Shanghai Art Gallery - Chinese Contemporary Art

  On Hung Liu

The memories of both words and images together constitute the memories of every human being. For many years Hung Liu’s efforts have been to look for the traces of memories from paintings over the last thousand years, from photos of Chinese people taken by foreigners, and from the pictures of China taken since 1949. However, why do so many people suddenly generate such a great interest in visual art?

On the one hand, unlimited cultural and historical treasures are hidden in the ancient time stream of visual images. Chinese people can point to the original sources in philology, literature, philosophy, art, music, traditional gardens/landscaping, and so forth. The pleasure of coming across these visual images has helped form special Chinese-style paintings. On the other hand, advanced modern science and technology ensure artists use visible techniques and invisible imagination to reveal a totally new meaning for visual images in the current cultural environment. Though living in the U.S., Hung Liu possesses the original inspiration and image sources from her vivid memory of a certain period she experienced in China, from 1948 to 1984, which still shapes her imaginative world.

For example, the suffering reflected in her Red River, painted in 1998, about the bitter life of Chinese laborers, is not unique to China, but commonly exists around the world. Moreover, today what is happening to the "Red River" is also happening to the "Blue River", and the rivers of other colors. The painting King’s Sky, Queen’s Land borrows from a painting drawn by an emperor of the Song Dynasty as background to display an extensive landscape, where a camel, a human figure, and flowers and birds are composed together on the canvas to visualize an inexplicably fictitious reality constituted by the combination of images and memory, history and culture, the King’s sky and the Queen’s land. The painting Cliche: Peasant Family, set against a bright sun-rise, is a group photo of three members from an ordinary Chinese family, which is overlapped with images of scholar's rocks and flowers. Their look of dull anxiety reveals the kindness of average Chinese people, especially of the peasants, whose faces represent China’s face, since China is a large agricultural country. Another revelation is the utterly helpless condition Chinese peasants are now facing. Through this painting, we are actually looking at our profound inner side. The painting Leap depicts three blossoming boys jumping into a river; in the distance, a painted circle is like a shadowy moon luring their leap.

The scene in One Thousand Miles seems absurd. Two strong men bind a swift horse’s legs. Then comes the question "once a horse’s legs are bound, how can we expect it to run
ground of a moon one thousand miles, even if it is a swift horse?"To reach one thousand miles, either it must imagine galloping in its mind; or, tear away from the bindings and gallop a thousand miles. Are human's not the same? In Parachute, a dreamy parachute suddenly appears on the left side above an old peasant eating from a bowl, which appears to be a metaphor of the reality of the collision and contradiction between contemporary technology and agriculture. Today, as modernization progresses on the ground of China day and night, a promising age begins! How will we face our spirituality with material wealth falling from the sky? It’s a question put forward by Hung Liu.

When surveying Hung Liu’s paintings over the past few years, it’s apparent that she continues to carry on a love affair with Chinese history. She uses her paintbrush to criticize the realities of China, to expose the contradictions within Chinese society as well as the collisions within the individual human heart.

Thus, although she lives outside her homeland, Hung Liu's heart remains at the Great Wall - heavy, anguished, yet passionate. No matter whether her memory of visual images is an addition to or a subtraction from reality, she still gathers all her passion at the end of a paintbrush to create a thoroughly vivid description of her personal understanding of reality in China that touches and compels every spectator.

Zhang Qing
Director of Shanghai Biennale Office
Curator of 2004 Shanghai Biennale


© Art Scene Warehouse and Hung Liu
Images of art by Hung Liu may not be reproduced without the prior
written presmission of Hung Liu or Art Scene Warehouse, Shanghai.