We often get questions from visitors as to the inspiration or meaning behind many of our artworks. While we believe that it is more important for people to make their own opinions and assign their own values to the artwork, it doesn’t hurt to share the thought process we had while creating it. Here we have collected some of our more recent pieces and shared the ideas, foibles or cultural peculiarities that influenced them. However, it’s important to remember that you are free to make your own interpretation of the art. In fact we would like to hear them, so be sure to share them in the comments!
A Call Girl Is
You won’t hear much about prostitutes in China, but they’re here. In fact, in Shanghai at least, there are probably about as many prostitute establishments as hair salons. Each street has a dark little indiscreet shop, curtains or gates obstructing the view from passersby. The artists wanted to pay cheeky tribute to the reality of this existence, as well as draw some attention to the typically difficult and dirty job these women have.
And So We Made a Mess
Development is the name of the game in China. Even in already highly established and constructed cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, cranes and construction workers are a ubiquitous sight. If there is any land left untouched or underutilized, it will be developed. If it is an old building, even holding historic value like courtyard homes in Beijing’s hutongs, or stone gate buildings in Shanghai, chances are its days numbered to make way for high-rise condos. The artists have used traditional Chinese vases in much of their work to express the concept of traditional China. The idea with the piece was a sense of wonder and how much can be put into old ideas, infrastructures and land before enough is enough and things spill over.
I Dream Just of Dollars
The shape of society in modern China is a vastly different scene than what it looked like during the height of Mao’s reign, or even the early years of Deng Xiaoping. Life is much more competitive and geared towards material or monetary gain. In contrast, government programs and propaganda less than half a century ago used to incite more egalitarian idealism. I dream just of dollars was a way for the artists to say that appearances really can be deceiving in this regard, it doesn’t matter how nice, cute, quiet etc., a person is today, many people are unapologetically burning with a lust for success and wealth.
In The Red
Red is arguably the most important color in all of China. Red can be an auspicious color, such as when used to write the “double happiness” character, or the red envelopes stuffed with cash traded around the Chinese New Year. It also happens to be the color of choice of the CCP. However, red can also be inauspicious when used to write people’s names as this was previously reserved to write the name of the deceased. Because a lot of foreigners are only slightly aware of this (if at all) Liu Dao artists wanted to take advantage of that. The idea is that maybe you look at the piece a different way before and after you know, much the way all people look at things differently once they are more informed about them.
Make Me Stay
“Make Me Stay” might not look like it at first glance, but it is one of our interactive artworks. Hidden from view is a small sound sensor which can be adjusted for sensitivity by using a knob on the bottom of the frame. All it takes is a clap (or a shout, or any other noise loud enough to trigger the sensor), the LED birds quickly fly away from the tree, only to return shortly afterwards. The tree is a made from a traditional Chinese paper cut, adding some relevance to the piece’s theme of China’s roaming population which is always coming and going, trying to find some version of success in a time and place where the definition of that word is always changing and moving.
Native Affection is aptly named as a testament to traditional painting, otherwise known as guohua or “national painting.” Traditional painting is done using a brush and ink and uses many of the same approaches and techniques as calligraphy. The work can be printed on anything from paper to lacquerware. There are two main techniques: gong-bi, meaning meticulous, and shui-mo, which is essentially watercolor. This piece was conceived by the artists as a tribute to some of those enormous thematic schools that made modern art in China possible.
Oh I Love Your Balance
Hanging laundry is a common sight in any part of China, whether in the village or Shanghai. It is not uncommon to be walking around the city and see that someone has strung a line between two trees or telephone poles and used it to hang their wet clothes. This creation of this piece was inspired by this unique aesthetic, the title and subtle theme being a nod to the perilous attempts that many people in the city make to balance heavy work loads and a personal life.
Only Got a Glimpse
In China’s biggest cities you are as likely to see a construction worker as you are a police officer, a banker, anyone actually. They are everywhere. The artists wanted to make a piece that reflected the hard lives that these migrant workers live. There’s also perhaps the cruelest reality: that most of these workers will never experience the magical structures they helped create. They’ll never live in the towering apartments, eat in the 86th floor restaurants, be able to afford to buy something in the malls or be residents in those cities long enough to use the public transportation. They are disposable in every sense of the word and most of them are so busy and exhausted they barely even have time to contemplate the injustice.
This piece pays tribute to the closet freaks and sexual deviants who masquerade around the conservative streets and shops as normal people. Maybe they actually are the normal ones. Recent academic studies and literature has suggested that one in every 100 people is a psychopath (properly defined). This means that it’s likely we’ve all encountered them numerous times throughout our lives. They could be the waitress, the mechanic, the girl selling you juice at the convenient store, maybe even you. That’s not to say they are all bad, just their own particular brand of crazy.
“Talented” was actually a name rank given to imperial concubines during the Tang dynasty. Nine women were given the name talented, which was a rank slightly higher than the bottom 83 ladies of the court. This life was highly political and the real life stories of betrayal, collusion, and even murder play out like a soap opera. This plays out in modern China in the form of xiao san, translating to ‘small three’ and referring to a mistress. Along with fancy cars, expensive watches, million dollar apartments and 500 dollar hair cuts, a mistress is one more status object to be a totem of a man’s success or lack thereof.
Worship and Good Glue
Although increasingly less common, it used to be that every family had a picture of Chairman Mao Zedong hanging in their home. Such was the legacy of Mao’s cult of personality that overtook china from 1949 up until Communist revisionist politics have began to change the dialogue. Regardless, the impact the Mao has had on China is quite incredible. He is immortalized not only in memory, but also in over 2,000 statues in and around China. His birthday is still recognized across the country, and it is not uncommon to see people paying tribute in front of his statues. His image is, and will foreseeably remain to be the glue that holds the Chinese nation together. The artists depict a woman dusting the statue not to poke fun at the icon, but to convey that sense of cultural and identity upkeep that the Chinese people go through. As they move forward faster and faster, some ideas will inevitably be left behind unless they are refurbished and rebranded for the future.