This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.
The figurative rendering of a cultural imaginary is not new terrain. A good deal of work consists simply in recording the exaggerations and misreadings ostensibly structuring our collective unconscious. At worst this tendency amounts to little more than vapid expressionism mistaking itself for critical sociology, an effect often exaggerated by an ongoing game of pin-the-identity-tail-on-the-ideological donkey. At first glance, Liao Yibai's Imaginary Enemy, seems a prime candidate to continue this unfortunate tendency. A series of sculptures "explor(ing) how (the) Chinese imagined the myth and threat of America during and immediately following the Cultural Revolution," Yibai could easily have repeated any number of well-worn narratives and nobody would have blamed him. He would merely have been repeating what is perhaps the signal error of this mini-genre, mistaking what is true for what is compelling and relying on brute force of polemic or moral clarity to do the work of the aesthetic object,
Yibai, by contrast, and to his great credit, hews very close to his own idiomatic experience of these cultural myths. He chooses for his studies those moments that reveal himself and his world in tandem, preventing a fall into wrote commentary. Thus PLA Whiskey, a massive, stainless steel Jim Beam bottle, with certain details spelled out and certain others reduced to squiggles, "recalls the story of a former Chinese soldier’s dream of forbidden American alcohol." Cash Fighting is a delightfully literal representation of the economic struggles between China and the US, and has Benjamin Franklin leaping out of a one-hundred dollar bill to box with his Chinese counterpart. Its a simple, comical gesture - but also a poignant one; realizing a childlike comprehension of conflict in the broadest of strokes. Less monumental but more effective is a series of aircraft carriers, repeated as a progress of somewhat amorphous polygons, each with its own series of smaller shapes on deck. Rendered in the same, shiny steel as all the pieces here, these ships capture the American presence in the South China Sea as a hard and inscrutable power, difficult to comprehend at the level of its individual parts and machinations. Its an altogether effective presentation. The show is open until August 15.