LIÚ, Yung Jen 劉永仁
Sealed “Respiration” and Artistic “Alchemy”
by Independent curator Sun Li-chuan
Very few artists create because of “respiration” but it is certainly one way in which to express the relationship between “art,” “life” and “living.” The following are a few observations on the artist’s creative process based on a conversation with Liu Yung-jen. They offer a number of intriguing insights as to why his latest work is entitled “A Journey of Deep Respiration”.
“A Journey of Deep Respiration” represents another extension of Liu’s post-1999 painting style which is simultaneously abstract and representational. It is also the title of his most recent solo exhibition. This name showcases the way in which the artist has chosen the interface of “respiration” to express and guide his creative journey.
“Respiration” as the collective experience of creative body and spirit
Comparing this most recent piece and earlier works, one of the first differences we notice is that the artist’s current approach is more “life-oriented” whereas earlier work was focused on artistic expressionism or occasional encounters/exchange between eastern and western culture. There is also a slight difference in the discussion of “repetition” and “plurality” in the experimental nature of the more recent piece as opposed to the focus on image effects and poetic expressionism of the last work Although the piece is not an example of “pluralistic” expressionism, the artist has experimented with simpler materials from life and the notion of an artistic life and in so doing discovered an alternative interpretation of what constitutes “art.” It should be noted that this is “an alternative interpretation of ‘art’ and not an alternative stylistic expression of art.” In this context, “respiration” is a collective physical (creative action) and spiritual (creative attitude and consciousness) experience.
Liu Yung-jen makes art an integral part of life rather than detaching it from life. By likening art to “respiration” the artist both explains art itself and his own attitude towards it. Of course, the inevitable question is what on earth does “art” have to do with “respiration” – after all, is not are not the philosophical reflections of the artist so deep as to be beyond measurement?
Since 2006, the artist’s works have represented a search for equilibrium between “manifestation” and “internalization.” – a subject addressed by religion, philosophy and cultural studies. In Liu’s pieces, this juxtaposition exists in “creativity” - though whether to make it part of life or to deliberately separate the two remains a judgment call.
“Repeat” “Manifestation” vs. the “Internalization” of “Respiration”
Liu Yung-jen’s earlier pieces “Profundity Multiplied by Respiration” and “Walled Mind” presented a dialogue between space and images and the visual impact and rational dialectic of time/space-related issues. However, “repeat” respiration appeared even earlier in the artist's discussions of his creative process. In this context, the “repeat” coming and going and movement of position came, was present prior to any discourse on “respiration.” When compared to today’s pieces there is clearly an extension of the idea of “repetition” though this element is its external or “manifest” part. When it comes to “respiration,” Liu seems to internalize the process, sealing it within the piece.
The artist chooses “respiration” as the motif for his most recent work because it offers a way of resolving certain issues that his earlier work failed to address fully –is art about life? Literally speaking, the word “respiration” is something that all living things do, but viewed from the perspective of a spatial relationship “respiration” represents a connection between internal and external space, with the ability to extend the cyclical link and relative nature of individual life and the external environment. As such, “respiration” can be used to determine much different information: For example, physical health or sickness, the quality of the external environment, the environment and respiratory problems, and finally the interrelationship between living creatures and the environment. If we continue to extend from this point then “respiration” can also be considered a conscious and unconscious action, one that controls or influences physical behavior and knowledge. It even offers a link to life for artistic creativity.
Faced with this problem, Liu Yung-jen has gradually moved away from his earlier discussions of “layers” in the “plural” space of pictures, preferring instead to uncover ways in which the existence of “respiration” in creative life is expressed through painting. In point of fact, everyone knows “respiration” is a transient physical function, filled with variables and uncertainties in much the same way as human emotions and ideas. As such, the use of “beeswax” and “lead pieces” play a key role in allowing the artist to express the existence of “respiration.”
Liu uses “beeswax” and “lead pieces” in the role of “sealing” and “extension.” In the course of human civilization “beeswax’ has been closely connected to “preservation,” “shaping” “leaving a mark” and even “death” - all of which have been used to retain the original appearance of history, life and messages/symbols. It was at this point that the artist discovered the “sealing” properties of beeswax: “…The infusion of golden yellow beeswax into green-grey lead preserves a moment of respiration in perpetuity and in so doing highlights the semi-transparent surface, creating in me an indescribable sense of visual realization.” As such, beeswax is not only able to “preserve a moment of respiration in perpetuity” but also “highlights the semi-transparent surface” creating in Liu “an indescribable sense of visual realization.”
For Liu Yung-jen, beeswax takes the flow, depth, brightness, bright colors and psycho-visual effect and freezes it in time. In fact, the very act of “sealing” adds an additional semi-transparent “layer,” almost as if the beeswax separates the internal and external space associated with the act of “respiration.” The colored pigment on the lead is like the “breathing” of the artist when creating and the sense of color and pigment only just visible through the sealed wax are clear evidence as to creative action (state of respiration) becoming “sealed respiration.”
Liu has already used “sealed respiration” to highlight how closely interconnected life and art really are. The role and function of “extension” through “lead pieces” is to link the “repeat” “manifestations” of the past. In other words, the extension and extendability of “lead pieces” provide still more developmental possibilities for Liu’s earlier attempt to “transcend the field of images.” In the process, he also breaks through the creative blockages of the past: “repeat comings and going and moving involved in a discussion of time and space.”
At this stage, using “lead pieces” takes the artist back to magicians from the past and his experience of handicraft art. In this way, Liu is no longer restricted to stylistic explorations and searches as they refer to the space and material of the painting. Firstly, the artist views the lead as part of canvas and sometimes as an integral layer in oil painting. The respiration is “sealed” to capture and control the color and bend the lead piece into an irregular triangular container or vessel. This allows the beeswax to heat up and melt on the lead piece or in a metallic container, after which it is being poured into a painted curved lead triangular shape, transformed into a special element in the construction of the picture.
Because of the extendability of the lead and its slight blue/grey metallic color, the way in which the artist bends the lead at will and paints the surface with melted beeswax becomes creative action. In addition to “sealed respiration,” the artist also performs in much the same way as the alchemists of old. Art “alchemy” becomes a discussion of experimentation with various artistic possibilities. In this way, the story of “changing stone into gold” resembles the magical power of the artist to transform something rotten into something magical, therein showcasing his own amazing powers of creativity.
Conclusion: Artists, Alchemists and Sorcerers
From this perspective, Liu Yung-jen has the magical ability to transform the foul and rotten into the rare and ethereal, in much the same way as an alchemist or a sorcerer has the supernatural power to change things. All three of these characters roam between the material and spiritual plane and the transformation of the one into the other. Based on this, Liu also installs a moving wall surface from the same series. Because this involves magnifying similar painting elements to roughly the same size as an adult human body, the close up visual effect enhances the possibility of roaming between the material and spiritual. In this sense, the moving wall surface is not only an extension of the space in the artist’s studio it can also be seen as an allusion to the alchemist’s laboratories or the ceremonial ground where the sorcerer performs his rites. In the current period, what the Liu Yung-jen is referring to when he discusses “respiration” is the creative work of the artist, the “alchemy” of the alchemist and the “magic” of the sorcerer – all of which are an ineffable part of life.