May 12 – June 18, 2017
‘You want it darker. We kill the flame.’  ——Leonard Cohen
What is behind the stage curtain? The English and Italian titles of the exhibition both imply this essential question. In opera and theatre, this hanging cloth reveals the performance of actors and actresses, separating the real world from the imaginary one. Behind the Curtain unveils the secret and intimate nature of Liang Yuanwei’s work. It is also a tribute to Venice, to the mythical opera house Teatro La Fenice, and to the Carnival of Venice, during which crowds of revellers hiding behind their masks roam alleys and canals of the city. The Chinese title is a direct borrowing from the name of a Peking opera whose intrigue lies in a pair of jade bracelets. The story naturally recurred in the artist’s mind when she was working on her new pieces. It evokes themes of duplicity, love, justice, and betrayal; it is also a paradigm, a representation of the world, a way of looking at things. Peking opera is performed on a bare stage with minimal but highly symbolic props: a table and two chairs----objects that are similarly found in Liang’s installation work Early Spring ------are used to reconfigure multiple scenes and add layers of meaning to the staged acts, This same paradigm exists in traditional Chinese paintings: the subjects remain, but the techniques differ.
In the early 2000s, Liang became known for works bearing the mark of conceptual art of the 1960s, but she eventually reinvented her practice. umustbestrong (2004-2006) is a pivotal piece in her oeuvre that exemplifies her approach to art making. A sort of self-persuasive mantra, the sculpture-poem foretells a practice penetrated by feelings, combing conceptual rigour with an expression of intimacy. In Liang’s art, everything becomes a matter of reminiscence and feelings. When a work takes shape, it manifests a lived moment, a fleeting memory, or a diffusing influence, sometimes inexplicable. It is then a work of exploration----- a way back to the origin----of technique, history, and perception. A process of intense soul searching, Liang’s painting on the canvas develops into an opportunity for her to refocus on the feelings that constitute the nature of human beings.
Her series of paintings from 2015(2015 no.1 to 2016 no.16) is significant to this introspection. Recollecting her childhood memory of a dress, which was then rendered as a motif in the series, she associated its shape, when creased, with its texture and sound. The evoking of mixed sensations of an object that has already disappeared can be seen as a peculiar sort of synesthesia, although it is not a neurological condition at all. Liang painted this specific object again and again, and it diminished on sixteen canvases in a process of digression and research on the scale. The act of painting allowed her to, at a personal level, reconstruct her memory and, of course, to materialise it. She stopped making further variation when the subject matter was exhausted and when she was fully satisfied. The 2015 series is thus marked by many personal, intimate touches; at the same time, it shows traces of the artist’s technical researches.
Liang has devoted herself to studying the technique of fresco---particularly the early Renaissance art (c.1420—1500)--- and traditional Chinese paintings---especially those of the Song(960—1279) and Yuan (1279—1368)dynasties. As the mind of Liang, the studio where she works is full of books and reference materials. Among canvases are books, some opened, showing details of famous paintings such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, and Fra Angelico’s fresco in the San Marco Convent. Noli Me Tangere, alongside reproductions of landscape paintings by Qian Xuan and Wu Zhen from the Yuan Dynasty. The return to ancestral art, as in Liang’s practice, is born out of a need to better understand its evolution from the past to the present. The canvas has been transformed in both the repetitive system of the construction of space and in the gesture: it turns out to be more like a piece of writing or a code. The epigraph of this text---an excerpt from one of Leonard Cohen’s latest songs ‘You Want It Darker’-----reflects, in part, this change. These are words that live in Liang’s newest Paintings created in 2017. The pattern becomes darker and wider, further exploring the depths of the human soul.
The oeuvre of Liang, with abundant references drawn from different sources, questions the systems of repetition and reproducibility through a motif of her choice. It is primarily concerned with humanity, with the fundamentals that constitute it: impressions, perceptions, and feelings.
Loïc Le Gall
Curator of Behind the Curtain
 Leonard Cohen, ‘You Want It Darker’ in You Want It Darker, Columbia, 2016.CD.