Video Artist Series: Liu Shiyuan

Liu Shiyuan is a 28-year-old artist from Beijing. Her first solo exhibition, “The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth” was shown at White Space in Beijing earlier this year. Group exhibitions to date include the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale in 2012, “Stillspotting” at the Guggenheim in New York in 2011 and “Weekender” at Cats Hill Gallery, New York, in the same year. Liu is now based between Beijing, Copenhagen and New York, where she studied photography at the School of Visual Arts. In this interview she talks about concepts of beauty, the dark humor in her work and a new series which focuses on formless forms such as tofu.

I enjoy that my life is constantly changing in unexpected directions; this uncertainty is quite important. If I know the result of what I am doing before I start, then I will immediately lose interest. This is also part of the reason I am not based in one city. I work from my gut instincts, so making art can help me to know myself better and to see how I can solve various problems.

Liu Shiyuan at White Space Beijing (Photo courtesy of White Space Gallery)

Art has to be beautiful, in my opinion. In daily life, I am attracted to simple images which everyone finds beautiful. In another words, to the most basic concept of beauty — it’s not about how rich the color is or how modern or how minimal it feels; those are all about taste. Instead, I aim to show my understanding of things without changing their status. I am currently very interested in the standards of beauty. By this, I don’t mean a girl or a view that one would call beautiful. It is something true, honest, kind and simple. Video is a beautiful medium, because it is actually just a lot of still images that are moving.

I have lived in Beijing, New York and Copenhagen. Through my art practice, I try to release myself from the discourse of cultural difference. I have come to question the very notion. This is in part because I find it increasingly difficult to point out fixed social norms that are exclusive to specific locations. I work with an awareness of cultural differences to make art that shows the overlap between cultures in order to communicate a globalized view of the world.

My work also contains dark humor. I can work and live perfectly alone, but I do have a hard time talking to people. I take things seriously when I should not, and make jokes when other people are serious. My art work is really the only effective way I can express myself. I put everything into it, and I beg “incorrect” answers from the pictures — this is actually where the dark humor element comes in. The presentation of my work is always so “correct,” and I like focusing on the scientific study of things.

Liu Shiyuan, “The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth,” single channel video, HDV, color, 6’00″, 2013 (Photo courtesy of White Space Gallery)
刘诗园, 《视线的边缘,或大地的边缘》, 高清单频影像,彩色,6 分

Now, I am working on projects related to the first moments of creating art. I search for pictures that have an original appearance like clay, butter, tofu and soap. They do not have their own form, but are just waiting for people to change them to into something else. To me, that is so beautiful and moving.

Good art can only made by good artists. First, I need to be a good person; this is also one of the reasons I keep making art — I cannot lie, everything is in my work.

Having said that, my work is not autobiographical at all; I really consider it something bigger. I try to minimize the presence of my artist’s hands. I am not saying my work is objective, but I try to hide the work I do behind the scenes. Art is my job; if I thought it was only an individual practice, I would think about just earning some money and consider art as my hobby. Without the context of being partly responsible for the direction contemporary art is taking, it would be hard to make any good art nowadays. I don’t really believe in luck, or coincidence.

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