Review: Weight of Insomnia – Liu Xiaodong

Dates – 25 January to 2 March 2019

Venue – Lisson Gallery, 27 Bell Street, London

Those with a curiosity for the new-age genre of robots and its application for the ranks in Fine Art are advised to pay the Lisson Gallery a visit. Now on view, Liu Xiaodong's solo show 'Weight of Insomnia' wrestles with a very contemporary worry - are robots capable of creativity?

In 2015, Xiaodong and technologist, Fito Segrera, set about the task of building an art machine. The material requirements of the traditional artist are met. A live feed churning images of urban layouts, skyscapes and pedestrian flows are its eyes and muse. A robotic brush suspended by a network of wires are its hands. Visual data of cityscapes guide the brush work as the subject matter evolves into newer elements and movements; the queue of commercial trucks, peak travel, clouds that fold into forms. And the handiwork isn't as sober as you might expect.

Liu Xiaodong – Weight of Insomnia

As you enter the exhibition you are struck by four large-scale works. Each has a single colour as its palette, and is quasi-abstract in its visual grammar. Contained on a plain canvas, this single colour arranges its own juxtaposition in varied thicknesses of paint. Some layers are more blockishly loaded than others. The heavier applications of acrylic drip and exit the canvas downwards, unless otherwise blocked by denser brush strokes.

Liu Xiaodong – Weight of Insomnia

There is a fifth work occupying the first room. Here the robot, cables and computer screens remain. Once a blank canvas at exhibition opening, later - a work in progress - with its completion scheduled at take down. Incidentally, London is the subject matter. But there is a growing itch as you watch the digital wrist at work; why are there traces of imperfections in these painterly marks? Imperfection ought to be our quality.

Liu Xiaodong – Weight of Insomnia

While the other rooms carry works that are executed similarly, there is ‘Time’ (2014) - at long last, a multi-panel work created by a full-blooded, fleshy pair of hands - depicting real people and their corresponding scenes in his typical figurative style. What is tricksy in the other paintings makes for greater truth in this work.

The exhibition title suggests an unrest, a muted energy and a forever on-the-go feeling. The walls play this out. Dead repetition interferes with the ebb and flow of life. Creativity as we know it, rides breaks and interruptions to arrive at a relief. It is a rising and fleeting surge. We rely on our inner, non-physical sense datums when we create. Qualia - that which is introspectively accessible - is the gap between the artificial and the organic artist. It cannot be taught to machines.

This exhibition may take some of you where you wish not to go. But this is all the more reason to visit.

by Zayna Al-Saleh

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