“Liu Xuguang, Dialogue with Arthur C. Danto” Exhibition


poster for “Liu Xuguang, Dialogue with Arthur C. Danto” Exhibition

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Curated by Ursula Panhans-Bühler

At the turn of the last millennium, American philosopher Arthur C. Danto’s book “The Transfiguration of the Ordinary”, published in 1981 and long since notorious in its essence, triggered fierce debates among Chinese artists and critics. “New York Danto” became the epitome of postmodern questioning of art. Ironically, it was precisely the time when Marcel Duchamp’s art was welcomed in China with impartiality, enthusiasm and humor, free of any tendency towards iconoclasm.

Liu Xuguang completed his PhD at Beijing’s Tsinghua University with a “Theory of Essence Consciousness”, subsequently he elaborated this concept during art study visits to Japan. His research was based on a single character from the oldest Chinese character tradition, marks of “bu” found on Chinese bone writing. On the basis of this character he created works, often using large sheets of Rice paper, on which he drew a dense web of “bu” marks, drawn with oily earthy work ink and iron dust made himself. These works may seem abstract to Western viewers, but they are not at all. The lively vibration of all the “bu” marks follows a single direction, but none of it is absolutely the same as the other or submits to a grid. Thus they become the epitome of a many-voiced foundational act of civilization that translates direct verbal exchange into the permanence of objectifying signs, a new, social form of memory. His search for the “Essence of Consciousness” is therefore not a regressive longing for the origins, but a link of contemporary culture with its foundations, still handed down in China.

The works, which Liu Xuguang created during the three years of the worldwide Corona pandemic, mark a transition to a new dimension within his art. Reading literary, poetic or philosophical texts, one enters into an inner dialogue with the authors. Danto’s proclamation of the end of postmodern “commonplace art” through its “transfiguration” into philosophy triggered in Liu Xuguang the desire to give this inner dialogue an artistic form. Eventually this came out as an extensive series of drawings. He had dialogues not only with Western and Eastern theoretical and poetic philosophers, but also with two important psychoanalysts: Sigmund Freud, the founder of Psychoanalysis, and Jacques Lacan. Both have sharpened our attention to the repressed by rationalizing philosophical theorizing: namely, the unconscious, contributory in all poetic artistic intuition, and so also in Liu Xuguang’s dialogues.

As he himself explains, his drawing dialogues resulted from the feelings that the texts of the dialogue partners had triggered in him. However, he based their configurations on elements that go back to the 8 trigrams of early Chinese culture, which denote algebraic, cosmological, as well as opposing forces of world’s Nature. Each drawing shows a different numerical configuration, which now act like scores of a musical theme. We feel them with our eyes and thus participate in the sensitive dimension of the respective dialogue.

Liu Xuguang has rightly noted that Danto’s “end of art” actually meant the end of a history of art that since Vasari repeatedly was glorified as a history of progress. In this respect, I recommend a reference to one of Liu Xuguang’s dialogue partners, Mo Zi from the 4th century BCE, the “time of the contending empires”. Mo Zi described the relationship of the present to the past in this way: What we consider as “past” was innovative in its time. We should take this as an encouragement to own innovations in our time. A Neon tube inscription, mounted in 2000 by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci on the attic of the Berlin “Altes Museum”, “All Art has been contemporary”, corresponds to such an attitude.

Let’s add a final comment on Liu Xuguang’s remark about the role of feelings in any artistic discourse, a role that also applies to their rationalizing suppression: In the Yi Jing, the “Book of Changes”, the 36th hexagram is designated “mingyi”, “hidden brightness”. Shouldn’t the way, how each of Liu Xuguang’s dialogue configurations deal with the space of the rice paper’s iridescent light, be related as well to this “mingyi” ?

Xuguang Liu is an influential artist who specializes in the context of the development of world art and new media art. He started his artist’s career in the mid-1980s, studied at Universities of the Arts in China and in Japan. With a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from Tsinghua University, Liu is currently the director of the New Media Art Lab at Beijing Film Academy. His artistic creation creates his own unique visual language expression in the concept of form and medium. Under the guidance of the concept of Essence Consciousness, he is a pioneer in artistic creation in this field, with extremely rich works.

In his early years, he stayed in Japan and put forward the theoretical concept of Essence Consciousness, and explored the possibility of form and medium language in vision in the contemporary art system; from the physical medium of vision to the expression of digital media, there is a deep and lasting exploration. Liu has participated in important thematic biennales at home and abroad, and held solo exhibitions on the theme of Essence Consciousness concepts in China, Japan, the United States, Finland, Comoros and other countries.



from June 01, 2023 to June 30, 2023

Opening Reception on 2023-06-01 from 18:00 to 20:00


Xuguang Liu

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