Xin Liu (b. Xinjiang, China, 1991) is a New York-based artist and engineer. Liu graduated from MIT Media Lab with a MA in Media Arts and Sciences, MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, and BE from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. She has been commissioned and included in by permanent public collections and institutions including M+ Museum (Hong Kong), KADIST Foundation (US & France), Ars Electronica (Austria), Rhizome (USA), Media Art Xploration Festival (USA), Onassis Foundation (US & Europe), X Museum (China), and Abandon Normal Devices Festival (UK). She has joined several residency programs including Queens Museum Artist Studio program, New INC, Watermill Center and Pioneer Works. She is an advisor for LACMA Art+Tech Lab and a faculty member at The Terraforming, a new research program at Strelka Institute in 2020-2021.
September 13, 2023
Tell us about your practice.
I’m an artist and an engineer. So in my practice, I think lots of times I’m trying to enter a technological space and creating a world and a narrative around it with my own body and experiences that question how our human experiences are affected or infected by technologies and at the same time how we create those technologies to as a reaction and as a way of protecting or seeking out understandings of who we are. Over the past five years, I have taken space exploration and biotech as my research canvas. These are crucial catalyst technologies, akin to AI, which have the potential to fundamentally transform humanity over time.
Your practice often oscillates between scientific research and art-making – and indeed in your bio you’re referred to as an artist and engineer. Is there a point at which research inquiry turns into art-making? Is there ever a tension between the two?
I always start with, like a very acute moment. It can be an image, a vision that I want to recreate or it can be one action or a very, very particular gesture that I want to perform or a peculiar object that haunts me. Then this very acute moment became the seed for lots of ideas. Honestly, I often feel a world is growing out of that seeding moment. That’s why I never really felt like there was tension because in the process of world-building, research narrative, and object-making are always in sync. If you have to say there’s tension, it might end up being the need to present it in an exhibition context, the stop sign, and a physical room that has to contain the world I’ve made.
You’ve traversed many mediums and technologies in your work – whether it be sculpture, performance, or even space itself. Are there any mediums you’ve not yet explored but would like to?
I’d love to act and direct a fiction film! I’m eager to create a story with a well-crafted script. The process of making a film is exciting to me; I love the opportunity to design and construct a world for my story. From sets and sculptures to costumes and textiles, the possibilities are endless.
Can you tell us a little bit about your curatorial approach as curator of Space Art at MIT? How does your role as a curator connect with your art practice?
I work as the art curator for the Space Exploration Initiative at MIT Media Lab. My approach to curating focuses on connecting artists with the scientific and technology research community at MIT. Collaboration is at the center of this work, along with supporting students who have ideas for art projects but lack training in the field. With my background in both art and engineering, I see myself as a good translator between these two worlds. My goal is to bring diverse perspectives and critiques to space exploration beyond just technological advancements. I want to address issues of resource allocation and the decolonization of the exploration process. Creating a discourse that focuses on diversifying and looking at sustainable practices and technologies for space exploration has been a cross-interest among my peers. As a curator, I am excited to support artists who are better equipped to tackle these issues through their work. I believe that big institutions like MIT have a responsibility to create access for artists who have great ideas and are hard workers but lack the resources to accomplish their projects. This is a humbling process, as art-making can be lonely and mentally taxing. I hope that by helping other artists, I can create a more balanced relationship between myself and art in general.
What has been inspiring you lately?
Texas! I’m currently doing a residency in San Antonio, Texas. Interestingly, I feel a strong connection to the landscape here because my hometown of Shinjang in China is also a desert where people live in close proximity to each other. There’s a small city, but everything else is far away. There’s something intimate about being able to see the flat horizon and the end of everything in front of you. It brings back childhood memories for me. San Antonio is also similar to my hometown in its diversity. People come from all over the place and make a life here with the people they encounter. Apart from that, I have been inspired by a book called “The Children of Time” by a Polish British author. The book talks about a planet that ended up being a world of spiders. The beautiful thing about spiders is that they inherit memories and knowledge from their ancestors. Every spider is a new being, but they hold the memories of everyone who lived before them. It’s a beautiful way to think about lineage and the idea that you are part of something. Longevity isn’t about one individual’s life, but about giving it to the next generation and receiving it from everyone who has built it up to this point.
What’s next for you?
Lately, I’ve been contemplating the decision to become a mother, considering my age and all. In the book “Children of Time”, humans enter cryogenic sleep to maintain the storyline, while spiders live through every moment, spanning generations. It made me think about the different perspectives on longevity and life. As I reflect on my own life, I’m excited to share my thoughts and feelings on these topics in both my show “Self Devourer” at Make Room and in my upcoming solo exhibition at Pioneer Works in July, where I’ll be exploring how society controls life in moments of cryogenic freezing and how this contrasts with egg freezing, a common practice for women’s reproductive health. Creating this show is a healing process for me, considering my future and the possibility of giving life to another.