He’s a rebel and an unconventional artist. Liu Wei has ambition; his work is fearless and chaotic, known as a thorn in the side of the Chinese art world, this artist is a student of change.
Liu Wei no longer creates his work. The art is created by a collective or cooperative of unskilled workers who work in the ‘Liu Wei’ style. Democratic by design, this is just one of the ways Liu Wei is seen as controversial.
Born in Beijing in 1972 when China was under the leadership of Chairman Mao, Liu Wei continues to live and work in Beijing. Graduating from China Academy of Art in Hangzhou in 1996 aged 24, he started to make a mark in 1998 by producing unusual installations and video projects.
The early work is all about the naked body. In one video a group of naked men act like insects caught under a spotlight. Work like this didn’t exist in China in the 90s, creating a stir that would continue throughout Liu Wei’s career.
Post-Sense Sensibility Group
In 1999 Lui Wei and a group of provocative artists, known as the Post-Sense Sensibility group, and participated in an exhibition known as Post-Sense, Sensibility, Alienated Bodies, and Delusion; resulting in a sensationalist show consisting of human and animal body parts suspended in vast jars of liquid. Reminiscent of Victorian medical curiosities and circus sideshows.
Lui Wei says the purpose of the exhibition was to create art that wouldn’t be collected by western audiences, and he went on to accuse foreign collectors of “plotting to control Chinese art.”
The Post-Sense Sensibility artists shared a distaste for the political idealism of their predecessors. And display this distaste by embracing sensationalism, irrationality and improvisation. By doing so, Lui Wei aims to create extreme experiences and overt political statements.
In 2004 he created a piece called Looks Like a Landscape. To be considered a serious artist in China you must be adept at landscapes, in particular mountains. In typical Lui Wei style, the piece is not what it seems.
Looks Like a Landscape
Looks Like a Landscape Is a black and white photograph of buttocks set in such a way they resemble a traditional Chinese mountain landscape. The picture was entered in the Shanghai Biennale as a protest after the organisers of the exhibition rejected his original submission idea, a train car on a rotating turntable. Liu Wei didn’t expect Looks Like a Landscape to be a success.
Despite the unusual subject matter, the Shanghai Biennale was pleased with the traditional Chinese tone of the work and accepted the photograph into the exhibition. Liu Wei says that this piece of art changed his life, and the means made it possible for Liu Wei to live as an artist.
Indigestion is a Contemporary Sculpture and a political statement. The sculpture looks like a pile of excrement; made of industrial waste and residual petrochemical products. Look closely, and you can see hundreds of toy soldiers, replica aeroplanes, reproductions of instruments of war, and general industrial rubbish.
Liu Wei’s enormous pile of excrement is a statement – one of rejection. The work concerns itself with consumerism, consumption, and technology that is overtaking traditional life. There also exists a connection between this work and the current global conflict over energy resources.
Love it! Bite it! 2006
Love it! Bite it! – is an urban city scene of miniature buildings composed of pieces of dried pigskin the same substance that make dogs chews, and that is the point. Deliberately made to look shoddy and unprofessional the sculpture harks back to the days of matchstick buildings.
The work intended to show the significance between the material used to construct the well-known structures and the power housed in the buildings represented, namely the White House, the Colosseum and Tiananmen Square.
In 2019 Liu Wei took part in a documentary on YouTube called ‘The Unconventional Art of Liu Wei’. Liu Wei explains himself and his choice to be a director in his art pieces and not a sole creator.
Stone is a monumental structure created entirely out of Compressed books made to look like a large rock or stone carving. Making the point that nothing is what it seems, and seemingly nothing is what it purports to be.
Liu Wei finds a uniting theme of excess, consumerism, corruption and aggression, reflecting the cultural anxiety he has experienced in China today.
Merely a Mistake 2009
In 2017 Liu Wei’s studio in Beijing was torn down by the government. Situated in a neighbourhood now being gentrified the personal change mirrors China’s rapid urbanisation.
With this personal change in circumstances comes a shift in Lui Wei’s work and his attitude to his work. Merely a Mistake is sculptures made with objects salvaged from demolished homes, materials sourced from flea markets and rubbish dumps, created to inspire a reaction.
Purple Air 2011 and Panorama
Purple Air is a series of digitally created cityscapes using geometric patterns and vertical lines depicting Beijing.
Panorama follows on from Purple Air, a similar concept, drawn digitally on a canvas and painted in afterwards. Controversially others create the artwork, both Purple Air and Panorama are Liu Wei concepts but not complete works.
Lui Wei defends his ethos and argues with his critics, stating that he doesn’t create to impress others with his craftsmanship but with his ideas and all his artwork, he says, starts with an original idea that he owns.
So make of that what you will – whatever your feelings on Lui Wei are, you can’t accuse him of being dull.