The 33 year old Chinese-born artist Liu Shiyuan’s solo exhibition Isolated Above, Connected Down at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery introduces not only six mashups of curated photography compositions in the second floor main gallery, each called Almost Like Rebar, but also two large-scale creations: a substantial cinematic work shown in a sprawling but comfortable first floor “rec room,” more playpen for grown ups than video installation, and upstairs, another literally “soft” environment: a felt-carpeted room installed in the project space supplemented with found furniture and coffee smells.
This is Liu’s first major solo exhibition in this country, after receiving an MFA from SVA in 2012, and her body of works seems to know no limits in terms of style or substance. She explores the visual and the verbal; she works in time-based media as well as still images; she touches on race with the installation, and even takes a stab at the political landscape of late 60’s US presidential politics.
The artist doesn’t direct her attention on uncovering states of authenticity or to sharpen our focus on the implications of our actions in society’s convoluted disorder. Instead Liu embraces the numbing attraction of pop culture, in which veracity is indistinguishable from the staged, where substance and ethics are rendered defenseless by money, mass media and the echo chamber of cyberspace. In the first floor gallery, where the 22-minute video work Isolated Above, Connected Down is projected, one can sit or lie down on the pillows scattered around the vast black-and-gray-plaid carpeted floor, as if daydreaming on grass or looking at the sky the way the video begins: with clouds under a summer sun near a tranquil pond. But soon after the video begins, a cascade of images roll ever faster, as our neurons begin firing and familiar symbols propel us toward her pastiche: a mother, exhausted from putting her child to bed, slams into her husband’s rational, logical and calm demeanor. He is keen to discuss politics and metaphysics over their dinner of red wine, roast duck and leeks eliciting her reply, “I don’t want politics. I want something maybe funny.”
It requires a press release to explain that embedded in the dialogue are important contemporary art exhibition titles, quotes about aesthetics and book titles from the world of economic theory. It is confessed that one of the (presumably French?) couple, “killed a great big queen bee in the kitchen,” the conversation turns to the fact that “bees don’t care about the byproduct of their labor “ or that all they do is “fly around and fertilize the flowers” and that we humans are “part of nature,” destined to “pollenize our way into a globalized utopia.” Finally, as they ponder, “Do bees go to heaven?” we are asked to consider the image of a bee that eats itself to self-imposed death by obesity or engorgement. This surreal mix of banal conversation and deep references turns the whole conversation into a strange rumination on language, opening space for absorbing dialogue and considering each of the moments presented.
Also on view here, Liu returns to the use of carpet squares as a mode of combating the mixed signals inherent in our scrambled discourse. In this show, Liu’s multi-colored Fuck it, I Love You is reminiscent of the 1993 Whitney Biennial, where a work Synecdoche, by Byron Kim, the California born, Yale educated, Korean-American artist caused a sensation with his grid of rose, ecru, khaki. and coffee-colored panel paintings, with every color square copied from an actual person’s skin color. The piece referenced race as well as the history of monochrome works by Ad Reinhardt, Yves Klein and the like. Liu takes it a little further by adding strange clips of language to the equation—far less coherent or memorable than the Jenny Holzer variety—proclaiming things like “A young boy has a combined a handful of straws into a lengthly sucker and is imitating an ant-eater behind his father’s back sipping scotch and bourbon out of distant tumblers” or “As he is chewing, the anticipation grows and makes the air thick.”
Finally when she posits, “The space is reserved for those who need a break” she gets at a fundamental truth to be gained from this show: some de-acceleration could help. The cozy spaces Liu has created could be an apparent path out of the random, irrelevant and unpredictable state of current events. A way to untangle ourselves and our environment and free ourselves from irony would be to take our foot off the gas, granting ourselves permission to discover something beyond saturation, to allow our thoughts to meander towards a heartfelt, if not a fully real space.
— M. Bloch
Liu Shiyuan: Isolated Above, Connected Down [Tanya Bonakdar]