White Space (No.255, Caochangdi Airport Service Road Chaoyang District Beijing 100015), Sept 6–Oct 19, 2014
Before anything else, this exhibition strikes one with its formal—or physical—clarity. Every shape, color and line is defined with a precision befitting reproducible products, more than singular artistic objects. Absent is a sense of the artist’s direct touch; in its place looms large his design and the theme on which it is based—a slightly more flexible version of Socialism adopted in Hungary known sardonically as “Goulash Communism.” This term gained confusion and complexity in China where, mistranslated and demeaned by Mao as inferior, it became “stewed beef and potatoes Communism”.
The number of works is not many. On the back wall, “One Night Back to Wartime” (2014) is a circular arrangement of acrylic stars; beacon lights flash form their protruding, missile-like centers. Nearby are two panels depicting globes, the word “friend” (in different languages) pasted over them in a flurry of yellow labels (“We have Friends all over the World”, 2014). There are two bright yellow dumbbells in a corner on the floor (“Working out Class”, 2014). Lastly, curved sheaves of wheat in yellow and green roll against the wall—their shapes instantly recognizable from various Communist emblems, wherein they would have framed a national badge or political motif (“Surplus Value”, 2014). Here they encircle nothing, however, and lie as if strangely “harvested,” or as if in waiting for some new incentive.
This is a confident exhibition with impresses itself on one through its economy, and the memorable directness of the shapes of the works. One has the feeling of these works—especially “Surplus Value”—having been scaled up from smaller models to make large conceptual objects. There is a sense of scaling in another way, however, which is intangible; it relates to the sensation of displacement that accompanies former political motifs being abstracted and presented as an artistic thought or response. These works are products of a certain scaling and change through time and through the mind of the artist. Looking on them here, one might wonder: what do they become, or stop being, in this context? Can they ever escape association? If one didn’t recall the look of them as part of the Socialist visual arsenal, how would one react to them—what might be added or absent? In what way are they now “defunct,” or recast? Liu Xinyi has the knack of teasing such thought from existing imagery, and the uncertain values the attend it.