Xin Liu’s exhibition at Artpace, entitled At the End of Everything, is the first installment of a series reflecting on oil as the source of life and curse of death. The viewer is lead to the concept that oil is not a passive material to be extracted, but rather a mythological god-like liquid from below that does not grant prosperity without a price.
Upon entering the exhibit, the viewer is immersed in a space cast in amber and black hues. In the center of the gallery, there is a sculptural pyramid that harbors a glass droplet of oil. The droplet is almost embryonic in its suspended form. Oil enables warmth and life while also remaining a source of violence, torment, and death since its discovery. There is a sensation that this is a cold, malevolent object.
The edges of the pyramid are connected by metal joints. It is a shape resonant of a toy pyramid that Liu’s family would collect every year in Karamay, China, as a monument to their city’s livelihood: petroleum production. The name of the city comes from the Uyghur language and translates to “black oil.” It is easy to spot the dark symbolism of this object as a souvenir to be collected by families and children. It is an Egyptian form originally designed as a tomb to house and preserve death. At this scale, the object’s potential energy feels ancient and formidable, like a curse or a warning.
Oil is the only new material that Liu is working with in this exhibit. At the pyramid’s base, a fountain of black oil churns and bubbles. It gives the viewer a sensation that the liquid itself is slowly contaminating us, that it is somehow sentient, and we should respect and know its intention. The artist suggests that oil is an evil god, and climate change is the toll for its diabolical gifts.
The second piece in the exhibit is a silicone casted panel with a black, twisted pelvis. Veins entangle the pelvis, which were generated by 3D animation software. The viewer is invited to witness a vision of motherhood, reproduction, and the terror of birthing, an act that is exploitative by nature, sucking life cells from the mother to create a younger generation.
Liu views At the End of Everything as the beginning of a chapter of work that she predicts will be her focus for the next three years. The artist asks us: when the oil dries up, what happens? What residue is left behind?