“Although I am a traditional painter, I embrace new technology.”
b. 1963 Jincheng, Liaoning Province. Lives and works in Beijing.
The function of the painter today, says Liu Xiaodong, is ‘…the role of the questioner. Questioning politics, questioning society, questioning human nature, questioning art, up to the point at which they question themselves.’ Acknowledged as one of China’s greatest figurative painters, Liu was trained in the rigorous French and Russian traditions that dominated Chinese art education until recently. But he also engages with experimental approaches to documentary film and, latterly, to entirely new approaches to painting that incorporate digital image data, computer software and robotics. For Weight of Insomnia (2018) Liu worked with a team of experts to produce a ‘painting machine’, an interactive artwork that he hoped would be able to ‘transform the spiritual into matter’. The idea was to create a machine that could paint what it ‘saw’ by means of photographs sent from a tiny camera to a computer in the gallery. Tiny cameras are positioned to observe places and the movement of people and traffic, in this version from a vantage point high above Circular Quay. Meanwhile, in the gallery, robotic ‘arms’ transfer the incoming data, transformed via a computer program, into marks painted by the machine onto large canvases. Painting becomes a time-based artform, and a performative one. Liu Xiaodong sees his painting machine as akin to the subjects of his figurative paintings: ‘Working constantly and silently, the machine was like an honest person working quietly without disturbing others.’