Installation view of “Sensory Spaces 4: Liu Wei” at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Photo by Kitty van Leeuwen for ArtAsiaPacific

Sensory spaces 4

Liu Wei

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen
The Netherlands China

“You don’t want there to be any traces of reality in there,” Liu Wei remarks in a video about his site-specific exhibition installed at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, for which he created a grid from different types of construction materials, such as glass, wood, foam rubber, iron, plywood and stainless steel. Curator Noor Mertens calls Liu’s installation “a momentary city in the making.” The work is part of “Sensory Spaces,” an exhibition series that commissions artists to create solo projects for the museum, which features Liu for its fourth edition.

Walking through Liu’s exhibition, visitors might feel as if they are going through a maze of diverse elements. A giant, mirrored, square-shaped object is positioned on the right corner of the gallery room, reflecting—and causing interaction with—the other sculptures in the space, as well as the visitors. All of these surrounding works have an individual and unique form, shape and structure that reference minimalist sculptural tradition. However, whereas minimalist sculptures usually evoke notions of peace, harmony and clearness, the different elements in this room create a sense of chaos and a dizzying feeling comparable to what one might experience being in a large, busy city.

Installation view of “Sensory Spaces 4: Liu Wei” at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Photo by Kitty van Leeuwen for ArtAsiaPacific

Installation view of “Sensory Spaces 4: Liu Wei” at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Photo by Kitty van Leeuwen for ArtAsiaPacific

The installation at Museum Boijmans represents Liu’s interest in urbanization. His upbringing in Beijing—which in recent years has become one of China’s most rapidly developing cities—led Liu to adopt the issue of urbanization as a conceptual theme, almost by default. In his work, the artist takes objects and materials and strips them of their function. As he explains in the supplementary publication provided at the exhibition, “The things around us—our world in a literal sense—are the canvas on which we project our ideas. I don’t want to use strange objects but rather things that exist in everyday life. I oppose the strange.” This is made evident to the viewers as they walk through the exhibition; the foam and metal sculptures on display could be mistaken for objects and scrap that one may find at an urban construction site.

Independent curator and art critic Feng Boyi wrote in his recent essay, “Reality, Memory and Localized Future,” about two important influences in contemporary Chinese art history. The first one being “art in service of politics” during the Cultural Revolution (1966­–76), and the second being the new wave of art that resulted from the country’s Open Door Policy that was enacted in 1978. Feng describes the latter as being a “midwife” that eased the birth of a new social dynamism and the system of values that are practiced today. In his work, Liu takes inspiration from this period of rapid modernization and urbanization in China following the Open Door Policy. The objects that he used for his installation at Museum Boijmans, for example, represent construction materials with which Chinese cities are commonly built. With the installation, Liu makes the subject of his work the power structure and dynamics that make up urbanized society.

It’s remarkable that Liu Wei prefers not to have “any traces of reality” in his works. He likes to work with “true” everyday objects and materials, and yet he does not want the viewer to see the individual sculptures as something that exists in real life. It is a paradoxical and confusing vision; yet somehow it works, resulting in a friction that is stimulating and thought-provoking for visitors to his installation space.