Every|Where: Beili Liu

Feb 24, 2024 — Aug 17, 2024

EVERY|WHERE: BEILI LIU is comprised of three works of art. Each explores our relationship to water in different ways that raise fundamental questions about art and how we understand each other’s lived experiences. 

Water is all around us. Among many things, water sustains us, generates electricity, is used in important rites around the world, and gives the sky its blue color. Given that water is elemental and can have potent symbolic meaning, it is something each of us have a basic understanding of. 

Stratus, for example, is an installation that hangs from the ceiling, hovering just 7 feet off the ground. It is a 24-foot square composed of 238 panels coated in paraffin wax, graphite, beeswax, and damar resin. Each panel has the sensibility of a black and white abstract painting, but en masse, they appear as though they were painted in a highly realistic manner meant to resemble stratus clouds. When walking through the installation, soft dappled light filters onto visitors’ faces uncannily creating a sense of being outdoors. The seemingly paradoxical ways of understanding Stratus as both abstract and representative art, as well as bringing the outdoors inside occupies the middle ground in which human inquiry exists. Stratus clouds themselves are much the same. They hover low, filling the sky, but it is unclear if they will simply break up or deliver nourishing rain, perhaps even floodwaters. This is often the way in which we understand abstract ideas or the great events of the time, with shifting perspectives from one moment to the next.

Beili Liu selected the work on view in EVERY|WHERE in a purposeful fashion. Stratus, of course, represents a ubiquitous type of cloud formation most have been aware of since elementary school when we learned about the water cycle. These clouds, as indicated by the exhibition’s title are literally found everywhere. The other two works, Shore to Shore: From the Mississippi to the Arctic Ocean and Rising Water|Venice are tied to locations that are equal measures familiar and exotic, but obviously interconnected. Shore to Shore was born from Liu’s residency at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans and completed later after she served as the Fulbright Arctic Chair in Norway. The coast shapes both places, feeding them, and, depending on currents have the debris of others delivered to their shores. The proliferation of images on the wall, floating on pins in a manner similar to how they navigated the waters of the Mississippi give a sense of the scale of the world and Liu’s project. 

Rising Water|Venice evokes an exotic and storied locale, which, like Louisiana, relies on tourism driven by its unique culture. Both locations must also deal with the singular challenges that rising sea levels present to shrinking populations. With this in mind, Rising Water resembles a floating three-sided room constructed from silk panels exposed to blue cyanotype chemicals hanging from the ceiling. On each panel are rubbings from a 500 year old wall encircled by embroidery thread. It can be taken that the blue denotes water and the thread care for a place at risk from water. Once lighted, the translucent shadows from the panels flood outwards into the gallery space, exponentially expanding the space the sculpture inhabits. Because visual art must be seen to truly be understood with feeling, it is more visceral. These spatial and material metaphors ground the experience in such a way that Venice and Louisiana can grow together in the minds of those who navigate EVERY|WHERE: BEILI LIU.

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