An ongoing conceptual concern in Liu’s artwork has been the notion of security and salvation. This theme is sometimes realized by the appropriation of discarded objects, which Liu recontextualizes in handmade constructions that function as reliquaries. In Totem and Protection, two series from around 2008, these constructions took the form of tiny wooden boxes affixed to the edges of canvases, or wooden frames around paintings. In Lost and Found, they are books which, although made of luxurious materials and colors and in pristine condition, were themselves discards from a printing house in Italy. Within the pages, Liu affixed detritus that, through thoughtful placement and preservation, she has transformed into relics of everyday experiences. They may include shells, rocks, a crushed soda can, a paper coffee cup, metal hardware, or broken jewelry. In choosing which objects to salvage, Liu relies on intuitive selection processes based on color, shape, and state of ruin, and then categorizes the objects by their visual attributes or the location where she found them. Their mysterious history and vulnerability contributes to their allure and encourages personification; Liu refers to a splintered automatic pencil with exposed spring and lead reservoir, for example, as someone whose innards are splayed out.
Liu also explored the emotive qualities of various artistic gestures through graphite rubbings over letters and textures found on common, utilitarian devices, such as the grid of a wire fence, a computer keyboard, or the raised letters “FDNY” on a standpipe. In transferring these objects and their impressions to the pages of books, Liu removes them from an archaeological context and resituates them into an abstract environment with possibilities for new narratives in the realm of imagination. In another literary twist, Liu had the image of human spines embossed on the spines of the books—an image that personally resonates with the artist, and which is central in the Totem series and in 41. In the case of Lost and Found, it adds a whimsical yet poignant play on words. These book rubbings eventually led to the experimentation and discovery of the Silkscreen works.
Written by Jennifer Field
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