Young Chinese artists' Hong Kong show explores friendship

Group show challenges the traditional notion of friendship and examines the relationships between the artworks on display at the Lehmann Maupin gallery

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 7:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 7:05pm

Liu Wei is best known for using dog chews, discarded books and found materials for his sculptural and installation works, but the Beijing-based artist says he is no stranger to curating. "When I create, I think about the theme and my approach. It's no different from curating an art exhibition. I always see myself as an artist and a curator at the same time," says the 43-year-old.

However, Liu hasn't actually curated for a commercial art gallery until now. "Nocturnal Friendships", for Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong, is his first attempt, which he undertakes with his assistant Li Bowen. Featuring seven young Chinese artists, the group show challenges the traditional notion of friendship and examines the relationships between the artworks.

Explaining his curatorial vision, Liu says the participating artists were chosen because their works go well with the theme and also with each other. "The artists are not selected because of their backgrounds or who they are," he says. "The exhibition is less about each individual artist than the group as a whole. More importantly, it's about the possibilities that these works present to the viewer."

Liu Wei believes the power of contemporary art lies in the various possibilities for interpretation. "The more ways an artwork can be interpreted, the more questions it asks, and the more powerful it becomes," he says.

Li, a recent graduate of art history at Goldsmiths College, the University of London, says the show tries to expand our understanding of what friendship means in relation to desire, the erotic and death: "Instead of looking at relationships between human beings, it is interesting to explore the existence of friendly relationships in these artworks."

But why nocturnal? "By nocturnal, we mean night is often when boundaries become really obscure between good and bad, or even between different genders," Li adds.

According to the gallery, the theme of the group show stems from Treatise on Friendship, the Roman philosopher Cicero's Latin text from 44BC. Depicted in Pontormo's painting Portrait of Two Friends, Treatise on Friendship explores Cicero's personal experiences with friendship, outlining what makes a good friend and conversely a bad one, the importance of virtue in friendship, and how one is affected by the death of a friend.

"Nocturnal friendships manifest themselves as insignificant relationships, or those without substance or foundation," says the exhibition notes. "Together, the artworks in the exhibition articulate the concept of nocturnal friendship."

The seven mainland-born artists are from different backgrounds and their ages range from the mid-20s to late 30s. They will present 12 of their recent works, all related to the human body. The works vary from painting and prints to video and installation art.

London-based Zhu Tian, a Royal College of Art graduate who won this year's Catlin Art Prize in May, is known for her provocative sculptural works and performances.

Concerned with the division of power in a relationship, she addresses the idea and reality of freedom and individualism. The series Scan (2014) features the artist contorted in various poses over a scanner on a wooden floor. Her actions don't appear to have a purpose or make sense; their aim is to interrupt or disrupt the viewer's everyday thought processes.

Shanghai artist Yu Ji, 30, showcases Flesh in Stone and Petal, created from cement and iron. Both pieces from last year explore the relationship between natural (the sculptures' organic forms) and man-made (the industrial materials). "What we find most interesting with her works are the ambiguity in gender identity and the uncertainty in time," Li adds.

Other participating artists are Tang Yongxiang, ink painter Peng Jian, mixed media artist Zhang Ruyi, digital media and installation artist Tant Zhong and performance artist Hu Xiangqian.

Liu, who will hold his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at White Cube in September, says art should be able to challenge and push boundaries, which is what "Nocturnal Friendships" sets out to do. "In every work I create, I ask myself if this is art. It would be meaningless if I work within a defined boundary," he says.

Liu runs a 2,000 square metre studio in a village to the east of Beijing's 798 Art Zone, where he hires villagers and assistants to produce artworks for him. Women villagers, perching on high stands and armed with paintbrushes, work in teams transferring his digitally-generated images onto a huge canvas on the wall.

Liu always aims for the unconventional. He drives a black Tesla, smokes cigar and wears a thick gold necklace over a clean T-shirt (not the paint-stained work clothes we often see worn by artists). He shaves his head and sports a pair of black-rimmed glasses in the style of 1950s.

"As an artist, I have to be creative and imaginative. I need to be out of the ordinary. Otherwise, art is out of the question," he says.

Lehmann Maupin, 407 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Tuesday-Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday 11am-7pm. Inquiries: 2530 0025. Ends Aug 22