Wen Liu

Wen Liu was born in Shanghai, China. She is a mixed-media sculptor based in Brooklyn, NY. Wen received her MFA from China Academy of Art and School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her BFA from China Academy of Art. Wen’s work has been shown at Dinner Gallery, New York, NY; Roswell Museum, Roswell, NM; Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL; Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Chicago, IL; Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, IN; and more.
May 8, 2024
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Can you tell us about your practice?
My practice focuses on loss and abandonment through the use of found materials. I started collecting these pieces, such as reclaimed furniture and domestic objects to build my sense of belonging and security when I immigrated to the US.
Experimenting with new materials, learning and making mistakes is an important part of my practice. I’ve recently started using fire in my works. Details of the found objects mixed in and burned with clay indicate lived time and memory – the sculptures wear history on their surface and leave traces of absence.
How did you arrive at a sculpture as the primary medium in your practice? What about it helps facilitate your questioning of loss and abandonment?
In China, all art students start with drawing. Sculpture comes later and is separate from all other 2-dimensional departments. I was trained as a traditional figurative sculptor for 4 years until the first time I saw Doris Salcedo’s work – it opened the whole world of expression through material choice. I enjoy the simultaneous responses between my hands and the material, which is why I can’t get enough of clay.
Sculpture allows me to explore loss and abandonment through working processes that trace absences, with particular attention to material choice or materiality.
Your recent works employ quite a bit of molding, especially furniture molding. Can you expand on what’s the thought behind this?
I’m fascinated with the molting process of insects/animals – where they shed their skin to grow and heal. The mold making process is a metaphor for molting, and so my pieces either display the result of the mold or showcase the mold as a part of the work.
I’m interested in altering daily objects through deconstruction and assembly to transform them into a new context.
You’ve said that you source found material in your works through estate sales. What draws you to go there? Do you have any tips for other sculptors looking to source materials that way?
After moving to the US, I started going to estate sales because we don’t have that in my hometown. Through going to a stranger’s house and looking at their belongings, I can read a person without knowing them. It’s my quick way of understanding an American’s life.
When sourcing material, I’m looking for something that already had life and can be passed down through generations. There’s depth and warmth in used wooden furniture that reminds me of home.
Not everything I find is immediately or always used. I think a complete piece is like a sentence, sometimes there’s a subject or object already finished that sits in the studio for a long time until I find the right verb to complete it.
What has been inspiring you lately?
I’ve been reading through Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She talks about the human relationship with earth, the respect for animacy, and how language is the heart of a culture – how it holds the speaker’s thoughts and world views.
What’s next for you?
I just finished a one year residency and have moved around a lot in the last few months. I just settled in my new studio in Navy Yard, Brooklyn, and can’t wait to see what sprouts up in the space. I tried lithography for the first time in residency, and want to experiment more with new techniques.
Also, I’m looking forward to continuing my cello journey, exploring how channeling the body and arm weight through the bow hand can vary a sound as well as the physicality of playing. Learning to read music is like learning a new language, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m really excited to dive in.

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