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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University professor Jawshing Arthur Liou is one of 102 artists selected for the ambitious “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Liou is the only artist from Indiana who will be represented.
“State of the Art” is a sweeping, up-to-the-minute survey of contemporary art, which opens Sept. 13 at the museum in Bentonville, Ark.
Last year, Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and his staff launched an exhaustive national search for fresh and compelling voices in art. He and curator Chad Alligood crossed the country to meet nearly 1,000 artists referred by regional curators and other art insiders.
Liou was one of those artists.
“It was a surprise,” said Liou, the new director of the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. “Out of the blue, they sent you an email: The director of the museum would like to pay you a studio visit.”
One day in February, Bacigalupi arrived at Liou’s studio in the fine arts building. The interview was brief and professional; the digital artist shared a few works, while the museum director filmed the conversation.
As a result of the visit, the museum selected “Kora,” a work that takes its name from the Tibetan Buddhist ritual of walking around a sacred site in a circle.
In an August speech at TEDx in Kansas City, Bacigalupi introduced “Kora” as Liou’s masterwork, describing it as “a profoundly moving spiritual quest to find beauty, consolation and fulfillment.”
“Kora” opens with a vast, panoramic view of a rocky trail in the Himalayas. The camera moves through the breathtaking landscape at a contemplative pace, drawing the viewer into the experience of the pilgrims who circle Tibet’s most sacred mountain, Mount Kailash.
The ultra-high-resolution images are paired with a meditative soundtrack composed by Aaron Travers, an assistant professor at the IU Jacobs School of Music, and Melody Eötvös, who earned a doctorate from IU in 2014.
Liou filmed “Kora” during a monthlong expedition to Tibet in 2011, which was supported by the IU New Frontiers Grant, IU College Arts and Humanities Institute Research Travel Grant, and the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship.
The epic venture required an entire team, consisting of an assistant, a guide, a cook, two drivers, three porters and six yaks.
Liou said of Mount Kailash, “It almost feels like the end of the world.” The remote mountain in Western Tibet is sacred in four religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Bön.
The mountain is considered too holy to climb, but many pilgrims flock to Kailash to perform the kora. Some locals walk the 32-mile kora in a single day. Westerners often need three days because their bodies are not acclimated to the high altitude of 15,000 to 18,000 feet.
Due to the additional demands of filming with a heavy camera, Liou completed his kora in four days.
To create the video’s illusion of slowly moving through space, Liou actually needed to move very quickly while filming. “I was running with the camera, basically,” he said.
“It rained and it hailed and it snowed,” he said. “And it was really hard with that altitude. You felt like you had a big boulder on your chest when you were sleeping.”
The arduous and spiritual kora took Liou around the globe, and in turn, his “Kora” has traveled back around the world in 2014.
The video installation has been featured in the solo exhibition “Sacred Sojourn” at Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan and group shows at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Japan and Seoul Museum of Art in South Korea.
The next stop for “Kora” is Arkansas, as part of the highly anticipated “State of the Art” show.
Liou recently traveled to Crystal Bridges to oversee its installation. The museum purchased a 4K ultra-high-definition projector, constructed a separate room and painted the walls with $1,200 worth of special non-reflective paint. “Kora” will be projected 15 feet wide, fully immersing viewers in the panoramic journey.
The Crystal Bridges exhibition is likely to offer an equally wide perspective on today’s American art.
“The complexity of themes in the work mirrors the diversity and individuality of the makers,” Alligood said. “We hope that this exhibition will inspire new ways to experience contemporary art and the evolving narratives that make up our cultural fabric.”
By the numbers, the show does provide a stark contrast to the norms of an American art scene often dominated by the coasts, large cities and men. In “State of the Art,” each region of the country is equally represented. There are plenty of big ideas from small towns. And by gender, 54 male and 48 female artists were chosen.
Added mystique has been building around “State of the Art” because the full list of participating artists has not been made public. Several blogs have made a sport of combing the Internet and compiling as many names as possible. The Crystal Bridges website has added to the intrigue by releasing names in a trickle, along with descriptions of artwork and several photos of installations in progress.
Of course, the overall effect and importance of “State of the Art” cannot be known until it is revealed to the public in September. But until then, Crystal Bridges is certainly keeping people guessing.
About the artist:
Jawshing Arthur Liou was born in Zhongli, Taiwan, in 1968. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the National Chengchi University and a Master of Fine Arts in photography and electronic intermedia at the University of Florida. Liou has been a professor of digital art at Indiana University since 1999 and became the director of the Hope School of Fine Arts in 2014.
About the museum:
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was founded by the Walton Family Foundation. It opened to the public in 2011. “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now” runs Sept. 13 through Jan. 19.