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Velocity

Velocity

Liu created Velocity in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and the Washington, D.C. area. In New York, Liu took photographs of the World Trade Center site from nearby Battery Park. She later collaged them together alongside a schematic, embroidered skyline to create a fictional cityscape, expanding the site of tragedy from the specific to the general in a way that speaks to the global impact of the disaster. Liu layered the imagery with pieces of fabric and skeins of colored paint, and a sheet of Plexiglas on which she wrote spontaneous texts that express the complex emotions triggered by the attacks, including feelings of disorientation, disbelief, anger, and vulnerability.

On the verso of the canvas, Liu incorporated a screen of string over what she terms “lost objects”—discarded items that once had purpose or personal significance—as a memorial to the lost lives on 9/11. The string is an important symbolic element for Liu. Its power as a source of protection was inspired by Congolese fetishes she saw on a trip to Africa as a UNICEF ambassador in 2007. These fetishes are usually punctured with nails and sometimes contain relics wrapped in a protective cocoon of string. The notion of string as a protective element in Liu’s work is also derived from the Japanese tradition of wish trees, in which a wish is written on a piece of paper or cloth as a votive offering, then tied to a tree or a pole, often in a temple, in the hope that the wish is fulfilled.

The reverse of the canvas is further activated by a bright red-painted panel, which is actually an abstracted interpretation of Piero della Francesca’s painting, The Baptism of Christ, an allusion to baptism as an equalizing ritual that absolves one’s sins and permits entry to Heaven. A triangular piece of broken mirror represents the dove in Piero’s painting, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit in Christian iconography. The rounded white form at the top mimics the arched shape of Piero’s composition, and the horizontal row of keys above it represent keys to the kingdom of Heaven. The figure of St. John the Baptist particularly resonated with Liu as a symbol of forgiveness. In referencing Piero’s painting in relation to 9/11, Liu raises questions about the terms of forgiveness, and how it is possible to find peace with others and within one’s self following extreme tragedy.

Written by Jennifer Field

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Velocity