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January 1, 2010

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Ceramics genius presents abstract closer to reality

WHEN the work of an artist transcends time and space, it could qualify for a rightfully earned place in art history, where it is elevated beyond genre and heritage.

However it is not easy for an artist to be so lifted from his personal background, defined culture or even nationality.

But Liu Jianhua, an artist whose roots are in the cradle of China's china, or ceramics, is close to that goal.

Liu's latest exhibition titled "Horizon" is under way at Beijing Commune.

On entering the exhibition venue, visitors are immediately enclosed soothingly into a silent world.

The space is quite big, or to be exact, big and empty, except for several lightly colored vases scattered in a corner, some blank paper, strangely a bone and a leaf hanging on the wall.

"This show induces a sense of much emptiness," Liu says with a smile. "It also is quite profound for visitors."

But the visual surprises overwhelm visitors because, on closer inspection, whether the thin blank paper, the bone or the leaf, they are all made of ceramics.

Obviously, Liu uses a media that he is most familiar with to pursue his visions in art.

Born in 1962, Liu was sent at age 12 to work with his uncle, a Chinese arts and crafts master, in the city of Jingdezhen, China's historical capital of ceramic production since the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

"When I was a little boy, I was so bored making porcelain there," he recalls. "At that time, I told myself that I wouldn't stay there for long."

However, the boy didn't expect that one day ceramics would become his signature medium, of course fused with a different meaning.

In effect, Liu opens up a new horizon on the stereotyped appreciation of Chinese ceramics.

His earlier "Regular Fragile" exhibition, using ceramics to copy everything around our life - from a flower, shoes and toys or even a pillow - to the piece of paper and the bone showcased here, amaze viewers not only for their visual impact but also for their subtle zen flavor meanings.

"That's my deep interpretation of ceramics," Liu explains. "I especially don't like any focus on making ceramics itself. I try to explore an 'undeveloped' part of ceramics. Almost nobody has ever thought that ceramics could be used in such a way."

Unlike his peers who would often stick to one symbolic art language of their own for years, Liu repeatedly goes beyond such constraints.

Despite the success of his early headless females clade in qipao on a plate, "Regular Fragile" or even the new "Horizon," the artist keeps pursuing a unique art style with different facets.

"If you are careful enough, you will see that I nearly decrease all the narrative elements in this show," he explains. "No more defined symbols or reflection on social phenomenon, my artworks don't pursue such objectives."

"Horizon" is such an exhibition that digs for the basic traits of man, of history and of life itself.

Never exists

"Here 'Horizon' is a conceptually, infinitely extended boundary between the earth and the sky, but it never exists anywhere in our world, or in another word. It's an abstract line that's presented in a realistic way," Liu concludes.

The interesting part of this show lies in the aspect that both the substance and abstractness are coherent within the unique characteristic of "Horizon."

When viewing the porcelain "reed raft" against the almost empty wall, it's hard for the visitor to derive any information to make it relevant to them in everyday life.

"You know, reed raft has been traditionally used on the surface of porcelain wares for centuries," he explains. "But here I use it inside the containers, making them appear like a pot of blood."

Liu seems reluctant to discuss any technical details about the reed raft or the incredibly thin "blank paper."

"This is merely a technical issue that can be solved through many experiments if you are patient enough," he answers. "What I stress is the message that will be rendered via these porcelain pieces."

Obviously the "blood" inside the container on the ground resonates with the bone hung on the wall, which according to the artist "relates to the final resort of human beings."

"This is not something that could be simply clarified, and I also don't intend to clarify everything."

In his eyes, an artist should keep some distance from reality and guide viewers to rethink the nature of life or build up a new aesthetic mode.

The strong oriental ambience permeating through his art pieces has attracted accolades from both home and abroad, and he will be invited to exhibit them in the Sydney Biennale 2010 next April.

"Art is above life," he concludes. "An artist needs to stand at a higher spiritual level."

Date: through February 25 (closed on Mondays), 10am-6pm

Address: Beijing Commune, Da Shan Zi, 798 Art District, 4 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang District, Beijing

Tel: (010) 8456-2862


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