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Hu Liu work: Xintianyou(Rambling in the Sky)

Source: 10th Shanghai Biennale - Social Factory 2014

In August 2002, Hu Liu set off on foot from Xi’an. On the road, she bought a donkey and led it along to Nanni Bend in northern Shaanxi. Along the way, she gave red carnations to local peasants, exchanging and collecting their unused old bowls or vases.

The Long March is a legendary founding event. The March went to China’s northwest, partly to seek a breakthrough and broader mass support, partly to formally secure the geographical make-up of the country, turning the region into the most important revolutionary base. There, the revolution entered a new age that unfolded on a magnificent scale.

The majestic, heart-rending xintianyou (rambling in the sky) is a vernacular folksong from China’s northwest. It frequently employs metaphors and analogies – from the sun, moon and stars, to mundane household matters and romantic love. It is also the most familiar and accepted narrative mode for people from the area. In that revolutionary age and its consolidation, xintianyou was employed to carry the weight of revolution and history, shaped by practical exigencies of politics.

In the post-revolutionary period, revolutionary fervor and energy to change the world have transformed into more prosaic and everyday measures and steps. In the process of starting over again, new forms and content are gained: “earth-shattering” emotions now revert to everyday stories of individuals.

The “visible” and the “invisible” coexist in Hu Liu’s pencil drawings. Using the pencil to portray what can be termed grand vistas – mountain ranges and oceans – is an extension of her work in recent years. Hu Liu fully understands her talents and excels at employing them: patiently and repeatedly drawing and coloring in, unfailingly sustaining her powers of perception, eventually capturing a mountain or watery scene and expressing this in black, anonymous and mysterious. Only under specific angles can the landscape she drew be seen on this plane of black.

In this day and age, all things will vanish; in contrast, only by fixing these originally objective, eternal and specific worlds will historians be able to reckon with things outside of writing, and finally having them passed down. Because the scale is not at all small, Hu Liu’s tools can no longer satisfy her drawing style; she started conceiving, inventing and producing tools that belong to her own way of drawing. In this sense, Hu Liu’s work even has a certain classicism and becomes the means by which she takes in things. Sensation, perseverance, focus – these qualities, too, take cover within the darkness and yet emerge within. One is reminded of the sentence the German artist Maria Eichhorn once wrote with white paint on a white wall: “Invisible is invisible, visible is visible, invisible is visible, visible is invisible.”

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