The city is reality. All of China exists in a city under construction, which in the end has an impact on you. You cannot avoid paying attention to it. You wonder: why should one do this? It’s all related to the system.
A spectacular, mature and quintessential specimen from Liu Wei’s most iconic painting series, Truth Dimension No. 10 regenerates a cross-section of the Beijing cityscape into a fantastical, complexly vibrant celebration of geometry and verticality. Imposing in scale and hypnotically disorienting in its optical illusions, the work presents a myriad of densely packed super-imposed vertical and horizontal lines, manifesting the sublime subjectivity of the modern Chinese city packed with high-rise buildings and ruled by the digitalised data and pixels of the virtual world. Bearing traces of Western Minimalism and Deconstructionism, whilst espousing a jolting juxtaposition between the Zen ideal and the chaotic tumultuous cityscape of Beijing, Truth Dimension No. 10 throbs and pulsates with a singular aesthetic that is wholly unique, global and contemporary.
Born in 1972, Liu Wei graduated in 1996 from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou (formerly the Zhejiang Academy of Art). In 1999, Liu Wei was one of a group of young artists alongside Qiu Zhijie, Yang Fudong and others who organized Post-Sense Sensibility: Alien Bodies and Delusion, a radical exhibition that positioned itself in response to the excessive idealism and “tone-deaf conceptualism” of art that pervaded the scene at the time. Although the exhibition remained open for only a few short hours before being shut down, its spirit lived on in the form of a subversive quasi-movement through a series of subsequent exhibitions and affiliated projects and collaborations in the ensuing years. Pauline J. Yao reflects: “The Post-Sense Sensibility artists embraced irrationality, improvisation, and intuition and strove to create extreme experiences. Though frequently likened to the Viennese Actionists or the YBAs, the group is most indebted to the anti-art and anti-ideology stances of Fluxus” (Pauline J. Yao, “Dark Matter”, Art Forum, January 2012, n.p.).
Liu Wei’s contribution to the 1999 show was a multi-channel video Hard to Restrain; the first important work of a sophisticated and multi-faceted oeuvre that spanned installation, sculpture, video and painting. Albeit ranging widely in medium and creative strategy, a common theme pervades Liu Wei’s multidimensional works – a shrewd and cutting observation of society, urbanization, and China. The artist has said: “The city is reality. All of China exists in a city under construction, which in the end has an impact on you. You cannot avoid paying attention to it. You wonder: why should one do this? It’s all related to the system” (interview with Liu Wei, “I always keep myself in a state of instability”, Hans Ulrich Obrist interview with Liu Wei, Liu Wei, Trilogy, 2011). Whether subtly or explicitly, Liu Wei’s works allude to the social system with underlying strains of witty social satire and critique.
From the late 2000s onwards, Liu Wei’s unique and acclaimed works were increasingly invited to various large-scale exhibitions abroad, including the Venice Biennale of 2005 and the Lyon Biennale of 2007, and in 2008 he won a Contemporary Chinese Art Award (CCAA). It was around this time that Liu Wei’s art underwent a change in direction – one in which he abandoned his earlier, more explicit satire and critique in favour of understated meditations on society. The Purple Air series, of which the Truth Dimension series is an extension, emerged within this juncture of the artist’s career: replacing the painting brush with the computer mouse, Liu Wei employed graphic design to engage in an interrogation with the formal possibilities of painting. In the artist’s own words: “I use a mouse to create all my paintings as an instinct and as a continuation of painting”.
Purple Air and Truth Dimension thus represent a milestone and crucial turning point in Liu Wei’s practice, both in terms of methodology and concept. From his experience as an urbanite, Liu Wei distills a unique set of visual elements; while his artistic vocabulary is close to that of Minimalism, it is infused with the special, hybrid character of Chinese cities. Speaking about the series, Liu Wei is explicit that his subject is Beijing: “There is an ancient Chinese saying about a place having ‘purple air’, that it is enshrouded in gray. In fact this means that the place is full of life. It has many problems but also much vitality at the same time” (the artist cited in Jerome Sans, Interview with Liu Wei, Duihua Zhongguo, 2009). Art critic Gunnar B. Kvaran once commented on his works, “Liu’s entire practice can be seen as a fragmented cityscape whose social structure is reduced to an essential state for the sake of clarity of message” (Gunnar B. Kvaran, Liu Wei: The Creative Gesture, 2011). Condensing the ethos of Beijing and contemporary China, as well as that of the globally digitalized world, the current piece encapsulates the extraordinary vitality and dynamism of Liu Wei’s multi-dimensional oeuvre that espouses the intricate relationships between art and society.