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Liang Shaoji: A Silky Entanglement

Power Station of Art, Shanghai

Wed 29 Sep 2021 to Sun 20 Feb 2022

Artist: Liang Shaoji

Following Datong Dazhang, Yu Youhan, Li Shan, Franklin Chow and Luis Chan, the Power Station of Art’s signature “PSA Collection Series” is back again with its sixth solo exhibition of a significant Chinese artist – Liang Shaoji: A Silky Entanglement.

Leveraging a rich-layered collection of artworks such as immersive installations, videos, photos and sounds, the exhibition systematically approaches the artist’s celebrated Nature Series co-plotted with silkworms, and revisits milestones that highlight the different stages of his creative thread. It also presents the artist’s exclusive artworks specifically customized for PSA’s spatial features as well as his new cross-over pieces developed in connection to disciplines such as biology.

As implied in the title, Liang’s practice over the past 30 years has always been indispensably entangled with “silkworms”. Serving as more than just Liang’s creative medium, the worm is also his friend and mentor, empowering him with both creative motivations and nature-derived inspirations. Liang first got involved in fiber art in the early 1970s, and later learned soft sculpture from Maryn Varbanov. In 1988, after witnessing silkworms in-between light and shadow and discovering its ethereal beauty, he began to explore the use of silk–a natural fiber enriched with life–in his artistic creation, and kicked off his Nature Series. By breeding silkworms in person, Liang became well versed in the nature of the caterpillar, and placed them on different materials and objects such as wood, bamboo, and metal. In 1993, Liang went through a “silkworm dream” and was struck with the epiphany that “I am a silkworm”. The epiphany echoes the diminishing of the boundary between subject and object in the Taoist story “Chuang Chou Dreamt of the butterfly”. Inspired by that dreamland experience, he allowed silkworms to grow and produce silk on the swinging beds, which are small beds made of charred copper wires taken from abandoned generators. These swinging beds constituted his acclaimed work Beds/Nature Series No.10.

This exhibition invites viewers to enter Liang’s art world through a cocoon-like tunnel and share the artist’s feelings as becoming a silkworm. In this spiritual yet sensual world, viewers can not only encounter depictions of natural scenery made with silkworms such as Broken Landscape and Cloud Mirror, but also Listen to the Silkworms in person, experience their journeys of life from hatching to turning into moths and understand history from the perspective of silkworms. Passing through the silk-woven work Planar Tunnel, viewers are introduced to the eternal questioning about life and time, which is a theme that traverses Liang’s works. With Liang’s secretive yet sacred installation The Temple, viewers are led by the monumental silk cone to contemplate the shared destiny of mankind.

For Liang Shaoji, silk is the visualization of time and life. According to the artist, silk-spitting is an act that resembles breathing and “cloud-forming”, and that is why “cloud” is a recurring motif in his practice. Liang firmly believes that “silk is a form of returning”. In his opinion, silk amino acid, the most fundamental component of silk, is the origin of life and commands healing effects. In Heavy Clouds, Liang’s silkworms have spun a sheath around pieces of fossilized wood dating back to the Tang Dynasty. In Wenchuan Stones, he collected pieces of debris from the ruins of the Wenchuan quake-hit area and enfolded them in silk to soothe their wounds and give birth to new lives. In Snow Cover, he adopted silk as a “cold therapy” to wrap up daily necessities and electronic products and to suppress the turbulence of daily life, just like the desolate landscape covered with snow. For the PSA event, Liang also presents a gigantic installation with 38 links, Heavy Chain: the Unbearable Lightness of Being – hanging in and falling from the air, these coarse and heavy links are covered with soft, light silk, divulging a state of firm belief amid the struggles against destiny.

The exhibition also rebuilds Liang Shaoji’s studio as well as his lab where he works with scientists to study silkworms, therefore showcasing the artist’s sensual creativity and the scientists rational research. It is noteworthy that two of Liang’s unseen-before pieces, Skin and White Light, are also debuted at PSA. By playing with the biological clock and temperature, Skin gives different wrinkles to the silk foil and represents memories of life concluded in “I am a silkworm”; whereas White Light accelerates 18 footages into a flying ray of white light and becomes a metaphor of the infinitive nature of silk. As the end of the exhibition, the archive section presents four video documents that portrait Liang Shaoji's creative trajectory over the past more than 20 years, providing another method to approach the artist’s world of silkworms.

all images © the gallery and the artist(s)

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