Liang Shuo, The Grand Topology (detail), 2015, particleboard, self-adhesive PVC, dimensions variable.

Liang Shuo, The Grand Topology (detail), 2015, particleboard, self-adhesive PVC, dimensions variable.

Liang Shuo

Liang Shuo, The Grand Topology (detail), 2015, particleboard, self-adhesive PVC, dimensions variable.

Liang Shuo’s recent solo show bore an odd name: “Tuo Pu Ou Le Ju.” It’s his own transliteration of the English word topology, devoid of any meaning in Chinese. Following on his earlier shows “Fit” (2010) and “The Story of Beginning” (2014), which turned gallery spaces into a “living room” and a “business incubator,” respectively, this time Liang transformed the space into something analogous to his understanding of the mathematical term topology.

Entering the exhibition hall, viewers were led directly into a gloomy, winding, cave-like structure made of coarse, irregular wooden planks and a jumble of small beams and braces. Exiting the cave, one found oneself in a room largely occupied by a formal, geometric arrangement of tools, leftover construction materials, and cigarette butts on the ground. As they climbed the steps to the second floor, viewers, looking down, could catch sight of the exterior of the cave they’d just passed through, now seen to be a U-shaped construction of what appeared to be artificial rocks decorated with marbled wallpaper parodying traditional Chinese landscape painting and recalling the decorative fabric commonly seen in China and representative of what the artist calls a “scum” aesthetic. Another room on the same floor was filled with leftover scraps of wallpaper, and bills and receipts generated during the process of production and installation were displayed along a path across the floor.

By creating a single directional route through the exhibition, Liang guided us into a self-conscious experience of viewing. Moving from inside to outside the construction—from the chaotic backstage to the neat open area—one became aware of the distinct visual impact of each section. The show’s curator, Bao Dong, put it this way: “Liang aims to create the continuity of space and the reflexivity of viewing. That is to say, the form of exhibiting becomes the exhibit, while the experience of the viewers becomes the view.” This awareness of perspective encouraged us to go beyond a partial perception of the situation, inviting us to conceptualize the integral thread of the exhibition.

As a whole, “Tuo Pu Ou Le Ju” embodied a methodology similar to that of the Western process art of the 1960s, in which objects are not the principal focus but rather clues that trace the work’s making—a kind of performance in itself—as the core concept. Visitors ended up in front of a video screen showing a recording of the whole production/installation of the exhibition. One could see how Liang and his crew experimented with the predetermined rules of the game—the specific spaces, materials, limited budget, and time—gaining a finite freedom from those restrictive controls: gradual connections based on a vague logic, a self-deprecating mockery of the process, as well as a critical response to the gallery space.

Much in the same way that he has translated an English mathematical term into an affected local idiom, Liang has embedded a fragment of Western Conceptual art into a contemporary Chinese context. Liang’s transformation of visual language was not simply a pure appropriation, but also an essential experiment with the Chinese vernacular aesthetics. The title was only the most obvious hint. The show was a trap that Liang set up for his viewers—a meaningful trick.

Qianxi Liu