Bridging Beijing

By John Silvis
Liu Dongxu, White Flower, 2013, marble, 31 ½ x 5 ½ x 5 ½ inches, edition of 3
An Interview with Liu Dongxu

John Silvis: Greetings everyone and welcome to the Bridge Projects’ interview with Dongxu from Beijing. Thank you for joining us today. He is going to be featured in the upcoming show A Composite Leviathan, which is curated by James Elaine, an artist and curator based in Beijing. I am John Silvis. I am a curator and art advisor based here in New York. So, we are very pleased to talk to you today Dongxu. I still remember seeing your beautiful installation in New York last fall. I love the way it was installed, and I particularly love the materials that you were using. So that was one of the things I want to start by talking with you about today.

We are going to start by looking at some of your work and talking about how you think about sculpture. One of the things that really intrigued me about your work was how you combine materials. And there is also real maturity level in your aesthetic and how you’re working with materials. So I was surprised to see how young you were and the sculpture feels very sophisticated and mature. One of the materials you combine is composite with metal, like in your laser cut metal piece titled Whiz (2018).  And you also work with ceramic and different kinds of synthetic materials, marble, and more. I would be interested in how you think about this and how you started working with this combination of disparate materials. 

Liu Dongxu: I think the materials are compatible in nature. The combination of different elements can achieve more possibilities through interaction. So, I think this combination of different materials can bring something very unique. So, through trial and error, I try to give the material a certain type of structure in order to allow different elements to cooperate with each other. But as to how the audience reacts to the work, it is something that I cannot control. Something else you mentioned, that I may be sophisticated beyond my age in my understanding of materials. This could possibly be because I worked professionally in architecture in the past. Because of my work experience, I had much time to interact and experiment with a variety of materials. So, maybe this experience had given me a unique sensibility to materials.

John: Great! Thank you.

Dongxu: You’re welcome.

John: In your sculpture titled Light Light Light (2018), you combined three different materials. I would just be curious to know more about the idea behind this sculpture and also how you came to choose these specific materials. Because I got to see this work in person in New York and was so intrigued by it.

Dongxu: The materials used were stainless steel, copper, automotive paint. It was only three materials. The idea is actually related to a ready-made object. The idea originated from my purchase of a shoulder pad. Actually, the shoulder pad is often used for shoulder protection in weight lifting. When I saw the shape (of the shoulder pad) I could feel that within the shape there was an innate (potential) form. Then this feeling pushed me to search for a new type of shape.

John: Okay great, it is very compelling.

John: So, another theme of your work is to take everyday objects, things that you find in real life and you take these forms and elevate them to something that at least looks or feels like high art. Sometimes you make them more minimal, more central, and even more related to the body. I was wondering how that theme came about in your work and why that is important to you?

Dongxu: I think this has to do with my early appreciation for historical ways of sculpting. In fact, early sculptors simply copied the objects from nature. Then I incorporated this classical aesthetic expression with the self into an expression of forms.

John: So, one of things I like about your work as well is that there is this kind of inquisition by the viewer to figure out: is this form coming from nature? Is it coming from an industrial object? In this piece Waves (1) (2019), I find myself kind of trying to walk around it, figure out what the image source is. Like what the inspiration is. So to me this work may be embodies some of those ideas of those being about nature and possibly something like medical equipment or another sculpture. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on how this piece came to be. 

Liu Dongxu, Waves 1, 2019, Polyurethane resin, 28 ¾ x 24 ¾ x 11 1/8 inches, edition of 3

Dongxu: This work also originated from a static object. It is actually the representation of a section of earphones. This form is possibly an original design by the designer based on the internal structure of the human cochlea. When I saw this shape, I found it particularly interesting. In fact, I often feel myself lost in the segments of a static object. Because the part of an object motivates me to produce expressions that are appropriate descriptions. Actually, this shape I think is my self-reflection of the material.

John: An earlier work of yours that’s in a very different material, marble, is White Flower (2013) which was shown in New York last fall in Luhring Augustine for the first edition of A Composite Leviathan. It was a very unusual piece, because a lot of the objects in the show were quite colorful. Some had sort of like made of construction materials. One thing that stood out to me about White Flower was just how precise and how considerate the form was. When I was reading about that work, you are talking about it as this merger of Asian and Western Culture. East and West. And it made me think about yourself as an artist in the contemporary art world and as a young artist from China, how you feel yourself fitting in into the global conversation, and the kind of ideas that you think about?

Dongxu: When I was working on this piece, I was still working in architecture professionally and at the same time I was working with sculpture. Perhaps because during that time, I spent a long period traveling domestically and internationally; therefore, I possibly intuitively used the perspectives I learned through architecture and joining with my own culture, creating a projection and reflection through this work. I think traditional culture gives me coordinates, and borrowing different views and ideas help me better find new perspectives and dimensions. So, I think this is a method for me.

John: Yeah, I think it’s quite beautiful, and it’s very thought-provoking in a way that its minimal and then it’s made with this really precious material. So, I think this is a really a significant piece in your body of work. I would like to move on to your latest work. This piece is called Skin (2), and it’s a sculpture made with light and bean curd paper. You can plug it in. What struck me about this was that it feels quite fragile in comparison to some of the hard edge surfaces and strong materials of your other work.  I was curious what you are thinking about currently and the studio and how this work relates to your new direction. 

Dongxu: This work is from last year or from the beginning of this year. For now, it is only an experiment, and I am not too sure myself!

John: One of the works it made me think of art historically are the early works from the 1950s by Dan Flavin. They are called Icons. If you haven’t seen them yet, I would definitely recommend exploring his early works. Because as you know he then eventually moved from doing the Icons which are by canvases and sculptures integrating light bulbs on the wall. And then he moved from that to working just with light. So, it might be an interesting dialogue to this new work Skin (2). In those paintings, I guess you could call them objects or light paintings. You know he is reflecting on the importance of the object and how it communicates and how I guess it talks to our minds but also to our senses. I think it is a really fascinating body of works to consider. 

Dongxu: Okay. Thank you!

John: So, to wrap up our discussion today, I wanted to hear what excites you about the exhibition, how you feel connected to your peers in the show, and maybe just in general you are thinking about for your work in the future. So it’s a three-part question.

Dongxu: I really look forward to the exhibition. I think it will be very interesting. I am sure I will fell connected with my peers because there are many artists featured in the show. As for my work in the future, in terms of sculpture, my interest has always been to search for new forms in sculpture. And my focus have always been to explore the attributes of sculpture as an object—as objects in a society, and how the material can express more possibilities.

John: Great! Thank you for your time and being in this show, I can’t wait to see the exhibition at Bridge Projects in Los Angeles. Hopefully someday we can all travel freely again and exchange maybe even art ideas. Thanks, Melody, for your wonderful translation and making this possible.

Dongxu: Thank you very much. 

Note: This interview was conducted by John Silvis on July 9th 2020 in English and Chinese with translation by Melody Zhang. It has been edited for length and clarity. Explore Dongxu’s sculptures in A Composite Leviathan.