23 No. 7
publication of the International Sculpture Center
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Jianhua, Color Ceramics Series Play, 2002.
The ceramic sculptures
of Liu Jianhua are an exercise in desire, the consequence of skilled craft
and unabashed sensuality. Liu Jianhua, born in 1962 in Jilan, Jiangxi
province, began working while still a teenager in the ceramic factories
in Jingdezhen; he then studied in the fine arts department of the Jingdezhen
Pottery and Porcelain College from 1985 to 1989. Currently an associate
professor of fine arts at the Yunnan Arts Institute in Kunming, he has
shown internationally in Australia, France, and England, with solo exhibitions
in Taiwan and Hong Kong. What is most interesting about his current work
is its transformation of everyday ceramics into a language of fine art:
his eroticized presentations of headless and armless figures wearing tightly
fitting qi pao dresses and sitting in shallow bowls place the viewer in
a privileged position.
Clearly, Liu Jianhua
makes use of the great Chinese craft tradition, posing his figures in
blue-and-white porcelain bowls. Often the sculptures include small, brilliantly
colored flowers, whose decorative cast attracts the eye. But there is
also something more than a bit disturbing about these headless figures
as they pose provocatively for their audience. The lack of a head removes
any sense of identity, and so the figures create the eerie feeling that
they are completely subject to the gaze of the viewer, performing poses
that make them vulnerable. Despite the fact that Mao spoke highly of women,
asserting that "women hold up half the sky," these figures are
anonymous, sexualized representations, reduced to models posing provocatively
in a dish.
Jianhua, Color Ceramics Series Potted Landscape, 2002.
Anonymity, of course,
is a problem in a country such as China, whose huge population and cultural
tradition of serving the group make it hard for individuality to flourish.
Liu Jianhua calls attention to the lack of identity in China through his
headless figures, much as Magdalena Abakanowicz portrays the extreme emptiness
of totalitarianism by creating groups of headless torsos. While the Chinese
artist's work is superficially prettier, it too carries a warningnamely,
that we are living in a society in which individualism is at grave risk.
The poetry of everyday life becomes subject matter for Liu Jianhua, who
comments, "In visual experience, the symbolic value of the objects
of everyday life evokes many associations and fantasies." One can
see how Liu Jianhua presents the results of his research, creating figures
whose evocative power extends from a willingness to be disturbingly vulnerable.
In Color Ceramics Series Play (2002), the viewer encounters a headless,
armless woman in a black qi pao, sprawled in a blue-and-white porcelain
plate filled with small flowers. The scene is extremely pretty, to the
point of being decorative, but the implications are darker, closer to
erotic fantasy than to simple adornment.
In Color Ceramics
Series Potted Landscape (2002), a female figure sits in an extremely shallow
ceramic dish, offering an easy and pleasurable glimpse of her body: her
right leg lies flat, the left, with its bent knee, partially extends.
On her right foot she wears a red strapped shoe, the other is bare. Here,
again, as happens so often with Liu Jianhua's art, enjoyment starts to
mix quickly with the forbidden; everyday life creates a sexual aura that
lingers in the mind of the audience. Liu Jianhua works out tableaux that
are meant to seduce, but he is also intent on making social statements
that are not easily forgotten. The result grabs us in a direct way, but
it also plays with a political reality that is as important as the sensuality
of the art itself.
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