Object Series

Liu Zhuoquan


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glass bottles, mineral paint
60 pieces, dimensions variable
Liu Zhuoquan’s bottles, humble objects of the everyday, contain miniaturised ‘experimental material’ relating to nature, biology, and human society. Arranged in rows on shelves, or grouped in cabinets, they remind us of the herbs, deer horn and ginseng roots that float in bottles displayed in the windows of traditional Chinese medicine shops. Liu wants to represent the ‘ten thousand things’ of Buddhist philosophy – the infinite number of forms in which the life force is to be found – and the relationships between them. From earlier works depicting insects, plants, flowers and fish, the artist transitioned seamlessly towards more controversial, even subversive, subjects: the death penalty, the harvesting of organs for transplant, the implications of the One Child Policy, the effects of rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and burgeoning consumerism. The discarded bottles that Liu Zhuoquan salvages from litter-strewn lanes near his studio on Beijing’s outskirts remind him of a medical laboratory near his childhood home, which both intrigued and frightened him. Artefacts of a throw-away society, they allude to the artist’s precarious existence in a city characterised by constant demolition and rebuilding. Traditional culture is juxtaposed with science and technology in an uneasy co-existence. Liu Zhuoquan’s painted bottles represent the dramatic changes people must accommodate in their daily lives, as China embraces the global economy. Every object, painted with pellucid mineral colours, is rendered newly significant, as if in a museum vitrine. Object Series (2007) consists of many and varied objects painted inside old bottles that his frugal mother had hoarded away in her kitchen cabinets, found when Liu returned to his hometown. Some lovingly depict the tools of his father’s trade as a tailor – he realised immediately that the bottles provided perfect containers for memories of his father. An old treadle sewing machine; needles, buttons, thimbles and scissors; a pair of spectacles and a broken watch: each object evokes a melancholy sense of loss.
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