Beili Liu

D Berman Gallery, Austin

Through October 24
by Lauren Adams

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      Beili Liu
      Tie. Untie.
      2008
      String & video projection
      165 x 80 x 15 inches
      Courtesy the artist and D Berman Gallery

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      Beili Liu, Bound #2, 2009
      for complete caption see image gallery

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      Many stories have been conceived to explain the life-long bond between two people. Plato, for instance, felt that we were at one time two people combined into one, separated by the gods for our hubris, now destined to spend our lives searching for our other half. There is also a Chinese legend about the red thread of destiny. This invisible thread is said to connect a person to their soul mate from the moment they are born. This red thread of destiny is the tie that binds together artist Beili Liu’s most recent work at D Berman Gallery.

      Liu, an artist born in China who now lives and works in Austin, has created a visual map of this legend and its different stages. The exhibition centers around one massive piece, Bound #2 (2009), the heart of the exhibition, both literally and figuratively. Two roughly human-sized pillars of rough, unfinished wood are lodged firmly in the center of the space. Both of the coarse columns are pierced a thousand times over with needles and bound together with red gossamer thread. Although the pillars are solidly anchored into place, the delicate connection formed by the thread between them visually pulls the structures together.

      Bound #2 represents the central idea of the myth: two people destined to find each other over the duration of their lives, and the rest of the exhibition fleshes out the story. The pieces that surround Bound #2 create a sense of time and also of progression. The myth begins with Tie. Untie. (2009), a video installation tucked in the back corner of the gallery. Spilling onto the floor are yards of white, spaghetti like yarn onto which is projected a circular scene of anonymous hands sorting through the mythical red thread. The scene appears to have been shot under water, and the effect leaves the red yarn swirling and floating between the hands that pull it from one side to another. The scene alludes to the moment before birth, when the hands of God reach down and begin to catalog one’s fate.

      If Tie. Untie. is the beginning, then Miasma (2009) must surely be the end of the story. With this installation, Liu has swapped the blood red yarn for black, and hung the tangled pieces from the ceiling in kelp like stalks. Although the skeins of yarn are light, they hang frozen and unaffected by their surroundings. They are dark, stagnant, and reminiscent of death, the unfortunate end of every love story.

      If the exhibition has a weakness, it is the panel pieces that line opposing walls of the gallery. Although interesting in their construction—singed vellum and rice paper burnt with incense—they lack the striking presence of the installation works.

      True love, soul mates, star-crossed lovers, this bond between two people has mesmerized humanity throughout history. Liu’s work offers a contemporary rendition of our age-old fascination with life, death, love and the passing of time. Formally, the majority of the pieces are captivating enough in texture, color and material to stand on their own. Standing before them, one can’t help but imagine Liu’s painstaking, time-consuming creative process. However, the exceptional thing about Liu’s exhibition is that each piece creates one layer of a story which spans from birth to death—a storyline familiar enough to tie the entire show together, yet vague enough to entice each of us to create our own narrative.

      Lauren Adams is an intern at Fluent~Collaborative.

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