View of “Fit,” 2010. C5 Art, Beijing.

In his solo exhibition “Fit,” the artist Liang Shuo’s role first seems that of a furniture designer. He transformed the entire C5 Art space into a building made up of multiple rooms. In the “living room” Liang “designed” stylish furniture, where visitors may, for example, lie down on a sofa and watch television. However, this television only shows photographs of urban cityscapes. It’s as if Liang were discreetly introducing the source of inspiration for his designs. The space is filled with original installations for which he combined all sorts of different objects to give rise to something completely distinct. Perhaps you feel this assemblage is not appropriate, for indeed nobody knows what this new “something” is called or what purpose it serves. For his part, Liang affirms that it is indeed appropriate (“Fit”), citing his belief that the term for or function of any object is not inherently defined.

As I see it, “Fit” is about anti-experience, because for Liang Shuo the value of the exhibition resides not in whether or not the audience can acquire working knowledge of the object, but rather, in how they understand the object. Most knowledge is born of experience, but then again, empirical superstition often leads to a loss of rationale. Turning only to experience or familiarity to understand an object is normally unreliable.

The reorganization of objects is central to “Fit,” as is the involvement of the relation between those objects and the exhibition space. Liang Shuo erected a steel pedestrian overpass, surrounded it with trees and rocks, and decorated the walls on either side with prints of mountain scenery. This mixture of material and illusory objects creates a sense of the intense blur of contemporary life; the ensuing vulgarity leaves a deep impression. In turn, it can’t be said that one “sees” the exhibition, but rather, that he or she “experiences” or “verifies” it. Yet the true intention of “Fit” is not to offer an emotional or sensual experience. What it does try to do is approach theoretical topics: is the function of an object important? Does functional mean practical? Why does any object produce unfamiliar effects on the viewer?

Liang Shuo regards himself as “the Han Emperor who was an ordinary man, but has now entered the court; both pitiful and regretful.” We can see he still harbors misgivings about the limitations of an indoor exhibition space. When those in the industry speak of Liang today, they no longer refer to his breakthrough 2000 work Urban Peasants, which goes to show that his transformation from outsider to insider has been established. But whether or not he succeeds in the transformation has yet to be seen. I understand this transformation: Liang has come to realize the external concerns of Urban Peasants should have been based on the adequate knowledge of one’s self. If an artist’s feelings towards the outside world have already begun to falter, but he still pushes to recreate the success of the past, he will doubtlessly lose himself in the process. Although I always advocate the social worth of art, I still must offer my criticism: in Chinese contemporary art, there remain those artists who deal in societal themes but who haven’t laid their own inner foundations. That’s why their work comes across as hypocritical and devoid of meaning.

Some media evaluations of “Fit” have been enthusiastic. Among them, one sentence resonates deeply in my mind: “The exhibition has injected fresh questions and perspectives into philosophy, that is to say, Liang Shuo has not simply used his artwork to interpret existing philosophical beliefs.” This statement may be a bit of an exaggeration. Philosophy’s treatment of objects runs throughout the entire history of thought; it is quite difficult to claim that Liang has injected any fresh questions or perspectives into the philosophical corpus. Nonetheless, it is indeed true that he is no longer simply using his artwork to “interpret” existing philosophical beliefs. He is instead using artistic methods to ponder those beliefs. In other words, philosophical research in the world of objects renders contemporary art theory even more complex. It’s just that the exhibition hasn’t yet reached the point where it may diverge. “Fit,” it should be said, is Liang’s deepening of his own transformation.     Duan Jun