wei’s recent solo exhibition at Long March Space, from our partner ArtSpy, a website based in Beijing, P.R.China that is committed to establishing a platform for global artistic information. This article was originally written for ArtSpy and has been translated exclusively for DailyServing.

This new exhibition is divided into two sections. One presents a continuation of previous techniques—great numbers of wooden slats assembled in a circular configuration, giving the appearance of a conference room, or an ashtray, even though neither of these objects, nor any other, is the focus of the piece.

Actually, the foregrounding of the innate qualities of materials and forms is a consistent feature of Liu Wei’s practice. Variations of material in space and a sense of order perceivable between forms has become a vital element to the creation of his works. Liu Wei has never provided concrete images or designs, instead allowing his builders to complete the work according to a blueprint. Working together with them, the structure takes shape over the course of a ceaseless creative and building process, which is carried out in strict observance of the properties of the materials in use, as well as the sequential logic of the form. This process proceeds organically, and doesn’t only manifest itself in the gradual production of a formal object, but is also extended across the whole gallery space. This becoming of form acts as a unit of material in itself, blending with, adhering to the structure of the gallery space, and extending out into it.

The best reflection of this technique can be found in Merely A Mistake (2010), structures emerge out of holes in the gallery floor, follow the walls of the space. Various parts and impressions of previous works hybridize, frantically, taking over the gallery space like a thick jungle. A year later, in his solo exhibition at Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai, the same technique was used in a far more controlled manner, again occupying the entire gallery space.

Observing his work from the past few years, it is clear that a certain formal sensibility has become integral to Liu Wei’s practice. However, concealed behind these “pleasing” forms is a persistent “performative” manner, turning the former into “form within performance”. Or, perhaps more accurately, these “forms within performance” make-up, rather than a explicit set of actions, or methods, a system of formal self-production. A system which unceasingly deals with modes of production of materials, forms, and space. Within this system, every material and formal aspect also adheres to its own rules, as well as to the structure of the exhibition space; these two compositional elements combine into a far greater, composite “formal scenario”. This scenario is regarded by the artist as possessing an independent ecological state.

These methods are employed in order to prevent the material’s own social, imagistic, and textual resonances from being smothered; they grant it an escape from the constraints of textual, narrative and imagistic intrusion, and thus a certain “autonomy.” However in this solo exhibition, although the techniques in the main body of work are identical to in previous expositions, to the environment has been added certain meta-formal objects, which though relatively autonomous, still possess distinct functions. For example, a structure which appears to take the form of gymnastic climbing frame, made out of scrap metal and unevenly conjoined into a single column, the same steel bars used to form something like a podium, a desk made from the overlaying of several simple cubic structures, a staircase, which can be ascended or descended from either side; simple desks made from planks of wood, which echo each other in form, and can be mounted, and used as raised viewing points.

Materials, forms, becoming..these key techniques of his practice all possess a certain “materiality”, the capabilities of which, in step with greater objectification, become increasingly intense. After having developed to a certain degree, it can be subject to control no longer, and becomes an indulgence, hindrance, or even a nuisance. At the outset, it was “the free control” of the studio and work conditions, though later it would have been sucked into the studio “production” process, involuntarily pacified. It was at this point that Liu Wei began to experiment with new techniques, materials, and approaches: at the left hand side of the exhibition space, a separate gallery presents this new collection. From materials to techniques, everything in this space is new.

The works are mostly made from green canvas, stretched across frames, then folded and sewn together, according to specific designs. However, the manner of arrangement is no different from before: structures unfolding in all directions, their forms adhering to the composition of the exhibition space, or following steel frames, merging and overlapping. According to the artist, these fresh attempts are the first gestures of his own self-liberation, from Merely A Mistake, to the 2010 SH Contemporary, then to his solo show at Minsheng Art Museum, then finally, this transformation. During the next phase of development, it seems very possible that he’ll create a “reproductive system” even grander than the one which produced the giant circular structures previously. However, the allure of “materiality” will always accompany him, always exist. The more he produces, the stronger the forces sucking him in. Resistance and struggle, from outside to in, in this way is unifying in its impartial existence. This is the case with both the art system, as it is with between the artist and his or her work…perhaps this is the best embodiment of the statement Liu once made, that “form is the most political.”