Preserving Personal Historical Memory
–On the Paintings of Liu Qiming
By Wang Lin
Children Series NO.8/Paintings/Liu Qiming/65.4 W x 47.2 H x 2.8 D in/2006
In a society that values collectivism, even the concept of human-centered thinking is easily contaminated. When “people” become “citizens,” individuals are often excluded. For Chinese feudal cultural traditions, the importance of the people lies in their being the foundation of royal rule, as the saying goes, “The people are the most important, the emperor is secondary, and the state is tertiary.” This is a prerequisite for judging whether today’s society has truly entered modernity, namely, the degree to which individual freedom is realized in the social system and social life. The constitution stipulates the democratic rights of every citizen, but in reality, we cannot achieve them. The current situation of nominal existence but practical non-existence of citizens’ rights has had a profound impact on the spiritual psychology of the Chinese people. The collective amnesia of mainland artists regarding major political and historical events is a significant example. Many artists use and even abuse the cultural resources of the Mao era but almost no one re-narrates or reflects on the historical disasters of that time. Historical subject matter creation has been superficially explored in contemporary art, and it remains a field dominated by the official ideology and realism narrative hegemony of political bias, rather than historical accuracy.
This is why I was deeply moved when I saw Liu Qiming focusing on historical memory in his works.
Liu Qiming approaches history from the perspective of personal memory. Whether it’s works based on era names, or works based on historical narration, such as “Revolutionary Model,” “Anti-Terrorist Elite,” and “Olympic Vision,” the painter never directly depicts political and historical events. He always uses psychological symbolism to describe his feelings about the fading historical memory. For example, in his “My 1989” series, some works feature only a faint chain of people suspended in the sky, or figures leaving motion poses on the clouds and water. These images that have been collectively forgotten by Chinese people in today’s society appear so small and unreal in the painting. It is not only the painter’s grief for the deliberately abandoned historical experience but also the art’s lament for the spiritual reality of the consumer era. It is in this heartfelt grief and lament that the artist hopes to preserve personal historical memory. This is poetic history and historical poetry.
5.12 No.4 /Paintings/Liu Qiming/ 71 W x 35.5H x 1.8 D in/2008
Liu Qiming’s paintings are spacious and desolate, quiet and vast. He always uses grayish colors such as gray-blue, gray-green, or pale red-gray to create a hazy and ambiguous background, even the cloud and water interface itself. Among them are the ripples of cloud and water, the halo of daylight, and the typical political symbol of Tiananmen Square, sometimes obscure, sometimes visible. This Chinese classical gatehouse appears among the clouds and water, creating a surreal situation and adding a sense of emptiness and ethereality to the painter’s poetic imagery. At the same time, it implies the historical relevance of personal narration with its political symbolism.
The portrayal of people by painters is a long-distance communication between the smallness of space and the passing of time. Whether they are walking, wandering, or in a sporting posture, hanging on tree branches or ropes, the painters intentionally use translucent backgrounds to depict them like silhouettes, thin, tiny, floating, rootless, unsupported, beginningless and endless, helpless and yet fated. These are the abandoned people, abandoned and forgotten by official power, power consciousness, and ideology. In contemporary China, which is a mixture of market economy, consumerism, and collective society, the overall collapse of intellectuals, the impatience for art creation, and the weakness of historical consciousness are interdependent. Liu Qiming is deeply aware of this situation and his works reveal a deep sense of loneliness and desolation, which is not only on the scene but also genuine. Only in this way can art reveal the reality of spiritual reality by revealing it through its sensitive and subtle psychological reactions.
5.12 No.3 /Paintings/Liu Qiming/ 71 W x 59H x 1.8 D in/2008
Artistic creation does not necessarily have to appear in an antagonistic or confrontational manner to have critical significance for social, spiritual, and cultural reality. As a personal experience of life, the critical value of artistic creation lies in challenging established collective discourse with individualized artistic language. Liu Qiming’s works are persistent in the spiritual response and psychological reminiscence of individuals to historical events, which is a denial of the authoritarian right to obliterate historical memory and collective consciousness. In the paintings, Liu Qiming persistently and even stubbornly uses red dots and lines, not only to indicate the need for visual attention in the gray and cold color tones, but also to signify political symbols or even pan-political symbols such as red roofs, red ropes, red scarves, and red underwear. However, the painter makes them strange, detached from real life, and constructs them into a surreal experience. Through the fragmentation, individualization, and scattering of history, he restores history to personal, spiritual, and lowercase history. Liu Qiming touches history with a poignant and sorrowful poetic feeling, aiming to prove that history cannot be forgotten. In fact, this statement itself contains respect for history, even for the heavy history that once caused enormous damage. Perhaps this is the reason why Liu Qiming’s works are full of melancholic poetry.
Talking about the paintings of Liu Qiming reminds me of the contemporary German painter Anselm Kiefer, who wrote a magnificent elegy of German national history since World War II with his tears of repentance and bone-deep reflection. I always wonder when the Chinese painting world will have artists like Kiefer who can make a strong moral voice for historical suffering, just like Liu Qiming, who murmurs and lingers over historical experiences in his works.
June 15, 2008 On the side of Taohuashan Mountain, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute.
My 1976 No. 5/Paintings/Liu Qiming/ 59.1 W x 70.9 H x 2.8 D in/2007
Year Of Life NO. 8/Paintings/Liu Qiming/ 59.1 W x 70.9 H x 2.8 D in/2008
My 2008 No. 5/Paintings/Liu Qiming/ 59.1 W x 70.9 H x 2.8 D in/2008