對於雕塑發展而言，人體無疑是毫不新鮮甚至傳統古老的表現對象。對於像劉柏村這類科班出身、受紮實人體塑造訓練養成的藝術家來說，這當然也是毫不陌生的題材。1980年代末，方出校門不久，劉柏村便屢次以人體雕塑獲得藝術獎項肯定，包括國展、省展、台陽美展等等。劉柏村之後曾進行不同的藝術實驗，涵蓋在法國進修期間趨近抽象的嘗試。返台經數年的沈潛之後，他1997年首度的個展，正式確認了他創作中的「身體轉向」：身體重新成為他的關注要項，並貫穿他至今的藝術生涯。也大約於同時 — 確切地說，1996年 — 劉柏村開始以鋼鐵為主要雕塑媒材。
「我作品中的人體總是大大小小」，劉柏村說道。的確，在他的雕塑中，首先清楚而顯見的是，除了一些等身大的作品之外，具有「『超』人」規格 — 超越真人的巨大或微小 — 的人物，大量而普遍：有的放大至四、五公尺，有的縮小至幾公分，還有些是以大小不一的人體雕像焊接組構。尺寸規格的意義，對雕塑而言，其實是個仍待深入探查的領域。從戶外的大型巨作、桌櫃上的雕塑到細膩的微型毫雕，雕塑的尺寸常取決於它被設定的背景。就意義層面而言，尺寸的變化也有其長遠以來的傳統：大型的規格與紀念碑的概念相關，常用來表現英雄氣概，強化宏偉的紀念碑特質，而小或微型則常具有溫和、細膩和精巧特質。然而，在劉柏村的人體雕塑中，卻並不盡然如此。
如果以人體的表現型態來回顧劉柏村至今的雕塑作品，毫無疑問的可以其2009年東鋼駐廠創作作為分水嶺，之前充斥著肢解的身體殘塊或軀幹，之後出現的則多是全身的、符號化的完整人形。斷臂去首、肢幹分離甚或零落散置的身體殘軀，特別是劉柏村早期作品中的基本成分。在他彙整自我1997-1999年創作的專輯中，他曾以「一個不完整的開始」為題，引證羅丹（Auguste Rodin）、布爾德勒（Antoine Bourdelle）、馬約爾（Aristide Maillol）的無臂身體與軀幹像，以及布朗庫西（Constantin Brancusi）簡化為卵形的頭像，論述這些「不完整」的身體中所成就的「自主而完整」的純粹造型美學。他視之為現代雕塑之始，亦以此為自我創作的參照與起點。要捕捉劉柏村的人體雕塑發展脈絡，必得回溯這個起點，不但是尺寸變化開始成為其作品中的重要元素，還有許多表現手法與觀念思維，都為劉柏村後來的創作，埋下伏筆。
雕塑中「完整」與「不完整」身體的品評，或者說對於後者的讚賞，當然並非晚近之事。文學家里爾克（Rainer Maria Rilke）在其1903年談羅丹的專文，和他稍晚於1908年頌讚古代阿波羅殘軀像（Archaic Torso of Apollo）的詩作中既曾揭示，身體殘塊具有一種勝過完整身體的表現力量。里爾克的詩文，也正涉及了身體殘軀表現的發展脈絡中兩個關鍵的文本。遺留自古代的雕像殘片所別具的審美價值，事實上早在文藝復興時期既受到收藏家與藝術家確認。麗景庭的殘軀像（Torso Belvedere）更是特別為米開朗基羅（Michelangelo）所欣賞，他讚嘆這件殘軀像的完美美感，認為它根本不必進行修復。米開朗基羅本身的創作，也受此作強烈影響。然而，身體殘塊的美學自主性，卻要等到十九世紀下半到二十世紀初之間才真正確立。其中，自我認同於米開朗基羅而亦曾實地探究其雕塑，並且可能也臨摹過麗景庭殘軀像的羅丹，無疑是關鍵人物。二十世紀初，在他影響之下，軀幹或肢體片段，成為當時相當流行的現代雕塑題材。沒頭、沒手或沒腳的人體雕塑，被視為完成的作品，而非「習作」；身體的局部，如頭顱、手臂或手掌、腿或腳，也得以獨立成為雕塑表現主題。而一如布朗庫西的創作，在身體局部的雕塑中進行的純粹造型探索，並且引出了一條趨近抽象的可能路徑。藝術理論家克勞斯（Rosalind Krauss）會認為「毫無疑問地，現代雕塑乃源自於古典的考古學」，並非沒有緣由。
這些「不完整」的肢體，值得關注而劃清它們與現代主義雕塑之別的，乃在於其彼此之間的關係。這些身體殘塊，離散於空間中，像是等待被重組，雖裂解四散，卻又彼此相關。展覽的主題 — 不論是「聚集‧分離」或「形‧離‧現場」— 都直指它們相互之間微妙的聚散離合關係。然而，這些殘缺肢體卻猶如無解的人體拼圖，不但有些缺片，而且，還有些是來自不同的套組，大小比例不一：就如高大的軀體對上不合宜的小頭，或相反的，過大的頭與手，伴隨著相形之下顯得微型的軀幹。它們也因而終究難以拼組復合，粉碎了將之還原為完整人體的天真想像。
尺寸的變化，自此便已是劉柏村重要的表現手法之一。在「不完整」身體系列的創作自述中，劉柏村對於作品大小不厭其煩的詳盡記述，便清楚見證他對尺寸的關注。不只雕塑本身，他也精確掌握並思考展場的「空間容量」（借用劉柏村的用詞），以在其中經營、部署尺寸不一的「不完整」身體。回顧劉柏村的個展命題 — 例如，「形‧離‧現場」（1999）、「渾厚與輕盈之間：穿透空間」（2005）、「鋼鐵架構Ⅰ：身體‧符號與空間情境」（2006）、「空間‧身體與中介質地」（2006）、「鋼鐵架構Ⅱ：自然‧空間與中介質地」（2007）— 可見空間亦為其創作思維中的要項。尺寸大小的感知，除了牽涉到作為比較參數的人類身體之外，也正牽涉到主體和客體之間的空間關係，亦即遠近距離。就如藝術家莫里斯（Robert Morris）所言：「在相對尺寸的感知中，人類身體…… 本身構成尺度衡量的常數…… 尺度的體認是一種比較此常數、某人自我身體尺寸和客體對象而來的作用。在主體和客體之間的空間也包含在如此的比較之中」。
在尺寸大小與空間距離關係的思考上，賈科梅蒂（Alberto Giacometti）無疑是個可作為說明與比較的佳例。賈科梅蒂同樣致力於探索雕像尺寸問題，他作品中放大或縮小的人體，轉借了繪畫中常見的透視法，越遠尺寸越小，也讓他越得以表現整體，就如他提及縮小的頭像表現時所言：為了避免「只看到無數的細節。為了能觀看整體，只好讓模特兒越退越遠。而他越遠，頭也就越小……」。如果說劉柏村「不完整」身體系列中尺寸不一的變化，也與此遠近空間關係的秩序化系統相關，他卻正是借用了這套系統、破壞其中的秩序而將空間矛盾化。依不同比例放大或縮小的身體殘塊，等於把不同層次的近景和遠景壓縮併陳、串接混置，以透視的瓦解構成失卻標準、難以測量、關係渾沌的蒙太奇異境。其中的人體，甚至上下錯位、離地懸空，更強化了「標準化」關係(calibrated relation)的喪失。
黑格爾（Georg W. F. Hegel）曾在其《美學》（Esthétique）中提示：我們從未依其本身去再現身體，而是根據我們對他的概念。理想而完美的身體典範（canon），特別是如此而饒負寓意，就如古希臘比例完美的雕像，或是維特魯威（Vitruvius）以及達文西（Leonardo Da Vinci）作品中身體完美嵌合於飽滿圓形之內的「圓中之人」（Homme dans le cercle）。在劉柏村的作品中，如果說之前的「不完整」身體已為他藉人體來回應現實世界的表現，做了準備，「金剛」健美碩壯的「超級身體」，則呈現了一個更為聚焦的重要轉折，體現了劉柏村對於鋼鐵、對於工業，以及隨之而來的對於人類文明與現代社會的烏托邦想像。催發如此發展與轉變的重要驅力，無疑是2009年劉柏村於東和鋼鐵廠駐廠創作期間對於「工業性」的實際體驗與深刻感知。規模恢弘、氣勢懾人的重工業廠區，在劉柏村眼中壯觀如科幻片場景。「鋼鐵就像是理想世界」，他進一步直言，「所以我做了『金剛』這系列作品」，「金剛」，指涉的即是「現代人慾求的理想世界」。「金剛」的「理想與完美之軀」，因此是「現代性」的「慾望身體」、「烏托邦身體」。劉柏村不僅以形同超人的碩壯輪廓，也常藉宛如巨人的大型尺寸，為其具體賦形。
「巨大」(le gigantesque)，正是德國美學家康德（Emmanuel Kant）所指認而後來的法國哲人馬翰（Louis Marin）和李歐塔（François Lyotard）都曾進一步申論的「壯美崇高」（sublime）的尺寸。巨碩宏偉的大型雕像的創作，歷史久遠。留傳自古埃及、希臘、美洲前哥倫比亞、乃至中國石窟……等等的古代巨型雕像，以宗教為目的，訴求表現神祇超越凡人的渺小與卑微的崇高神性，也求能激發敬畏、引人驚嘆。大尺寸的效能，自古便為人所瞭解，它除了在物理空間中產生影響，左右人們的認知與感受，也在象徵與隱喻層面作用，關係作品的意義。人像發展歷史中，以比例大小表現人物位格高低，在東西方都有其傳統。其中，文藝復興時期瓜里科（Pomponio Guarico）的《論雕塑》（De Scultura，1504），對於雕像尺寸大小的層級以及適合表現之主題人物類別所做的說明，提供了一個有趣的案例：等身大者，表現智者與有德之士；1.5倍等身大小的，可用來雕塑偉大領袖與帝王像；兩倍於等身尺寸者，適於英雄雕像；等身三倍以上的「巨像」（colossi），則保留給至高天神雕像的打造，如宙斯或阿波羅等等。
憑藉這源出剪紙的單純手法，劉柏村在有限空間中營造層次繁複、無限增殖延伸的場景。由「一」而多的發展，像是某種自我分裂式的繁衍分化，而不停再現的景象，亦彷彿「鏡淵」（mise en abyme）的無限鏡像一般，即如鏡廳裡的鏡子無止境地相互映照而造成單一影像無盡分裂、不斷復現的效果。
不論是層層疊疊的這些輕盈流線，或是就多重分化的身形而言，劉柏村的「金剛」虛像，雖然宛如美國雕塑家史密斯（David Smith）一般地在「空間中素描」（drawing in space），但卻超出其所涵蓋的美學範疇。劉柏村其實意不在藉此劃定清晰明朗的輪廓，而是相反的，嘗試構成某種「不明確」形式，在空間中創造變動位移、形影交錯的視像。多重層次的身形與線條、隨之而來的光影變化，營造了大型鋼鐵雕塑罕見的模糊與朦朧詩意。劉柏村不但讓「金剛」「虛化」，甚而也近乎「幻化」了。就如2010在台灣雙年展或是2013年在韓國索瑪（SOMA）美術館展出的作品，尺寸結構巨大龐然，但卻形影幢幢、幻景迷離。不僅如此，在從鋼板切割輪廓線條然後拉展開來構形之際，劉柏村也不時自由地彎折，強化重重身影的微妙動態，像是法國科學家馬黑（Étienne-Jules Marey）的連續攝影中，將連續動作疊合併陳的影像一般。有些作品中，劉柏村甚至組配機械裝置以製造微顫震動，或加入。
在劉柏村以回收的廢棄鋼鐵拼組焊接而成的另一類巨型「金剛」中，龐然現身的是輪廓壯碩、尺寸巨大的人形整體，但鮮明顯露的卻也是紛雜的鋼鐵碎片。如同將日常生活物件誇張放大的手法來創作的美國藝術家歐登伯格（Claes Oldenburg）所言 :「當我們把某物放大時，我們強迫人們觀察它所有的部分」，尺寸放大，讓人的目光若不說直逼的話至少也是無法不注視構成「金剛」身體的種種廢鐵組件。它們經拆卸裁切、軋壓堆擠的回收過程而扭曲變形，卻也變化多端、出乎意料，令人驚訝也引人探奇，形式上富視覺快感與魅惑，但終究與巨碩「金剛」永不毀敗的理想完形概念大異其趣、矛盾相左，而牽引出豐富寓意。
這些廢鐵件，猶如「金剛」的體內組織與臟腑器官，然而卻脆弱地赤裸外露。剝去了表皮的身體樣態，不免令人聯想到揭示人體結構的解剖學的身體範式。人體的內在世界，即便在科技進步的今日，仍舊是個奧秘。這個複雜的小宇宙，常被與身體之外的大世界相喻，如城市、社會、國家或甚至宇宙自然。由費耶（Michel Feher）集結超過40位作者聚焦探討人體歷史的鉅著（Fragments for a History of the Human Body, 1989）中，既見證了「表皮之下」（under the skin）的身體器官和組織，反映或隱喻人類社會運作或宇宙結構的豐富內容。在劉柏村的「金剛」像中，揭去了表皮的身體內在結構，回收自建築、武器、交通工具或日常金屬器物……等等的零散組件，正映照了它們所由來的現代文明與消費社會，顯現了如劉柏村所謂的「工業社會擬像」。大量的物件拼組構成整個身體的表現，也折射出現代生活中人與物之間的關係。劉柏村後來另援引中醫針灸銅人像的身形姿態所發展的新系列，更具體延伸了「小宇宙-大世界相映互喻」的這個概念。就如《城市身體》、《城市變身》（2013）二作，藝術家將身體與城市相比擬，針灸銅人的經絡與血脈，以鋼鐵廢材所組織的紋理來刻畫，譬喻城市的系統與結構。
構成「金剛」身體的廢鐵件，本就承載豐富文化內容。劉柏村讚嘆它們像是由某種強大力量形塑而成的獨特造型奇趣，更藉助其符號性意義，構築他考古式的視角，透過從未來回望現在的方式，來觀看今日世界與現代文明。曾受源出「古典考古」的「不完整」美學啟發的劉柏村，在此，轉向「現代考古」。對他而言，種種回收的廢棄鐵件，形同現代社會遺跡、某種考古的歷史破片。他不僅指稱其為「現代文明的考古物品」、「歷史性的考古記號」，駐廠創作的鋼鐵廠區裡囤積如山的廢鐵，在他眼中，更是形構了「具考古情狀的特殊場域」，矗立了「工業產業世界的金字塔」、「象徵二十世紀人類生活的紀念碑」。其中的大量金屬廢品與棄物堆積的廢墟意象與況味，顯然深深吸引著對於「不完整」向來興味盎然的劉柏村。他感動地言道：「走近，看到我就震撼了」。處處廢鐵，但對他來說卻是「遍地黃金」，「神秘深奧難窺」、「讓人無比想像」、「渴望接近」，置身鋼鐵廠區，猶如身處「古代城堡」、「訊息場域」。面對宏偉壯觀、蘊藏奧秘而引人尋味的「現代遺跡」，劉柏村煥發的詩意想像與深切感性，不禁讓人聯想到情感豐沛的法國浪漫主義文學家夏多布里昂（François-René de Chateaubriand）對羅馬壯偉廢墟的觀想：前來永恆之城的人，「他每次散步必有所得。踩在腳下的石頭會告訴他一些東西；腳下揚起的灰塵，包含著人類的偉大。」
在大型廢鐵「金剛」（就如《男女金剛》，2009；《松島金剛》，2013）中，劉柏村加入了草花盆栽，宛若傾牆頹壁隙縫間植物萌生，而與自然力量之間有著深刻動人對話之廢墟景象的縮影體現。廢墟中萌發的植物，既是破敗荒涼也是不滅生機。英國浪漫詩人雪萊（Percy Bysshe Shelley）曾在其《普羅米修斯獲釋記》（Prometheus Unbound，1820）以動人詩文讚嘆羅馬廢墟裡大自然的旺盛生命力，視之為未來力量；為破敗殘毀的羅馬競技場中居然蔓生四百多種植物留下動人紀錄的英國植物學家狄肯（Richard Deakin），則指明植物「提供我們充滿希望和慰藉的啟示……儘管未能言語，植物卻告訴我們喚活腐敗塵土的重生力量」。劉柏村融合自然元素的巨型廢鐵「金剛」，是否也一樣暗喻自然活力、潛藏「希望和慰藉的啟示」？
雕像尺寸規模的縮減，牽涉到的只是量體的改變？抑或也連帶引發性質的變異？李維-史陀（Claude Lévi-Strauss）曾有如此的觀察：「越小，物體的整體越不引人生畏。因為量縮減，質也隨而顯得單純化」。對於消減了量體規模之後，小型雕塑所可能產生的「質變」，有不少評論與藝術家特別是以對立於「紀念碑」的方式來討論與理解。一如極簡主義藝術家史密斯（Tony Smith）在琢磨自己作品尺寸之際的思考：雕塑若十分巨大，將形同宏偉紀念碑；如果做得微小，將使它僅僅像一個物件。莫里斯（Robert Morris）則曾以「裝飾品」（ornament）反差對比於「紀念碑」，來進行雕塑尺寸的探討，並從他關注的主體、客體與空間三方的關係，指認小型雕塑屬於「私密類型」，「本質上是閉索的、無空間性的、壓縮的且是排外的」，因為觀者必須迫近、近距離觀看，他們的視域因而被限縮。晚近，猶如回應莫里斯對於「裝飾品」和「紀念碑」的對比討論一般地，英國藝術家聖喬治（Paul St George）創作了一系列縮小當代著名巨型雕塑而成的「微型紀念碑」（Minumental，1998），企圖揭露紀念碑如何地仰賴量體規模。馬斯葛瑞夫（David Musgrave）在其專文中，特別比較其中10.5公分微型化的《北方天使》和葛姆雷（Antony Gormley）高達20公尺的巨型人體雕像原作，進一步指明：「宏偉性的元素一旦被移除…… 《微型的北方天使》便具有了裝飾性的魅力」。差異尺寸的相對關係也是劉柏村藝術思維中的重要內容，然而，他縮小「金剛」的創作，卻不僅推演也抗衡、辯證乃至翻轉對小雕像屬性界分的一般定論而溢出其既定格局。
如果說對於也常創作小或微型人像的賈科梅蒂（Alberto Giacometti）而言，「掌握半公分的某種事物，比起誇口製造整個天空，更有機會擁有對宇宙的某種感受」，劉柏村卻並未滿足於這種「一沙一世界」的見微知著。讓他興趣濃厚的，顯然也還在於構築濃縮的微型寰宇，就如同卡爾達（Alexander Calder）的「馬戲團」（Le Cirque），畢卡索（Pablo Picasso）在雪茄盒裡以紙板構成的微小劇場，亦或是後來的查普曼兄弟（Chapman Brothers）以無法計數的微型人物所創作的《地獄》（Hell）或《邪惡的總和》（The Sum of all Evil）一般。
然而，劉柏村雕塑中尺寸大小的比例關係，卻與一般微型化的創作差異有別。在康德所謂的「與其相較，一切都顯得微小」之外，法國學者梅赫迪歐（Florence de Mèredieu）曾提醒，當今藝術中也顯見的是「與其相較，一切都顯得巨大」的尺寸。劉柏村小型「金剛」的創作中至關重要的，正是這種對比關係。有如渾沌天開的生命創始，或如天地崩解的人類末日般的「異境」場景中，乃是藉助於尺寸的對比反差，劉柏村成功表現了大自然原始力量與人類的渺小微弱之間的強烈視覺衝擊、如史詩般震撼的張力。
劉柏村另外也以凸顯個體集結的景象，辯證、翻轉「微小」與「力量」的關係。《異境-初始（一）》中，劉柏村既鋪陳了猶如蜉蟻搬餅的場景，引人感知脆弱個體群集的力量。以小「金剛」為結構單元的「以小集大」的創作手法，尤其讓劉柏村自由地發展對於「集體力量」 — 不論就形式造型或就寓意內容而言 — 的諸般想像。就如《疊羅漢》中沖天的「無盡之柱」，高大堂皇的《金剛門》，特別是宏偉壯觀、氣勢憾人的六米《金剛山》。以微型「金剛」構組規模可觀的大型作品，劉柏村逆向操作了小型雕像常見的小巧、物件化、裝飾性特質，乃至於慣常與之相連結的細膩、可愛、輕盈等等的概念。他不但在其中同時展演個體的渺小脆弱與無盡可能，也再次探索了從「非常小」到得以「極其大」的力量轉化。
劉柏村作品中的身體，不但是多重隱喻的「『混』身」，也是結合「異質性」的「複合體」。形如超人的「金剛」，神格化的身體典型，卻一再顯現本質與位格的變異：或內質破敗、狀如廢墟；或虛空分化、裂解於流形；亦或微型、肉身化，平凡卑微，但又藉「以小集大」，驚人地翻轉格局。劉柏村彷彿一方面提呈「英雄」範式，一方面又同時展演「反英雄」的作用與力量。我們也因而再度得見，劉柏村雕塑中的身體，猶如德國思想家班雅明（Walter Benjamin）所謂的「辯證意象」（dialectical images），充滿對比與矛盾。在巨碩、強壯、宏偉、理想、完形、崇高、不朽、恆常….. 的典型中，劉柏村對之以廢棄、破敗、碎片、殘骸、虛幻、流變、卑微、渺小、脆弱……等等的意象。他在此異質性的併陳中，創發對話，而非進行調和。其中的差異、對照、乃至衝突，彼此的相關又對比、相連又分歧，猶如賦格曲式中相生相對的命題，拉扯出某種微妙的動力學關係。
終究，什麼是巨大？什麼是渺小？什麼是完美？什麼又是殘缺？何為不朽，又何為流變？…… 在劉柏村的雕塑中，似有無法了結的角力。他作品中歷經種種變異的身體，一再鬆動乃至推翻絕對定義，彷彿以某種的辯證循環一再嘗試脫離制約、探索與慣性和與歷史分裂的可能。劉柏村以此作為推演自己藝術的方法，並藉以作為觀照世界的方式。也正是在充滿極大對比、蘊含多重歧義的辯證張力中，劉柏村造就了豐厚強烈的異質感性力量，為人體雕塑注入了獨特的新意。若說一如戲劇理論家阿赫托（Antonin Artaud）所言，「身體是個值得我們重返的戰場」，劉柏村的雕塑，即是以此，強力重返、震撼上場。
The Transfiguration of Po-Chun Liu’s Sculpture
— Issues Begin with Dimensions
Prof. Chun-Lan Liu
Ph.D. of Art History and Archeology, Université Sorbonne- Paris IV
Director, Yo-Chang Art Museum
Professor, Department of Sculpture, National Taiwan University of Arts
Human bodies are the core theme of Po-Chun Liu’s sculpture.
In the history of sculpture, human bodies undoubtedly have been the motif of presentation since old time, and it is naturally a familiar subject for Liu, an academically trained sculptor who had taken solid courses of human body figuration. In the end of the 1980s, Liu, who just le school, won many awards from national, provincial and local levels of competitions with his sculpture of human bodies. In the following years, Liu began his various art experiments, including his exploration of abstract art during his time in Paris. After returning to Taiwan and stayed down for several years, in 1996, Liu began applying iron and steel for his sculpture. He had his first solo exhibition in 1997 and determined to have a “body turn” for his art. Bodies became his subject again which has lasted throughout his art career ever since.
If we accept what Georges Bataille’s ideas that art is an action of ceaseless altering, then the prior goal of art is not forms but the alteration of forms. What alteration Liu has conducted to the human bodies of his sculpture? And what variations have been presented? As a steel sculptor, how does Liu make use of materials from modern industries to rethink or to challenge this motif that has been so common and so familiar to himself and other sculptors?
“ The human bodies in my sculpture have various sizes,” Liu said. Indeed, among his human figures, one sees a few of life size first, then will be impressed by those with “unusual” sizes — unusually huge or small. Some of them are as big as four or five meters high, and some of them are only several centimeters tall. Some projects are human figures of different sizes welded together. The meanings of sizes in sculpture belong to a field worth more investigation. From large outdoor projects to works displayed on desks or shelves, to exquisite micro-carving, the dimensions of sculpture usually depend on the prescribed locations they will be shown.
In terms of their significance, a long time tradition can be described as such: large sculptures are often monumental, heroic and magnificent; small or micro sculptures often are modest, delicate and sophisticated. Nevertheless, these rules don’t always work on Liu’s art.
Liu’s presentation of human bodies commenced from his exploration of complete and incomplete bodies during the early phase of his art career. Furthermore, through the variations of dimensions, conflicting images and concepts interlace, secretly forming a “relativity” deep under the obscure structure and orders. A topographic connection as well as an art semantics are developed, and ideas regarding “relatively” and “relationship” have been rethought again and again.
Complete and Incomplete
Looking back Liu’s presentation of human bodies throughout his art career, we undoubtedly can make out 2009, the year he had the residency in Tung Ho Steel, as the great divide. Before that time Liu’s human bodies were dismembered, limbs and torsos scattering around, compared to the whole bodies of symbolic human figures afterwards. Arms and legs, and decapitated torsos were the fundamental elements in Liu’s early works. In the catalogue of his works during 1997 to 1999, he used the title “An Incomplete Beginning” to introduce the armless torsos by Auguste Rodin, Antoine Bourdelle and Aristide Maillol, as well as the egg-shaped heads by Constantin Brancusi. Liu talked about the “complete autonomy” in the pure aesthetics accomplished through the incomplete bodies. Liu takes the incomplete bodies of the past artists as the beginning of modern sculpture, and also the starting pointing of his creation. In order to catch the context of the artist’s human bodies, we have go back to the origin, where the dimensions became crucial conditions of his concepts and expressive tools that continued to be practiced in his later creation.
Comparison of complete and incomplete human bodies in sculpture, or, in other words, the appreciation of incomplete human bodies, is not a new thing. Writer Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about Auguste Rodin and Archaic Torso of Apollo in his essay and poem in 1903 and 1908 respectively, in which he pointed out that the expressiveness of incomplete bodies overpowered complete bodies. Rilke referred two key texts in the history of representing body fragments. The aesthetic value of remnants from ancient sculpture has been confirmed by art collectors as early as the Renaissance, and Michelangelo especially appreciated the Torso Belvedere, he praised its beauty of perfection and believed that it did not need to be restored. Michelangelo’s art was heavily influenced by Torso Belvedere. Nevertheless, the aesthetic autonomy of body fragments was not established until the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Rodin, whose art was greatly in debt to Michelangelo and probably had duplicated Torso Belvedere as his practice, played a crucial role in the establishment. Rodin’s influence made body fragments a popular theme in sculpture during the beginning of the 20th century. A headless, armless or legless human figure could be deemed as an integral, final sculpture. Body parts, such as heads, arms, palms, legs or feet could be independent projects. Like the work of Brancusi was his probe of pure forms in parts of sculpture, he had deduced a possible path toward abstraction. ere are not without reasons that Rosalind Krauss strongly believes that “modern sculpture was born from classical archaeology”.
Awarded a governmental scholarship and studied in Paris, Liu obviously was inspired by such “incomplete aesthetics”, he tried to have dialogs with this tradition. The deep and poetic charm in his “Incomplete Beginning” comes rather from all kinds of incompleteness of human body structure than from the completeness of incomplete bodies under the gaze of pure and automatic aesthetics. Liu has produced torsos without head or arms or legs in his Untitled (1997), Torso (1999) and Industrial Duplication (1999); a body chopped at the waist of the Lower Half (1997); dismembered head and limbs of the Represented Statues (1997), and a head, hands and feet without torso of the Body and Space (1997)… The artist’s incomplete bodies are not only his focusing on partial areas framed by artistic views out of the author’s selection, but also from truly shattered body parts. Not only the incompleteness is accentuated, but also the broken, fragmentary remains scattered around.
It is noteworthy that the difference between Liu’s art and modernist sculpture lies in the relationship between his incomplete body parts; the remains scattered around appear to be wishing to get reassembled. The titles of Liu’s exhibitions — “Convergence.Divergence” and “Forms.Separating.On Site” — indicate this subtlety contained in their gathering or separation. But they are incomplete human puzzles with pieces missing or mismatched in sizes. Big torsos are given small heads or slim torsos le with big heads and limbs. It’s impossible to put them up together, and our optimistic wishes to restore destroyed.
The variations in sizes are one of the artist’s expressive methods. In his statement for the “incomplete” series of human bodies, he described the dimensions of each project with great trouble. It proves how much he cares about them. Not only the objects from his projects, Liu takes great care of the volume of each exhibition venue before deploying his incomplete body parts with various sizes. Looking back at the themes of his solo exhibitions — “Forms．Separating．On Site” (1999), “Between Concreteness and Buoyancy: Penetrating Space” (2005), “Steel Construction Ι: Body, Signs, and Spatial Expression” (2006), “Space, Body and Intermediary Texture” (2006), “Steel Construction II: Nature, Space, and Intermediary Texture” (2007) — we see how important the space is to Liu’s creation. Our senses of spatial dimensions come from our own bodies as well as the spatial relations between the seeing subjects and seen objects, for example, their distances. It echoes what Robert Morris said, “In the perception of relative size the human body … establishes itself as a constant on that scale… The awareness of scale is a function of the comparison made between that constant, one’s own body size, and the object. Space between the subject and the object is implied in such a comparison.”
Alberto Giacometti’s art provides the best example of thoughts upon spatial dimensions. Giacometti experimented on the sizes of sculpture with great effort, he enlarged or shrank human bodies to create the effects of perspective in painting. The smaller the objects are, the easier it is to represent to whole. When he shrank the head, he was to “avoid focusing on details too much. In order to see the whole, the figures must recede further and further, and the head must be smaller and smaller…”.If Liu considers the sizes of his body parts in the same way of Giacometti’s, then his attempt of making them with incongruous sizes is to destroy the spatial order by causing paradoxes in it. Enlarged or shrunken human parts without the same proportion are equal to compress the depth of planes and to juxtapose, mix or displace objects for the purpose of dissolve the rules of perspective. us a peculiar, unmeasurable field of montage emerges, everything in it has obscure relation with one another, human parts are misplaced, some are even hung in the air; it reveals the loss of the calibrated relation.
Through the variations of sizes, the artist deals not only with the bodies in space but also with linear structure to present “bodies in bodies”, “spaces in bodies” among other layered wrapping manners. In Liu’s Reflection in 1997 and the 7-piece series “Figures” he developed two years later (1999), there were, inside the enlarged human heads made by webs, small torsos, miniature houses, trees, rocks, clouds, frogs and mirrors. The web heads, not unlike cages, were the imposing symbol of humanity and nature, it was the artist’s attempt to investigate the relationship between humans, the society and nature. In addition to deconstruction, Liu also tried to “penetrate” bodies to develop another type of incompleteness for the purpose of revealing the conditions inside and outside human bodies during the advancement of civilization. us the incomplete bodies are the disclosure of symptoms developed in modern society, and respond to the fast changing and disconnected reality.
Perfect and Hollow
However, the very representative of Liu’s body sculptures are not the “incomplete” figures, but his Iron Man series with complete contours, which well-known British sculptor Phillip King recognizes as the most challenging and most creative project of Liu’s. Since 2009, Iron Man has become the most frequent motif in Liu’s art, and although it is called series, it is actually a development of an entire system. Iron Man combines the immortality of Buddhist warriors, the invincible heroes in chivalric tales, and the undefeatable victors from myths or sci-fi. The shapes of Liu’s Iron Men come from bodybuilders; they are strong, muscular, robust and rm. They lift arms upward with great confidence, their herculean bodies represent what the artist stated “ideal and perfect flesh”.
Georg W. F. Hegel had commented in his writing Esthétique that bodies are not represented according to how the bodies really are but our ideas about the bodies. Ideal canons are those bodies carry rich significance, such as the Greek sculpture of perfect proportions or Vitruve or Da Vinci’s “Homme dans le cercle” whose body could be perfectly t the circle. But for Liu, his earlier incompleteness of human bodies was the prelude of his response to the real world, and the super bodies of the robust Iron Men are more about a crucial turning toward the artist’s contemplation upon a Utopia in modern society shaped by the civilization of iron and steel industry. Liu’s turning was facilitated by his residency in Tung Ho Steel in 2009, where he grew a deep understanding of industriality through personal experience. The overwhelming massiveness of the industrial site was no less a scene in sci-fi movies to Liu. “Iron and steel constitute the ideal world,” Liu said, “so I created Iron Man series.” Iron Man symbolizes the world of which people dream, and his desired body of perfection is the body of Utopia craved by modernity. Liu incarnates this body in athletic giant profile.
German esthetician Immanuel Kant recognized the sublime beauty of the gigantic objects, and was echoed by French philosophers Louis Marin and François Lyotard later. Gigantic sculpture has a long history and could be dated back to ancient Egypt, Greece, pre-Columbian America and the stone caves in China… Religious sculptures were to represent the sublime sacredness by dwarfing ordinary people so they would be awed and marveling at them. He effects of gigantic objects have been experienced since ancient times; they influence the physical spaces and people’s perception. In the history of statue making, the proportion of sizes implied the statuses of the characters, which is seen in both the eastern and western culture. During the Renaissance, Pomponio Guarico wrote On Sculpture (1504), analyzing the relations between dimensions and levels of sculpture and suggested suitable sizes for figures belonging to various ranks. Guarico also provided very interesting suggestions: Life-size figures are suitable for wise men or virtuous men, 1.5 times of life-size are suitable for great leaders or emperors, twice of life-size are suitable for heroes, and colossal figures that are more than three times of life-size are for gods like Zeus or Apollo.
Liu’s Iron Men are often larger than life-size, many of them are as tall as 3, 4 or even 5 meters. With the monumentality, the “sublime” dimensions, Liu formulated an ideal world for modern deities; the Iron Men are divine heroes with great power. His recent The Incarnation of Iron Man — The Deity and Transformed Iron Man — The Deity (2013) are best examples.
Liu is very clear about the power and effects of large sizes and makes use the iron and steel; he processes them with modern machines. In the series of Iron Men, Liu applies two pa erns for his fabrication which continues up to today. They induced two directions of series works, one is linear, such as the silhouettes cut by laser from steel panels. Another one is assembled iron scrap. What more important is, in each series, Liu re-originated the meanings of large sculpture, in some occasions he even reversed the ideas of sublime beauty and perfect forms.
First, Liu relies more on industrial machines to produce the linear series in order to subvert conventional ideas about large sculpture. During manufacturing them, the artist emphasized several times that what he was not cutting from papers but solid, heavy steel panels. And it proceeded no more di cult than paper cutting because “the powerful force of industrialization”. And while representing such a powerful force, Liu eliminated the overpowering mass and weight usually related to the monumental sculpture. The Iron Men were hollowed out, and with contours only, the sense of heaviness disappeared, replaced by emptiness. He showing off Iron Men without “internal” did not fit the perfect image of heroism and invincibility, “…they are bluffing,” the artist said.
With “the powerful force”, Liu manipulates his projects with great alertness to present his large groups of Iron Men: from outside toward inside, one after another contour line was cut out, just like cartography. Then the contour lines were stretched out to become groups of figures. From 2-Dimensional to 3-Dimensional, the artist plays ideas of painting in his sculpture, and transforms heavy iron and steel into the lightness of streamlines. The numerous figures hung in the air in Flying Iron Men (2012) are a perfect example of the artist’s endeavors of reversing weightiness into buoyancy. It’s a smart scheme; the author’s clever ideas and maneuvers are seen throughout the procedure of his manufacture as well his final products.
Borrowing the fashion of paper cutting, Liu created effects of complex with seemingly endless reproducing layers in a limited space. Splitting from one to multiple, like cell division, the unstopped self-mirroring is not unlike mise en abyme, the hall of mirrors, one single image is endlessly reflected and repeated.
The contour lines of the grouped Iron Men are owing freely with great dynamics, reminiscent to Gilles Deleuze’s comment on the “folds” in Baroque oil paintings: the curvy, endless and continuous extension seems to grow for its own purposes. It diverted from portraying the objects, brimmed over the framework of representation, and accomplished an unusual expression. The final contours are decided by it, which possesses robust expressiveness, unparalleled, varying, and deducing an abstract aesthetics from the playful streamlines. It deviates from the utopian bodies of the Iron Men, and almost can be seen as a counter-text of another layer, and in it, the bodies of Iron Men are further hollowed out or dissolved.
The overlayered outlines of Liu’s hollowed Iron Men bring to mind David Smith’s “drawing in space”, but cover a more ambitious scope of aesthetics. Liu was not trying to de ne contours, on the contrary, he attempted to make blurring forms move or change, so their shadows interlace in light. Under the changing light and shades, the layered body shapes and curves constituted a perplexing poetry that looked so impossible to be created by iron and steel. The Iron Men are not only hollowed out, they are hallucinating. For example, Liu’s works for the 2010 Taiwan Biennale and SOMA Museum for Art in Korea in 2013 were large, shadowy and illusory. The strings cut and pulled out from steel panels had been bent or folded by the artist to accentuate the subtle dynamics of the layered contours. They reminded us the continuous shots of French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey, each movement was caught and shown. In some projects, Liu installed machines to slightly shake the figures, or glistening LEDs to enhance the hallucinatory effects.
The hollowed, giant Iron Men furthered Liu’s experiments on the relationship between sculpture and space, especially his a empts to bring the audience to participate in the interactions, not just as bystanders. The aforementioned “bodies in bodies”, “space in bodies”, or “penetrated bodies” are more thoroughly embodied in large projects. The hollowed Iron Men become shells to be stuffed, and people stroll through their emptied bodies. The emptied bodies of Iron Men are made into containers, or frames, the real scenes are thus filled by the time and space. us the subjects and objects exchanged their places, and the empty bodies of Iron Men are altered all the time as the infill changes, dissolving the conventional ideas about iron and steel: firm and unchangeable. In the Iron Man Tree, the subjectivity of Iron Men was, further dissolved, becoming a part of nature. People and trees, industrialization/civilization and nature, sometimes integrate into one another, sometimes cross examine one another. Whether the bodies are filled by time and space, or melted into the “artificial nature” or “second nature”, the metamorphosed Iron Men are the evidences of Liu’s energetic “body transformation”
Imperishable and Perishable
In the series of assembled Iron Men of recycled iron and steel, the giant, robust figures reveal their components are nothing but irregular pieces of scrap. American artist Claes Oldenburg, whose works are exaggeratedly enlarged commonplace objects, had said, “When we magnify a thing, we force people to observe every part of it.” We can’t avoid seeing the scraps consisting of the Iron Men even we try not to gaze at them. Dismantled, cut, pressed, or twisted during the recycling procedure, the scraps display unexpected variations, attracting the artist to explore them. The visual allurement of these odd metal pieces is nevertheless so contradictory to the imperishable, idealist image of the Iron Men.
These pieces of scrap are like exposed, brittle entrails of the Iron Men. Or, the Iron Men are like the skinned bodies for anatomy classes. The innate world of human beings is still a mystery despite the progress of technology. It is a small universe, no less complex than the large systems of cities, societies, countries and world. The voluminous publication Fragments for a History of Human Body (1989), compiled by Michel Feher and contributed more than 40 authors, investigated the mechanism of organs and tissues under the skin, and compared them to the operations of human societies or the structures of universe, full with metaphors. The exposed body tissues of Liu’s Iron Men are the recycled parts from buildings, weapons, vehicles or daily metal tools…. they mirror the modern civilization and consumerism, the “simulated image of an industrial society” Liu calls. The bricolage of a large number of objects represents human bodies, refracting the relationship between human beings and products. Later Liu also referred his human figures to the medical mannequins for acupuncture to accentuate the comparison of small universe and big world. The City Bodies (2013) and the Trans figuration of the City (2013) are the artist’s efforts to compare human bodies to the cities with the meridians and acupuncture points carved on the Chinese medical mannequins. The texture of scape and the tissues of the bodies are the context of the cities as well.
The scraps made into bodies of Iron Men carry a lot of background stories. Liu praises their peculiar characteristics shaped by irresistible forces, and borrows their signifying functions to construct his archaeological angles─ He looks at “now” with a view from the future, the world and modern civilization we live in at this moment. Inspired by the “incomplete aesthetics” of the “classical archeology”, Liu comes up with the ideas for “archeology of modern world”. To him, a variety of waste metal pieces are the ruins of modern world, same to the fragments excavated in archaeological pits. He calls them the “archaeological objects of modern civilization”, or “historical marks of archaeology”. While surrounded by mounds of scrap during his residency in Tung Ho, he felt he was in “an unusual occasion of archaeology”. They were the “pyramids of industrialization”, or “monuments of people living in the twentieth century”. Liu is deeply fascinated by the ruins made by large piles of scrap and discarded parts. Moved by the “incompleteness”, Liu recalled, “I was totally overwhelmed when I walked near them.” The waste is treasure to him. A treasure “of mysterious profundity”, “beyond imagination”, “aspires people to approach it.” And the site is “an ancient castle”, “a domain for information and messages”. Being in the fantastic “modern ruins” that contain abstruse secrets, Liu’s poetic ideas have been greatly evoked. Not unlike the thoughts of French romanticist writer François-René de Chateaubriand when he was immersed in the grandeur of Roman ruins, “…when one was in the city of eternity, each time he takes a walk he learns something from the rocks he steps on, or the dust his footsteps kick up, about the greatness of human beings.”
Seeing the ruins in Roman, Babylon, Memphis, Mycenae, Troy, Athens and Carthage among other historical sites…from all the glorious past engraved in the decayed historical remnants, we realized that the monuments and ruins are actually the two sides of one thing. The embodiment, the artist’s feelings and imagination of the scrap, with the giant figures is his interpretation of monuments that have a tradition closely related to large sculpture. The pieces of broken metal, discarded or buried and eventually ended up in Tung Ho, contain memories and meanings waiting to be dug out. Liu collected those historical pieces to make monumental Iron Men, and at the same time, making the bodies of the Iron Men into unsheltered ruins. They are the monuments presenting the author’s aesthetics for ruins; they are carved with the past, storing memories, flashing the ephemeral glory that has faded away into dilapidation quickly.
The discussions of monuments-ruins lead us to the aforementioned mutuality of big and small universe implied by Liu’s Iron Men of scraps. The gigantic and robust Iron Men are the embodiment of the idols of consumerism and industrial production. On the contrary, the organs of the Iron Men, the broken, rusted metal pieces no longer serving any functions, give startling looks that are contradictory to the heroic image of Iron Men. The body remains, despite their muscular contours, reek a rotting smell of vanishing life, connecting the scrap Iron Men with the theme of Vanitas. The Vanitas motifs, the fading prosperity and the ultimate death often symbolized by skulls, remains among other perishing things, have been resumed and represented through contemporary artists and artworks all over the world in questioning the existing conditions of human beings in globalization. Is Liu trying to suggest the shattering dream of Utopia, the failure of industrial civilization, or the corruption of consumerism? Furthermore, is he suggesting how it was has become how it is, and certainly will become how it will be?
Liu added bonsais to his enlarged Iron Men (Iron Man and Iron Woman in 2009, Matsushima Iron Man in 2013). Like the vines we found from the seams and cracks of collapsing walls, the lively natural phenomena give life to the scenes of ruins. Plants in abandoned sites are undying hope for lives. In his Prometheus Unbound (1820), British romanticist poet Percy Bysshe Shelley praised the vigor of nature in Roman ruins with his heart-touching verses, he deemed it the power of future. British botanist Richard Deakin who had recorded more than four hundred species of plants he discovered in the ruins of Roman colosseum, said, “ They… teach us hopeful and soothing lessons… though without speech, they tell of that regeneration power which reanimates the dust of mouldering greatness.” Are the scrap Iron Men that integrated natural elements Liu’s implication of hope and comfort?
The aesthetics of ruins and the angle of future archaeology might come from the artist’s nostalgia, but they are certainly his deep feelings about the overpowering modern civilization, and his latent worries about the living conditions of human beings. Liu’s melancholy is heartfelt, and with the peculiar bodies of his sculpture made by large amount of scrap, he addresses his feelings by tracing the path of our pursuit of technology, production and consumption. They introduce the footprints of civilization, the speed of consumption, the pace of development, as well as the ruins generated by civilization and stick to civilization like its shadows. The bodies of the scrap Iron Men are the same venue of the modern Utopia and modern ruins, the civilization and its opposite side are shown here.
Triviality and Grandeur
And Liu’s miniaturized Iron Men further demonstrated his manipulation of dimensions. During his second residency in Tung Ho in 2013, he developed an unusual experimental system for different ways of expression and different meanings. From steel panels, he cut many Iron Men of 60cm, 45cm, 35cm, 25cm, 20cm, 15cm and 10cm. Then he assembled or grouped them with a free style, and a new direction of his sculpture of small Iron Men has been created.
Is the shrinkage of sculpture about the change of mass or volumes only? Does it induce the change of quality? Claude Lévi-Strauss had observed that, “A shrunk object appears less frightening because quantitatively diminishing leads to qualitative simplification.” The qualitative change of small sculpture has been investigated by many art critics and artists with approaches opposite to the concepts of monuments. Tony Smith has contemplated upon the dimensions of his own sculpture and was convinced that a large sculpture is equal to a monument, and a small sculpture is no more than an object. Robert Morris discussed the sizes of sculpture with ornaments and monuments, and with the relationship between subject, object, and space. Morris identified small sculpture as “intimate mode” for they are “essentially closed, spaceless, compressed and exclusive”. Viewers must approach them and watch them at a short distance, within a shrunken view field. Later British sculptor Paul St George seemed to echo Morris, he manufactured a series of Minumental (1998) that were the miniatures of well-known contemporary gigantic sculptures. St George reveals the fact that the “monumental sculptures rely on their massive size and weight”. David Musgrave compared the 10.5cm miniature of the Angel of the North to Antony Gormley’s original and commented, “Once the element of monumentality is removed… Minumental Angel of the North… has the character of decorative charm.”The relativity of different sizes is the fundamental thinking of Liu, his miniaturized Iron Men are to resist or overturn the existing understanding of small statues, and further induce ideas overbrimming the conventional frames.
Liu does not like to polish his sculpture, thus his Iron Man miniatures don’t attract the audience with delicate craftsmanship or intricate details, but the inherent traits of iron and steel. Given that small sculpture requires close observation, the artist seems to provide a wholeness easily to be reigned by view field, so the viewers will focus on the dynamics carrying out by their poses. The artist also shaped their flesh by bending their burned and softened metal torsos and limbs. Their bodies demonstrate different movements, and their voluptuous bodies seem to ooze sweat.
Liu has always been fascinated by the melting process of iron and steel. In his early sculpture of incomplete bodies, he had tried to pursue a path different to Julio Gonzalez and manufactured human figures with welding. From the making of the Iron Man miniatures, his earlier effort has found a breakthrough. It is not only about the methods of sculpturing but also the investigation and demonstration of the traits of iron and steel. The changes happening during the melting in high temperatures induce the qualitative changes of the small Iron Men, they are made into human figures with flesh. Some of them have dissolved bodies, and their images are constantly in changes. From the immortal, invincible Iron Men with super bodies to the small, fragile and ephemeral flesh not unlike the mortal lives, they demonstrate a return to nature. It is the opposite of the standardized and repetitive duplication of the same figures under the order of mechanical reproduction, and at the same time bringing back the deified Iron Men back to the mundane world.
Liu’s sculpture applying large pieces of slag includes “Altered Territory” series, which made his miniaturized Iron Men look even more trivial and fragile. But the artist arranged a panorama view of spectacularity and magnificence which extended our view field with overwhelming visual effects. The slag from the cold coagulated residual in furnace are irregular, rough and fragmental pieces, looking closely, they present an odd landscape of primary and ruggedness. In the obscurity of the earth, these miniaturized Iron Men are further humbled, no bigger than ants. Altered Territory- Onset I is the scene of the genesis, the birth of man. Altered Territory- Onset II and Face of Mother Earth are the scenes of armageddon and the end of all lives. And the four pieces of Altered Land constitute an expansive landscape. In this project, slag was used as the base, the rugged, pressed earth plates formed by coagulated lava, and one might fall into the abyss from the cracks on the broken surface. Innumerous Iron Man miniatures scattered here and there are in danger, they are on the verge of being killed. From an aerial view, the Iron Men covering all over the earth give out a shocking scene of life and death.
Alberto Giacometti, who also created miniaturized figures, said, “Having an object of half-centimeter under control is more likely to feel the entire universe than bragging about producing the sky.” But Liu is not satisfied with this philosophy of “seeing a world from a grain of sand”, he continues to construct micro universes. Liu’s micro worlds are comparable to Alexander Calder’s Le Cirque, or Pablo Picasso’s tiny cardboard stage in a cigar box, and Chapman Brothers’ innumerous mini figures for Hell and The Sum of All Evil.
But the proportion of sizes in Liu’s work is different to other miniaturized sculpture. After Immanuel Kant’s saying “everything seems to be trivial compared to it”, Florence de Mèredieu reminded us that in today’s art scene, there are more phenomena as “everything seems to be gigantic compared to it.” This contrast is exactly what Liu tries to present in his Iron Man miniatures. Similar to the murky scenes before the formation of universe or the destroyed earth after the end of world that his Altered Territory had created, the stark contrast in dimensions of the Iron Men, as well as the opposition between the primitive, irresistible forces of nature and the humble, feeble existence of man, the artist has successfully generated powerful visual impacts. The dramatic tension is epic.
The visual language of comparison and contrast is also applied by the artist in his medium-sized works, examples are Dreams in Altered Territory, Clouds over Altered Territory and Landscape in Altered Territory… in these projects the Iron Men hold up mountains and forests, they carry the world and shoulder many people. The dramatic juxtaposition of human figures with different sizes makes any rational proportion disappear, and the image of giants of unusual power who are tall enough to reach the sky emerge despite their medium sizes. They are Pangu who opened up the sky and the earth, or Atlas who carries the globe. It is Liu’s reinterpretation of mythology, and through his return to the ancient fancies, the artist investigates our desire for a modern Utopia.
Liu shattered the ideas of triviality and grandeur in his series of Iron Man miniatures once and again. When the small figures are given flesh, their grandeur is dissolved. And beside the large pieces of slag, these Iron Men are not merely “less frightening”, but docile, ordinary, and even trivial, absurdly showing o their bodies that no longer look t. Nevertheless, by exaggerating the contrast in dimensions, small figures might look gigantic and gain totally different characters.
The effects of the gathering of many individuals are also the artist’s intention. He debated and overturned the relationship between smallness and forces. In Altered Territory- Onset I, Liu created a scene as ants moving cake to suggest the possible power of collective actions. Each Iron Man is a unit for the entirety, and the artist’s imagination, from forms to content, grew freely to evoke the collective power. The endless Human Column, the impressive Door of Iron Men, and the six-meter, magnificent Mountain of Iron Men show us examples of large projects assembled by small components. Opposite to other sculptors’ ideas about small statues, Liu reversed their delicacy, ornamentality, cuteness, loveliness or buoyancy. From the triviality and weakness of small individuals, the artist has discovered unlimited possibilities, including transforming them into great forces and considerable grandeur.
Setting out from the concepts of “completeness” and moving toward experimenting and presenting sculpture of incomplete human bodies, Liu broke the wholeness as well as the standards of dimensions to remind us the forever lost integrality of bodies. He represented a shattered, irremediable situation.
Up until today, Liu is still developing his signifying Iron Men and constructing his personal and idiosyncratic “Body Typology”. He explores all the possibilities of Iron Men with various sizes and metaphors in order to challenge the conventional aesthetic ideas about large and small sculpture. In addition to different dimensions, Liu derives differences from the repetition of paradigm to update the structures of his works and to extend new meanings for his art. The folds of different meanings, folded and unfolded, are the evidence of the artist’s sophisticated, sensitive and extensive creation.
Liu’s exploration on incomplete bodies and his idiosyncratic Iron Men display his efforts of reflecting the reality in bodies. With his heartfelt art language, Liu interprets the world with Utopian and Heterotopian scenes, which come from his long term contemplation upon nature, civilization, industrialization, as well as individual and collective human conditions… The artist’s concern of the current reality leads us to the two opposite ends — the genesis of universe and the termination of the world — through his allegorical or mythical sculptures. With “bodies” as his motif, Liu never ceased trying to have dialogs with a bigger world. In his art, the small universes and the big world always refer one another, namely, intercontextuality.
Liu’s human bodies are not only the mixed bodies of multiple metaphors but also the compound of heterogeneity. Iron Men are supermen of deified bodies, whose nature and characters are altered. They might have become decayed or hollowed, broken and dissolved objects in ruins, and although some of them are nothing but li le ordinary figures with almost authentic flesh, when many of them gather together there will be powerful forces to overturn the existing conditions. The artist seems to bring up the paradigm of heroism, but demonstrates his anti-heroism at the same time. From the bodies of Liu’s sculpture, we see the “dialectical images” full of contrast and paradoxes suggested by Walter Benjamin. The artist responds to the stereotypical images of gigantic, tough, grand, ideal, integral, sublime, immortal, stable… with ideas of waste, decay, broken, illusory, dissolved and fragile… The juxtaposition of these contrasts stimulates interactions but not mediation. The differences, opposition and even conflicts between them are related and mutually affecting one another, like the contrapuntal composition of a fugue, and a subtle dynamics has been generated.
After all, what is grand? What is trivial? What is perfect? What is imperfect? What makes eternity? What causes fluctuation?… There are endless debates in Liu’s sculpture. The human bodies in his art have been altered always to shake or overturn the absolute definitions of things. It is like cycles of dialects that try again and again to get away from being conditioned, to explore the possibility of breaking up with habituality and the history. It is Liu’s principle of creation and his approach of knowing the world. From the dramatic contrast, the multiple ambiguities in the dialectical tension, Liu built up strong power of heterogeneity, which is where the unique style of his art comes up. Just like Antonin Artaud had pointed out, “… human body … a war field where it would be worth if we return.” at is exactly how Liu’s sculpture returns to the stage, overwhelmingly.