Antenna Space is pleased to announce the opening of Liu Xiaohui: The Mystery of Sisyphus on 9 September 2015. Curated by art critic He Jing, The Mystery of Sisyphus is the artist’s second solo exhibition at Antenna Space, following his debut exhibition Labour in 2014.
How far is the distance lying between a series of painting and an exhibition of that series of painting? For an artist who has devoted himself in the studio thus rarely exhibited, what matters is this: in order to move the works from the studio to the gallery and make sense, exhibition as a mechanism has to provide a more concrete and clarifying vehicle for the aleatory vision in the studio. Therefore, if we resolve the question “how to exhibit”, the answer to the more ontological question of why should we move the viewing from the studio to the gallery emerges. Liu’s painting, strangely, with its monotonous repetition, offers extended possibilities of imagination. When the exhibited works are somehow visually unified, it is more likely that we treat the methodology behind such unification as the starting point of the exhibition.
Why does the silhouette of the same woman appear in Liu Xiaohui’s oeuvre again and again? According to the artist, “she” comes from a scene in Yasujiro Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon. Liu admits that his capture of this image may just be “unconscious”. As a matter of fact, before delving into the psychoanalysis of this visual appropriation, we might need to distrust the artist’s remark. Tireless repeating certain image can be understood as being spiritually attached it, but in his work, Liu paints over, modifies, and betrays the original image – “she” is not “she” anymore. She starts in Ozu’s lens, but she varies in Liu’s work: she walks, she stands, she is faced with the ocean, and she gazes at the land afar. The repeated silhouette, in its silent variation, becomes an archetype of Liu’s visual system. Meanwhile, Liu does not extend the image to a sort of vertical script, but rather, he keeps it at where it starts. She is a borrowed image, flat and empty inside. The artist takes the silhouette as departure and intends for something else. Liu appropriates the image and takes it as agency, through which an experience is explored, an experience of perennially approaching but never reaching “truth”, an obsession, a Sisyphean process. The monotonous repetition of one image reinforces the unrepeatable acts and methods of painting behind it. It alludes to something more metaphysical than the image itself. Sisyphus has become a hero in Greek Mythologies because his endless act of rolling up the boulder symbolizes grief, not desperation. In his battle with the mountain, the process is much closer to truth, if there is any, than the result. Therefore, Albert Camus in his essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe pictures a “Happy Sisyphus” who, rather than being desperate in a fruitless narrative, is satisfied during the process of eternal repetition.
That said, Liu Xiaohui is more interested in the process of repeatedly painting than the repetitive image itself. Or, we can say that he starts all over again and again just to subvert those “finished” images. The homogenization of the visual product is only fantasy, in some sense, or camouflage. Painting over and even covering the same picture is the real game. What repetition eventually leads to is “erasing” and “cleansing”. Liu negates the kind of symptoms and traces that are decorative, pretentious, and superfluous, which may come from years of academy training or some correct current visual models. He erases them again and again. According to the artist himself, “the work does not leave any extra possibilities; it will become less and less, eventually a flat iron.” Here, “less” does not mean anything quantitive, but something closer to “an experience” proposed by John Dewey in his Art as Experience. It is an experience as a whole, in which “every successive part flows freely, without seam and without unfilled blanks, into what ensues.” It is tightly interwoven in an organizational sense and it prevents any exterior possibilities from invading or intervening.
And when our vision eventually gives up the burden of thinking and inquiring and lays on the canvas, it is met with frustration, unknownness, and mystification. This is a road which leads forward but on which we have to step backwards to get there. When the audience steps “back” in front of Liu’s paintings, some mysterious “lumps” emerge. These lumps then become solidified and frozen, hanging between strokes, color, and lines, preventing them from interacting with each other and integrate into one complete, gentle image; what they bring are stagnation and weight. Mysterious black lines repeatedly touch and leave the repeated image of the woman, with coarse accuracy and hasty calmness. After all, these lumps form in the picture certain spiritual barrier and high density cased by perennial laborious experience. As Camus describes it, the most touching moment in Sisyphus’s life is that paused moment when each time after the boulder is finally rolled up to the mountain top and about to fall down again. In Liu Xiaohui’s work, those mysterious lumps are both physical and spiritual. They head towards the end of the image through a painting process that repeats itself again and again. They put objects’ realness into question and call for the uncertainty of perception, and meanwhile, they explore spirituality under layers of practical experience. If the realness of “truth” is actually contained in that mysterious silhouette, the real myth of Sisyphus is then the unreachable, the moving back and forth between negativity and positivity, the body of Sisyphus that embraces absurdity, as well as the shadow he casts into reality. (He Jing)
For this exhibition, Antenna Space will be publishing a catalogue that includes the essay, Liu Xiaohui: The Mystery of Sisyphus, contributed by curator He Jing.
Liu Xiaohui was born in 1975 in Shandong Province, China. He moved to Beijing in 1991, subsequently graduating with a master’s degree from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. In 2007, Liu was invited to London for an art exchange program. Practicing primarily as a painter, Liu centers the structure of his practice closely around life, taking it as source of clue (or path). By employing a painterly language and tireless repeating analysis of color, the artist both affirms and denies perennially the immediate experience. Constantly he deliberates and refines non-referring subject matters and ordinary scenes. Finally Liu aims at accurate expression of truth from an oriental view via permeating effect of quality and quantity.
Selected solo exhibitions:
LIU Xiaohui: The Mystery of Sisyphus, Antenna Space, Shanghai, 2015; LIU Xiaohui: Labour, Antenna Space, Shanghai, 2014; LIU Xiaohui Solo Exhibition, Eastation Gallery, Beijing, 2013; LIU Xiaohui Solo Exhibition, QUAD arts centre, Derby, U.K., 2009; LIU Xiaohui Solo Exhibition, Beijing Tao Gallery, Beijing, 2003, etc.
About the exhibition
Duration: 2015.09.09 – 2015.10.06
Venue: Antenna Space
Address: 202, 50 Moganshan Rd, Building 17, Shanghai, China
Courtesy of the artist and Antenna Space, for further information please visit www.antenna-space.com.