Legend Made Visible

By Janos Gereben
Published May 19, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO – The ancient Chinese legend of the Red Thread is about the invisible string connecting lovers “born for each other.”

As time passes, they come closer, and eventually find each other, regardless of the physical distance or social and cultural differences between them initially. (In Western culture, Plato has a similar paradigm of the “two halves” of a couple, fitting together, making a whole.)

A remarkably original art installation by Beili Liu, now open at the San Francisco Chinese Culture Center, illustrates and celebrates the fable.

A focal point of the show is “Lure,” which consists of hundreds of disks made from tightly spiraled red thread. Each disk is connected to another, as a couple, and each pair is made from one thread. An airflow prompts the suspended disks to sway and turn gently like lily pads on water, while the red lines on the ground cross and tangle.

Says Liu: “With a little effort, one can discover the ‘connected couples,’ though the swaying disks have their own ‘moves’ and ‘affairs,’ regardless of the lines and connections beneath.”

Born in China, Liu received her master’s of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan; she is now an assistant professor of art at Eastern Michigan University.

Her shows have been seen in the U.S., Europe and China; her work has received praise from Jay Xu, new director of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. The exhibit here is presented jointly by the Chinese Culture Center and the Red Clay Art Lovers Club, in association with the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. It is part of the 2008 San Francisco International Arts Festival.

Besides “Lure,” Liu’s installations include such works as glass globes filled with salt, water and carbon powder – as the water evaporates, white salt crystals create fascinating patterns against black carbon traces. Another work consists of tapered salt bricks with salt crystals in the center serving as the source of light projection.
Liu’s Chinese heritage is reflected in an installation called “Di-Da,” which means the sound of water dripping as well as that of a clock ticking (“drip-drip” and “tic-toc” combined). The work consists of glass tubes filled with salt water and vinyl sheets suspended over a 22-foot span. As salt water drips downward on the vinyl sheets, it leaves behind crystal “footprints” where water evaporates.
Liu’s show is the first in the Chinese Culture Center’s planned Xin Rui (“Fresh and Sharp”) exhibition series, featuring the work of emerging Chinese-American contemporary artists.