Do Not Open It

Posted on 8 August 2016 by Guest Blogger

Lu Pingyuan, Do Not Open It, 2016. Liverpool Biennial 2016. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

Lu Pingyuan, Do Not Open It, 2016. Liverpool Biennial 2016. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

Did you know that Liverpool Biennial also takes place in Manchester this year? Chinese artist Lu Pingyuan has created work for both cities, presented at the Chinese Centre for Contemporary Art (CFCCA) and around Liverpool. Here we invite CFCCA's Abi Mitchell to reflect upon the artist's work.  

Passing through the door that recently appeared in the wall of Cains Brewery on Stanhope Street, you would not find yourself inside the old Victorian building it backs on to, but instead in a secret location within the CFCCA gallery in Manchester. However, the doors through which you entered and exited are locked and marked ‘Do Not Open It’ so a passer-by might be wondering how you’ve traversed the two thresholds in the first place.  

This pair of doors are a portal connecting the two cities during Liverpool Biennial 2016, and though this portal may not in reality physically transport you from one place to another, the theoretical link between the two places exists and offers a subversive and magical anchoring of the two distinct but connected places.

Lu Pingyuan is the artist behind the doors, not literally stood behind them of course, but behind their conception. Pingyuan’s work within Liverpool Biennial itself spreads across the two northern cities, presented both at Cains Brewery, Hondo Chinese SupermaketEpic Hotel and Stanhope Street, and the CFCCA gallery in Manchester. The doors thus act as a portal connecting not just two physical spaces but the separate pieces of work.

The doors look plain, they seem unobtrusive and subtle and are installed with no ceremony or identification other than a small brass plaque with a “Do Not Open It” engraving. Then again, the appearance of a nonsensical wooden door in the side of a former brewery’s brick wall may provoke some reaction.

The use of portals occurs throughout the exhibitions within Liverpool Biennial in various forms. Celine Condorelli and Andreas Angelidakis have made physical portals within Cains Brewery and ABC Cinema, but there are sound and light based portals as well, such as Rita McBride's laser beam installation at Toxteth Reservoir. A two sided portal is also the theme behind Pingyuan’s story from the Biennial publication The Two Sided Lake, in which a man emerges out of a lake in a small village in China after diving into one on the other side of the world.

Pingyuan’s work at CFCCA is similar in nature concerning the tracking and capturing of a ghost. A ghost who has not traversed the portal between life and the afterlife, is now to be forever entombed in a jar. The artist has captured the ghost as a rebuke to those British colonisers who erased much of the tangible and intangible histories of the places they visited, and he plans to bring the captured ghost to Shanghai when the exhibition ends. This layering of the real and the unreal, the physical and the ethereal is an interesting connection not just between the works of Lu Pingyuan but the episodic nature of the Biennial as a whole. This way, ‘episodes’ create a physical grouping but also a metaphorical premise for works and themes used throughout the Biennial.

Lu Pingyuan, James Stanley, the Seventh Earl of Derby, CFCCA. Photo: Constantin Brosteanu

Thinking about the real and the unreal side by side and whether or not you can access the portal is perhaps not the issue, and the current political climate of uncertainty within Europe and the UK, perhaps strengthening our links with each other – whether metaphorical or not – is a mode of resilience and support that we can all encourage.

Words by Abi Mitchell, CFCCA.

James Stanley, the Seventh Earl of Derby, runs until 16 October 2016. CFCCA (Manchester) is open 10am–5pm, Tuesday to Sunday, free entry. 

Explore Lu Pingyuan's work throughout in cities during Liverpool Biennial 2016, open daily and free to visit until 16 October.