At Tiger Strikes Asteroid, visitors to Wen Liu’s exhibition were limited to a thirty-minute viewing period. Conscious of time, I set a timer––five minutes for each of the five sculptures exhibited, with a minute or two of wiggle room in between––before entering. I first spied two large paper crafts in the shade of black and the shape of clouds. Soaked with Chinese ink and shrouded by a dusty pink wall, they likely started as one piece. It was too soon to tell if they would regather. Before I could ponder this thought, my phone went off. Rather forcibly, I turned right to the next sculpture: The Longest Remedy, an assemblage of a resin-pressed herb plate on a ceramic stand in which herbs were blended only to be consumed in the firing process. The water of life interplayed with the aridness. The third work on display, The Furthest Holding, consisted of two pine cones made of epoxy clay, in the same pink hue as the opposite wall. Each laid at the ends of a latex mold of a decayed tree trunk. It was a bridge derelict in its duty; tired of arching its body, it dropped deep and contented itself as a chasm.
Liu has a predilection for latex molds. During our first encounter, years ago at an SAIC graduate critique, she gingerly showcased a group of flimsy, yellowish brown sheets that reminded me of the shedded skin of a snake. Over time, this snake of Liu’s has slithered to various venues, leaving behind the epidermis of a metal gate, floor tiles of a cathedral, a mosaic brick wall. I almost missed The Shortest Sentence, a curled up leaf, with “when words fail” written across it in tiny punched holes, bandaged about six feet high to the wall behind a pillar. Singular, isolated in a room of pseudo-plants, it appeared equally, if not more, inanimate. At last, closing the circle was The Shortest Dreams, a pair of stone blocks glazed with the book covers of 365 Night Tales: Book One and Two, a commonly read children’s book series in Chinese households. They were placed so close to the floor that, despite the colors, they resembled tombstones, perhaps, for the child in us all.
Walking out in haste and uncertainty, I followed up with Liu in a virtual meeting. She revealed that she had been feeling the same lately. About halfway into her residency at TSA, Liu learned of her father’s passing. With little time left, she made many split second decisions and even considered calling off the exhibition. Eventually, she managed to make a whole new collection, an elegy, to remember him and reflect on their estranged relationship. Pressing flakes of clay into the plaster cast of her father’s hand, which she molded on her last visit home, she turned them into seed scales of pine cones. In this way, Liu materialized the bond she wished to have with the man who had been absent most of her life and had not once held her hand. This materialization brought me back to her latex molds; not only do they replicate familiar used furniture, they also retain the touches of the owners. The snake goes round and round.