Iron Man and Iron Woman

The subjectivity in the empty contemporary sites

Po-Chun Liu’s Vajra


Author/ Tzu-Chieh Jian (Assistant Professor, Department of Fine Arts, National Kaohsiung Normal University)

“Industrial steel is the ideal world,” said Liu Po-chun, while sharing his 2009 residency experience at the Tung-Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation. He further articulated, “This is why I created the series of figurative sculptures entitled Vajra.” When we examine these various sizes of Vajra, it is important to see these majestic figues as not completely solid. They either represent in a form of laminated shapes or thin strip types of steel.

These Vajras simply represents the form of human image. On the one hand, they reveal the character of reused, wasted steel. On the other hand, when viewers realize works like Multi-shadowed Iron Man and Iron Woman and Non-Iron Men in Group are made of thin, bent strips of steel, these hollow figurative sculptures are “puffed-up,” according to Liu.

Multi-shadowed Iron Man and Iron Woman,steel,180×180×300cm each,2009。

In Liu’s creation, I see the series of “Vajra” represent an important key stage. While Liu’s focus is to keep the representation of human figures and to discuss the issue of ready-made objects, his inquiry contains viewpoints of intersected body and symbolic imagery, as well as a meta-oriented attitude towards his creation. As a result, when Liu describes “Vajra” as “puffed-up,” it also means a deep and long release for Liu. The “Vajra” predicts Liu’s new stage.

As a critic, I view this stage not only shows Liu’s important turning point, but also the need to examine the middle generation of Taiwanese artists. While we can observe a widespread political content within the younger generation of Taiwanese artists, we can clearly see a difference between articulate and visible contents shown from the middle generation of Taiwanese artists. This is because although the discourse within the middle generation’s artists covers political content and social issues, they show less perceptual sensitivity in their artworks.

Under these circumstances, Liu’s turning point focuses on the meta-exploration of intermediary topics. The series of “Vajra” shows the opposition to Liu’s artistic disciplines to represent of a somehow interesting self-engulfed image. Therefore, from the puffed-up Vajras, can we realize the difficult issues faced in contemporary art in Taiwan?

Context: Meta language and historical context

Briefly looking back Liu’s creation, he was trained in contemporary sculpture education in Taiwan and received a Master degree in Sculpture from Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in 1991. He devoted himself into Taiwanese sculpture education system, severing a key role in in the academy for contemporary art. This is also the time that artists groups in Taiwan experienced a shift from conventional to modern. In fact, in a larger social context, people has become to understand what martial law declaration is about. And yet, for artists, it meant a disintegration f symbolic order within the political meaning. It also suggested that conventional style of art should take on a more critical lens. In 1996, the first Taipei biennial: “The dependence of art in Taiwan” showed the thriving images about desire.

While we used Liu’s academic position to examine his role in the art history in Taiwan, a prerequisite is needed to explain. That is, the differences of the artist productions between professional artists and for those work in the academy. Situating in academic context made the artists to move from the simple artistic presentation to take on a meta and historical perspective. Like Liu, his artworks emphasize on “intermediary topics” to connect to formalism, and more importantly, to tie with historical contexts in showing the Independence.

Taking “intermediary topics” into consideration, Liu’s exhibitions (e.g., “Convergence and Divergence II”, 1999; “Between Concreteness and Buoyancy: Penetrating Space”, 2005; “Space, Body and Intermediary Texture”, 2006; “Contrast & Reproduce”, 2008; Liu’s work collection in 2000: “Space, image, and body.”) delivered meta-oriented concepts and referred to a series of objective issues. Thus, his works are not traditional sculptures sustained by pedestals, they are collections of a series of complicated elements made by sites, object relationship, and symbols.

聚集‧分離 II
1999,Solo Exhibition at Taipei County Cultural Center,“Convergence and Divergence II

鋼鐵架構I 空間、身體與中介質地
2006,Solo Exhibition at Cultural Affairs Bureau of Hsinchu County Museum of Art,“Steel Construction Ι: Body, Signs, and Spatial Expression

2005,Solo Exhibition at Juming Museum,“Between Concreteness and Buoyancy: Penetrating Space

2008,Solo Exhibition at National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, “Contrast & Reproduce

Liu’s Pyramid in 1999 was made out of a bunch of metal square frames. Even though the title: “Pyramid” indicates the logic of monument embedded in traditional sculpture, and yet, such metal square frames also contain different found objects to refer various drawers. The placement of modulize frames and objects indicates a system of message expression. In fact, “Pyramid” responds to a complicated language status, which invites viewers to enter a language labyrinth.

In addition, Liu’s historical contexts are embedded in his use of materials. Oxidized metals represent the historical marks and objective memories. The site itself is also important as a specific time and space. Therefore, the world constructed both by language itself and objectivity is shown on the site. While existing symbolic system has been disintegrated and new artistic presentation system is yet to developed, Liu has constructed his a language labyrinth in a site that beyond installation meanings.

Pyramid,Stainless steel, Steel,270×50×270cm,1999。

At the Tung-Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation

During his residency in Tung-Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation, Liu viewed steel as a complex art medium that is somehow both natural and artifical. He also saw steel as a bendable and free-style creation materials. In the context of art creation resources in Taiwan, we can understand artists’ excitment when industrial materials become an artist medium. However, when Liu was involved in the site of Tung-Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation, it also means the ruling power that industrial world has to individuals. While we rethink any artistic presentation systems and their associated political meanings,  the power of industrial world has been always continuing. “Factory” is not only a production unit that supports critical aspects of pop art, but also represents a world of merchandises.

For a long period of time, Liu’s practice has considered the relationship between industrial world and human beings. In general, this type of thinking predicts the individual space covered by industrial world. Many artists create an appropriate space for this individual concern. This concern is abstract in showing the critical argument to the system of industrial world. Steel, as a main characteristic in modern society, shows constant power. For Liu, his exploration focuses on a power that comes from the human world and moves beyond the limitation of human existence. I see Liu’s Vajra demonstrates a possibility that articulates individual spaces and its independence in the industrial world.

“Puffed-up:” Self-destructive Creativity

Vajra, lacated Tung-Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation, they are supposed to be muscular but it’s puffed character shows the contrasts. While represneting male characteristic, these vajras’s inner side is empty. The complicated metalstrips simply show a recogniable figure. When these giant figures stay away from flesh and blood, they also indicate the connection to the symbolic world. The empty of Vajra present the recogniable semiotic objects, instead of the sensitive body for emotional reflection.

Vajra indicates Liu’s semiotic interpretation, showing some kind of humorous exaggeration. For example, Iron Man and Iron Woman not only contains various types of scrap iron, but also has a spring structure that looks like male penis. When it sways in the wind, it shows a worn out image that is hardly seen in steel sculpture. Therefore, Liu’s “ideal world” shows a sense of self-ridiculing.

In fact, when plural forms of Vajra uses multiple outlines to overlap a single imagery, the discourse indicates contemporary changing of body. The relationship between plural forms belongs to a kind of favorable non-place. This is like Guy Debord’s understanding of a world that is mixed between presentment and substance. When the absence of reality has become routines, life is not a regret. Vajra indicates a reality that is abstract in a ideal world.

Therefore, Liu’s Vajra indicates three stages of genealogy. First, as a subject in the mythology modules, Vajra is a ready-made image. Then it enters a in-between symbolic stage that dismantles the form of body and then approaches an object’s abstractness. Finally, it reaches a multi-meaning status. I do not mean to frame these three stages into the typical postmodern era because the reflexivity reflected through Vajra. The reflexivity here suggests the self perfection to engulf the self, using repeated ridicule to criticize the artworks.

Iron Man and Iron Woman,steel,180×180×300cm each,2009。


Conclusion: The subjectivity in the empty contemporary sites

Liu’s works go beyond the operational process highly recognized in traditional sculpture to use replica in creating the site, including his work in 2005 and 2008. I see the process of reproduction can be seen as the transition to the in-between topics focused by Liu. Liu even uses strong symbols belonged in the site in his artwork, showing this appropriation is similar to the creation of social sites.

When the notion of real has died out in this contemporary era, the growth of replica shows us how industrial world shapes our life as a simulated labyrinth. Of course, this may be one of the many characteristics in globalization, and yet, the focus is on the specific status that evokes from the tensions between local and global power. When we discover that Liu’s notion of in-between topics is departed from a meta-symbolic and linguistic collective supported by social structures, it suggests a different time that favors independence. While Vajra in 2009 was sort of “puffy-up.” It suggests a humane imagery that is full of subjectivity.

“Industrial steel is the ideal world,” said Liu Po-chun, while sharing his 2009 residency experience at the Tung-Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation. He further articulated, “This is why I created the series of figurative sculptures entitled Vajra.” When we examine these various sizes of Vajra, it is important to see these majestic figues as not completely solid. They either represent in a form of laminated shapes or thin strip types of steel.