Xin Liu: Seedlings and Offsprings brings together a selection of recent and ongoing projects by the artist. Comprising sculptures, video, virtual reality, and an outdoor installation, the presentation expands upon Xin’s explorations into themes that include space travel, vitality, mutation, and immortality.
As a way of examining humanity’s innate desire to sustain and to perpetuate its species, Xin has created a new series of mixed-media sculptures inspired by biological and medical innovations such as cryonics and egg freezing, each designed to interfere with natural life cycles. Embedded with a cooling mechanism that causes thin layers of frost to appear on its surface, the works also reference scientists’ research into subglacial lakes in Antarctica and ice-covered oceans deep beneath the surface of moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, where probing devices search for traces of life from ancient and unknown worlds.
Another component of the exhibition is Living Distance (2019-2020), a three-part project comprising a performance conducted in outer space, a two-channel video installation, and a virtual reality experience. Partially realized during Xin’s residency at Pioneer Works, the series centers on the fantastical journey of her wisdom tooth, which traveled aboard the International Space Station before returning to Earth. The artist, together with collaborator Lucia Monge, similarly sent potato seeds into Earth’s lower orbit in March 2020, initiating a series titled Unearthing Futures (2020-ongoing). Conceived as a response to the rise of homogeneity both in agriculture and in politics, Xin and Monge’s project casts potatoes as subjects that call for a diversified imagination of what the future can look like, particularly for space exploration in non-colonial terms.
Jenson Leonard: Workflow marks the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition. The installation centers on a titular film that explores the velocity and momentum of Blackness as it relates to the philosophical concept of acceleration—the notion that the only way out of capitalism is through its intensification.
In Workflow, a spectral Michael Jackson Halloween mask recites a surrealistic quarterly earnings reports. Building on a 2017 essay by artist Aria Dean titled “Notes on Blacceleration,” the short film centers on the ways in which the Black subject grapples with its commodified status within the labor market despite—or, resultant of—its own history as a commodity, stemming back to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Completed during Leonard’s residency at Pioneer Works in 2021, the video utilizes uncanny humor as a mechanism to expose the shared grammars inherent in Afro-pessimism and speculative finance.
Within the exhibition, the film repeats simultaneously across two grids of computer monitors situated on ergonomic desks that flank the gallery, mimicking the workstations that can be found ubiquitously across stock trading floors and financial institutions. Sculptures modeled after computer keyboards and mouses are displayed on the desks, each rendered inoperable by concentric riffs that symbolize the erratic transformations caused by the flows of capital. The appearance of Jackson represents a transmogrification of its own; whereas many have aligned the controversial pop icon’s bleached skin and surgical procedures with Black self-hatred, Leonard positions his bodily modifications as a radical rupture from racial paradigms of being.
Xin Liu: Seedlings and Offsprings is supported in part by VIVE Arts. The exhibition, along with Jenson Leonard: Workflow, are supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.