Liu Wei’s artistic practice is characterised by its impressive scope. Working extensively with video, installation, drawing, sculpture and painting, the overriding concern is with questions of identity in today’s culture of globalisation. Taking up concepts such as affluence, corruption and aggression, his works are undertones of what he perceives to be a ‘mad world’. Yet despite this unifying theme, it is hard to detect any clear stylistic tendencies amongst his productions.
To the contrary, Liu Wei believes the artist has an obligation to present works that are unmitigated, uncensored and unfettered by form and ideology. This is a strategy he has adopted and developed from one of the greatest Chinese artists of the past generation, Huang Yong Ping.
Love It! Bite It! (2007) is a pertinent example of Liu Wei’s critical approach to affluent society – it is a model city made out of the same material as mass produced dog chews. By re-creating architectural ‘delicacies’ – all are modelled on famous buildings – Liu Wei’s fantastical scenario presents an at once spectacular and comical vision of the world. The title provides the first hint of the work’s message, and is mounted on the gallery wall in sculpted lettering. Ranging from the Pentagon to St. Peter’s Basilica, from the Coliseum to the Guggenheim, from Tiananmen Square to Tate Modern, the 25 buildings are all suggestive of strong political, cultural or military power. Constructed with meticulous precision and attention to detail, some features (notably ornamented columns, cornices and cupolas) are rendered with skewed approximation and lend the staged presentation a subtle but distinctive post-apocalyptic aura. Powerful legacies are reinterpreted in hollow hide.
The artist challenges our conception of these well-known buildings with the help of his materials: tanned ox hides and pig skin. The Tower of London, to be sure, looks less impressive when its turrets hang and sway and its marble and concrete parts are replaced with humble animal hide, despite its remarkable capacity for getting small details right. Used to make dog bites, the brittle and plastic-like materials give an impression of dilapidation and decay and wipe away the last vestiges of awe we have for the ‘great’ buildings. Knee-high, waist-high or shoulder-high, the buildings are held together with twisted fibres and ‘shoddy’ stitching. In some places the material has cracked and the architecture seems on the verge of collapsing. Through these ruins, the cultural, political and religious significance conveyed by the original buildings crumble. Love It! Bite It! can be read as a satirical comment over how power is created and maintained.
Liu Wei, like many of his contemporary Chinese artists, is a ‘global observer’ whose penchant for skewing mundane materials in order to create new and absurd meanings matches his interest in global politics. The international recognition of his installations and conceptual work testifies to the significance and timeliness of his vision and instils great confidence in Liu Wei to carry forward Chinese art beyond the current market boom to a promising future.