Beili Liu starts
with patience, time and the utmost regard for a sense of the
process of art-making.
"I wait for
the moment of surprise," says the Chinese-born artist.
"Then I let the materials guide me."
Where the materials
have lately guided Liu is to create a series of ethereal,
beautiful fragile sculptures that currently fill D. Berman
Gallery in the artist's first solo exhibit in Austin since
she joined the faculty of the University of Texas' department
of art and art history in 2008.
In Liu's hands,
burning incense sticks become delicate paintbrushes that leave
graceful, wisplike marks — hundreds of them — in mesmerizing
compositions on sheets of rice paper. Each drawing takes long
hours to complete. With one wall installation, "Toil,"
luscious cream-colored silk organza — the edges of the gorgeous,
delicate fabric burned brown — are wrapped into small spirals
that seemingly erupt out of the gallery wall like strange
In another installation,
"Miasma," unspun black wool forms ghostly, spiralling
columns that cluster forestlike in the gallery. The columns
seem suspended in midair, the filament they hang from invisible.
"Miasma" is menacing, yes, but beautiful too.
The tug between
East and West — that feeling of being suspended between two
diverse and often contrary cultural value systems — is a constant
Born in the small
town of Jilin in northeastern China, Liu grew up in the city
of Shenzhen, the first of the special economic zones in China.
It saw rapid growth and commercialization in the past few
decades, going from a modest fishing town to booming metropolis
of more than 10 million — a pattern of culture clashing that
still resonates in Liu's art.
Liu, now 35, came
to the United States in 1995 to study art. She earned her
undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee and
her master of fine arts at the University of Michigan. Her
work has steadily garnered critical attention and exposure.
This year, Liu had solo exhibits in Los Angeles and in Shanghai.
Since she moved to Austin, Liu's work has been seen in a faculty
exhibit at UT and included in the People's Gallery exhibit
at Austin City Hall.
far away from the past," she says. But she remains very
much in the present, always feeling the conflict of the two
sometimes contradictory cultures.
such a distinct artistic voice that draws strongly on her
upbringing in China," says Anatasia Colombo, associate
director of D. Berman Gallery. "Her work is very immediately
compelling and instills a feeling of curiosity. The strength
of each piece is partly because of its subtlety and an elegant
sense of balance."
Colombo became intrigued
by Liu's work that was featured in the UT faculty show and
offered the artist an exhibit.
stands as something of a centerpiece of the current exhibit.
Two weathered, human-sized oak columns (reclaimed wood from
shipping containers) stand in opposition to each other, thousands
of gossamer red threads spanning the distance between them.
Liu explains that the piece is based on the Chinese cultural
myth of the red thread of destiny — the idea that when each
person is born, they are connected to their soulmate by an
invisible red thread, a thread that extends through a soul's
sense of longing (to the work)," says Liu. The two posts
read as bodies, she explains. And yet there are thousands
of delicate red threads between them. Which one connects the
The process of connecting
and disconnecting is central to everything Liu creates. As
much as she strikes a delicate balance between two different
cultures, it's the process of connecting — the process of
discovering where the materials in your hands are leading
you — that's as important to Liu's work.
is a three-minute looping video in which we see Liu's hands
as she unties a jumble of fine red thread. Liu's hands are
under water, and the illuminated image undulates as Liu's
hands fish through the floating thread trying to untangle
the frenzied mess. Adding to the tangle, the video is projected
onto a billowy heap of white thread that cascades out of a
gallery corner onto the floor.
Eventually, we see
Liu's hand find the ends of the red threads. Liu calmly ties
them together. And then, without a stop, the video — and the
untangling, and the two lost ends finding each other — begins
Perhaps, Liu's video
suggests, the secret to connecting is in the process of seeking.
'Beili Liu: Bound'
When: 10 a.m. to
6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Oct. 24
Where: D. Berman
Artist's talk: 1
p.m. Saturday. Free.