If you were going to hashtag an image of artist Xin Liu’s work, some ideas could be #OutterSpace, #Engineer, #MechanicalDevices, #PrecisionInstruments, #Performances, and #Biological.
Liu (b. 1991) currently keeps a studio in London, where she moved a little over a year ago. The space resembles a sci-fi lab, filled with machinery, electronics, and instruments, which together form complex webs of wires and connections. Liu sees herself not only as an artist but also as an engineer. Her creative expressions encompass performances, installations, scientific experiments, and occasional academic papers.
Born and raised in the “oil city” of Karamay, located in the northern Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, in far northwestern China, Liu’s artistic journey began in Beijing after high school. She graduated from Tsinghua University with a major in Measurement, Control Technology, and Instruments. She then ventured to the US, obtaining a Master’s degree in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT Media Lab, following her M.F.A from the Rhode Island School of Design. The unique and expansive landscape of her hometown has indelibly influenced Liu’s memories and likely shaped the thematic core of her subsequent artistic pursuits.
In her own words, she “designs experiences/experiments to take measurements within our personal, social, and technological spaces in a post-metaphysical world: navigating between gravity and homeland, sorrow and the composition of tears, gene sequencing, and astrology.” Space and the universe serve as the overarching backdrop for Liu’s creations, yet her primary focus lies in the delicate equilibrium between humanity’s scientific and technological progress and its spiritual essence.
Her ongoing exhibition encapsulates Liu’s creative journey. “Seedlings and Offsprings” at Pioneer Works features an array of her recent and ongoing projects, including sculptures, videos, virtual reality experiences, and an outdoor installation. Among these, Liu has crafted a series of mixed-media sculptures inspired by biological and medical breakthroughs such as cryonics and egg freezing—each intentionally disrupting natural life cycles. The exhibition also highlights her 2019 work, where she sent her wisdom tooth into outer space and back to Earth, encased within a crystalline robotic sculpture named EBIFA. Additionally, she authored a 900-page book titled , showcasing her complete genome in base pairs. In 2022, Liu unveiled “Atlas,” the first NFT to be generated in space, using an antenna positioned in Hong Kong to capture radio frequencies emitted by decommissioned weather satellites.
During her residency at Silver Arts Project in 4 World Trade Center from 2021 to 2022, Liu’s studio boasted floor-to-ceiling windows, and she has now established her first permanent studio in London after moving from New York. In a recent conversation, we had the opportunity to catch up with Liu and discuss the unique ambiance of a studio that seamlessly merges her artistic and engineering roles.
Tell us about your studio. Where is it, how did you find it, what kind of space is it, etc.?
I never had a proper, long-term studio, only the ones I got from the residency program or temporary sublets. My current studio in London is my first time renting a studio, which I’ve had for almost a year. I relocated with my partner for their new job last summer and decided to get a studio space right away. Partially because studio rental is slightly cheaper in London, and partially because I feel desperately in need of a place of my own in a new country. It is a very small studio, inside a commercial building that was divided into smaller rooms for studio use. It is called VO curation, an art/studio/real state program. They have a few places in central London and mine is located near the tower of London.
What made you choose this particular studio over others?
The program is rather flexible and affordable for artists and you can terminate your lease anytime. I was very new to London and just wanted to have a place as soon as possible at the time. I want the space to be lightweight so that I can experiment and play a bit this year.
I also liked that my studio is on the top floor with a big window, as I was terrified by the dark winter. It turned out to be a great idea. Facing the River Thames, the window presents both the Tower Bridge and the Shard. On sunny days, I have an unbeatable view.
Do you have studio assistants or other team members working with you? What do they do?
I have one assistant who works with me constantly. She graduated from Goldsmith, is very talented, and has been instrumental with all kinds of operations in the studio. From day-to-day emails, admin, and archival upkeeping to occasional support on physical work, her work changes based on my needs. Her background is in curatorial studies, so she can help me with grant applications too.
I work with lots of external collaborators too, as you can tell from my pieces, from sculpture to film to VR to robots. Those are very project-based but I tend to go back to my previous collaborators if possible.
How many hours do you typically spend in the studio, what time of day do you feel most productive, and what activities fill the majority of that time?
If I am in production mode and not traveling, I go to the studio every weekday for 8 to 9 hours. I have a very low cognitive load, meaning I get sucked into whatever I am doing easily. Unless I am feeling off on a particular day, I can work non-stop most of the time. I hate meetings, so all the “talking” is scheduled after 5 p.m.
When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get unstuck?
I turn to reading and writing. I never have enough time to finish my books anyway. While stuck, I try to give myself a break and go back to reading and writing (only on paper).
What is the first thing you do when you walk into your studio (after turning on the lights)?
Fill my Thermos with boiled hot water.
What tool or art supply do you enjoy working with the most, and why? Please send us a snap of it.
No, I don’t have a fav.
Is there anything in your studio that a visitor might find surprising?
My unbeatable view.
What is the fanciest item in your studio? The most humble?
My MSI game computer? Everything else is humble.
How does your studio environment influence the way you work?
I am a goldfish growing to her tank size. When I had a 1,000-square-foot studio in residency programs in Texas or in Beijing, I was making eight-foot and two-floor-tall sculptures. In this current space in London, my sculptures are handheld.
What’s the last museum exhibition or gallery show you saw that really affected you and why?
I enjoyed the Wangechi Mutu’s exhibition in the New Museum. Especially how her 2D and 3D works affect each other. You can tell that she works on a few pieces in parallel and I enjoy this way of working too.
Describe the space in three adjectives.
Bright, Lightweight, Open