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Xin Liu's Inward Expeditions

March 13, 2024

Nimbly combining the tools of art and science, artist Xin Liu expresses what it means to be human through a diverse body of work that includes frost-coated sculptures, a bubbling fountain of crude oil, and a performance in outer space. At her Artpace San Antonio residency, Liu solders wires and shapes glass for a new sculpture inspired by her hometown of Karamay in northwestern China, a city developed by the Chinese government because of its proximity to oil deposits. Recalling how the oil industry was celebrated in Karamay, Liu created At the End of Everything (2023), a glass droplet of crude oil suspended above a bubbling fountain of the same dark, viscous material. “I wanted to have this motion inside the oil pan giving this sentient existence,” says the artist. “It’s not just a passive material to be extracted. It’s a living being beneath the Earth’s crust and transforming the world above it with terror and lots of violence.” 

As a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the artist developed a robot to carry her extracted wisdom tooth into space on the International Space Station. The research project and performance are documented in Liu’s two-channel video Living Distance (2019–2020), which combines performance documentation with footage of Liu here on Earth and a poetic narration that ruminates on the journey and the transformation it enacts. “We are imagining all these versions of futures—living on another planet or living with AI,” says Liu. “But I feel like, as you’re leaving your current place, some part of yourself dies and sheds away. There is this inevitable death that happens along with growth.” 

In a new body of sculptures exhibited at Pioneer Works in New York City, the artist considers her fears around having her eggs frozen, creating warped, skeletal, frost-covered sculptures that propose a human body transformed through a cryogenic process. Through art, Liu centers the human experience in the face of technologies and developments motivated by efficiency, productivity, and optimization. “In this calibrated and measured world,” says Liu, “art allows beauty and emotions to be part of the experience.”

More information and credits


Director & Producer: Andrea Yu-Chieh Chung. Executive Producer: Tina Kukielski. Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Editor: Yeon Park. Cinematography: Mark Lee Walley, Yunbo Wu. Field Producer: Angela Guerra Walley. Assistant Curator: Jurrell Lewis. Color Correction: Max Blecker. Sound Design & Mix: Collin Blendell. Design & Graphics: Chips. Music: Liquid Memoirs, Musical Mandalas, The Working Bamboo, ZHRØ. Assistant Editor: Michelle Hanks. Artwork & Archival Courtesy: Xin Liu.

Thanks: Glen Andrews, Artpace, Dylan Brainard, Ella Brenzel, Ruth Bushman, Caliente Hot Glass, Vivian Chui, Jingyi Deng, Emma Garcia, Ada Genitempo, Zindy Infante, Domeinic Jimenez, Ruben Luna, Pioneer Works, Riley Robinson

© Art21, Inc. 2024. All rights reserved.

soft music” by ZHRØ is licensed under CC BY 4.0
PianoAmbient” by TheWorkingBamboo is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Featured artworks include:
Cry:0 (2023)
At the end of Everything (2023)
Living Distance (2020)
Orbit Weaver (2018)
The White Stone (2021)
Living Distance | A Performance in Outerspace. by Xin LIU

New York Close Up is made possible with support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, the Henry Nias Foundation, and individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Xin Liu

Xin Liu was born in 1991 in Xinjiang, China, and currently lives and works between New York City, New York and London, United Kingdom. Liu received a BA and BEng from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, in 2013, an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2015, and an MS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2017. An artist and engineer, Liu works in a variety of media and contexts, fusing art and science in sculptures, installations, videos, virtual-reality experiences, and publications, amongst other media. Through her work, the artist considers the personal implications of our technological advancements, constructing narratives that provide space to imagine ourselves in a world of rapidly expanding possibilities.

“There’s something about expedition. It’s very beautiful but, at the same time, it’s a very lonely journey. There is this inevitable death that happens along with the growth that we so desire.”

Xin Liu