curated by Demetrio Paparoni
Despite his use of numerous materials, means and techniques, Liu Jianhua is the Chinese artist who best translates into contemporary language the innate expressive possibilities of porcelain as an artistic material. By using porcelain to emphasize shape without foregoing a philosophical narrative, he is able to explore the possibilities of an art which is tied to its very cultural origins, but at the same time is able to express the spiritual instances of contemporaneity.
Though in 2008 Liu eliminated from his work all elements that might generate anxiety, he never entirely abandoned the social footprint which marked the first phase of his research. When one of his works expresses a notion of beauty, whatever the theme, it detaches from present in order to assume a universal value through the aesthetic dimension. When he arrived in Naples in 2018 to visit the Cloister of Santa Caterina in Formiello and meet the artisans who work the ceramic and papier-maché, Liu came in contact with the varied, popular and multiethnic reality of the Porta Capuana district. His acknowledgment of this social reality and his encounter with the artisans prompted his project for the exhibit, which he entitled Monumenti, in which he brings together the two different cores of his work- the social core of his early years and the spiritual core of his works subsequent to 2008.
The central portion of the exhibit is comprised of an installation made of twenty-three pedestals covered in Vietri ceramic tiles, which, during the inauguration, became a stage for twenty four performers- all Capuana district. On the central pedestal, which is the largest of all, are a mother and her daughter. The performers do not interact with the public, and at the end of the performance are substituted by and equal number of papier-maché statues, made in Nola. The statues resemble the performers, as testified by the videos presented on the mini screens, in which the immigrants tell their personal stories along with their photographic portraits printed on a brief questionnaire, filled by individual subjects and hug on the walls. These forms are reminiscent of the questionnaires that are completed and signed by consulates before authorizing entry into a nation. By putting them on display, Liu emphatizes that many individuals are unable to provide the necessary requisites and are, therefore, left without the possibility to move freely from one nation to another.
Also comprising the installation are two thousand flowers and branches mad of white porcelain from Capodimonte, not unlike the ceramic flowers and branches produced in Jingdzhen, which Liu has used in other works since 2001. As the artist himself has clarified, these candid and delicate porcelain pieces evoke a sense of fragility and solemnity which alludes to the uncertainty which permeates the life of immigrants.
The unfavorable life conditions of the immigrants who arrive in Naples and settle in Porta Capuana district, and the adverse reality even of its poorest residents, are in stark contrast with the ancient buildings whose architectural sophistication tell the story of eras of splendor. The name of sovereigns, rich and noble families and powerful prelates have remained tied to many of these places. With his installation Liu redefines the concept of the monument as a celebratory construction in honor of illustrious and powerful man, and gives a voice to those who search for a place to live with dignity, far from their homeland, in places where they are often met with hostility. Contextually, he allows the subject to transcend his individuality and turns hi story into a universal narrative. By encouraging us to compare ourselves to others, to consider others differently and to listen to them, Monuments ispires us to take on an omni-comprehensive view that includes ourselves and sees us all as equally important or insignificant.
The majolica from Vietri, the porcelain from Capodimonte and the papier-maché from Nola used by Liu in this installation are materials whose production is a deeply-rooted tradition in the Campania region. Just like the ceramics from Jingdezhen, those from Campania have been used to forge both humble objects for daily use as well as refined artistic handcraft. Papier-maché, in turns, has been used both in China and in Italy for parade floats in popular festivals, as well as for the modeling of statues of divinities, devotional objects and actual works of art.
Monumenti creates a link between the Chinese and local traditions, emphasizing how different knowledge and techniques can travel and be spread by man. Comparing ourselves to other cultures does not necessarily imply focusing on the differences; rather, it helps with identifying the elements that constitute a shared patrimony. Liu’s usage of porcelain and papier-maché in the Naples exhibit alludes to his own culture, yet it also respects and evokes traditions that distinguish the spirit of the place. While, on one hand, Monumenti reveals the imbalances in the power relations within a society, it also underscores the importance of shared traditions in human relations.
With the Patronage of:
Chinese Embassy / Comune di Napoli
With the support of:
Areoporto di Napoli / Istituto Confucio Napoli and Università degli studi di Napoli L'Orientale / Fondazione Erri de Luca
With partecipation of:
Ceramiche Francesco de Maio / Istituto Indirizzo Raro Caselli real Fabbrica di Capodimonte / Bottega Carlo Nappi / Cooperativa Sociale Dedalus