Beirut Art Fair 2014
As most of you may have figured out by now, Liu Dao has been afflicted with a serious case of the “wanderlusts” ever since our humble beginnings. With no cure in sight, we are taking our first trip to Beirut in September for the 5th edition of Beirut Art Fair! Held at the Beirut International Exhibition Leisure Center (BIEL) from the 18th to the 21st, this exciting fair has become the leading showcase of ME.NA.SA (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia) creativity by providing countries linked through geography, history, language, religion, trade and capital flows, and human connectivity/immigration an internationally respected platform to showcase their talents.
Liu Dao’s exhibition at the Fair will explore a concept that has been stuck in the group’s collective mind for a while now, and which finds particular inspiration in the storied city of Beirut – contemporary Silk Roads. Embedded like hieroglyphs in the material culture recovered by archaeologists and other tomb raiders across historical Eurasia is strong evidence of a transnational visual culture that extended from the shores of the Mediterranean to our beloved Shanghai. Before these nation states even had names, there was the Silk Road. Long since abandoned, this legendary trade system left an imprint on the land in the form of fine jade, celadon, porcelain, finely woven carpets, jewelry, and of course silk, all of which tell a story of reflexive cultural, aesthetic, and economic exchange that is thousands of years old. They say history repeats itself, and we are now witnesses to another iteration of this mythical route.
China’s rapid industrialization has led to a push to increase trade across the overland and maritime routes of the legendary Silk Road. In one unbroken journey, a train can now move laptops and mobile phones (among China’s chief exports) from Chongqing to the logistics hub of Duisburg in Germany. China is a chief player on the global export field, but it is also a massive consumer, as the country has become the world’s biggest market for new cars. The mythos and romance of the Silk Road is rapidly recreated in this glittering push for more, more, more. Cars express a social mobility as much they do literal mobility. A pollution emitting scourge on the environment, they are nevertheless a vehicle for aspirational dreams of hope, personal freedom, and the universal desire for a life free from the immobilizing effect of generational poverty.
Car culture is a relatively new phenomenon in China, where private cars roam the roads in numbers that were unimaginable even a generation ago. The roads of China’s cities continue to team with bicycles, electric scooters, and beaten taxis, but they now mingle with the Porsches, Bentleys, and Maseratis that have become increasingly common. So too has Lebanon witnessed exponential changes, as the glint of hood ornaments becomes a common sight in the wake of the “Lebanese miracle” of economic boom in the last century. The unquenchable desire for private transportation, and thus power, has transformative effects on a city’s public space and its inhabitant’s private lives. In this way, cars are the quintessential metaphor for the social and economic mobility that Liu Dao bears witness to in China, and which has revolutionized and continually reinvented the paths of the ever-flowing trade of goods, religion, and culture that once wound its way along the Silk Road system.
When we imagine contemporary iterations of the Silk Road, a key principle at stake is transnationalism – the fluid, uninterrupted, and reflexive flow of knowledge and ideas across the borders of nation states. If globalization is economic, transnationalism is a social and cultural phenomenon. Artists who collaborate across established borders are themselves representative of a transnational community, undefined by territorial boundaries and free to invent new ways of seeing and being. From our headquarters in the megacity of Shanghai, Liu Dao sees the contemporary Silk Road in the pulsing diodes of LEDs, in minutely detailed paintings, in the surgical lines of the traditional papercut, in filmic video, and in flickering laser projections. Armed with the all-powerful car as metaphor, Liu Dao uses a myriad of vehicles as stages in many of the collective’s artworks. Wild-eyed and foolhardy, a couple races towards global enlightenment in “Something Wild.” Private space has never been so public in the provocative “Backseat Baby.” Beauty and copacetic attitudes come at the risk of public safety for the policewomen in “Just as much as,” while wealth and status ooze with ennui from the grill of the Rolls Royce in “Talbot Lago Tango.”
The transnational aesthetic of the new Silk Roads finds itself expressed in other multimedia ways as well. In “It Girl,” a model reclines like an odalisque from the 1950s, her come-hither pose suggestively inviting observers to do more than just observe – to interact, even make love to the artwork by calling her private number. A tightrope-walking beauty makes her way across the threads of a Persian rug in “Slippery Sacrality,” while a Chinese siren in a brief French maid’s outfit caresses an outsized porcelain vase in “Bell Chamber.”
Marking our first trip to Beirut and our inaugural appearance at one of the art world’s most esteemed fairs, Liu Dao has packed up the Rolls Royces and beasts of burden full of our LED, LCD, and interactive loot. Imagining our voyage across deserts, rivers, and high mountains, traversing the Silk Road from China to the Middle East, Liu Dao sees this opportunity as not only a mission in commercial trade and gain, but as a unique cultural networking opportunity between and within the ME.NA.SA.
In 2013, the 4th edition of the Fair, welcomed 46 galleries from 14 countries and received over 18,000 visitors. In addition to collectors traveling from all over the world to attend, the Beirut Art Fair has recently seen a growing number of collectors based in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, as well as foreign-based Lebanese collectors returning to their home country. We are more than excited to visit the highly esteemed & self-proclaimed cultural and intellectual capitol of the Arab world, and also thrilled to travel to yet another place on the crossroads of Oriental and Occidental collaborative art movement.