The self-portrait, whether historic or contemporary, whether in the Renaissance era or in the current Digital Age, has been universally used for centuries to depict the likeness of the self. One purpose of the self-portrait has been to reveal and grant access to the essence of an artist’s inner state, and how this inner state is perceived by the artist.
Born in 1990, Ziqian Liu is an independent Chinese photographer based in Shanghai. For Liu, solitude is a source of liberation, cultivating introspection so that one may arrive at the most profound revelation of the self. In her introspective state, Liu creates self-portraits that are in communion with herself and with nature.
Liu uses fruit, botanicals and her body as a site of symbiosis to create self-portraits of ethereal coalescence between nature and the human body. The artist’s use of natural light is intended to convey that the engagement between the body and nature is both natural and authentic. In doing so, Liu undermines the anthropocentric perception that humans are apart from nature as opposed to part of the natural world.
In an interview with Visual Atelier 8, Liu says, “I try to find a kind of balance and symbiosis between man and nature in my works, because only in this kind of state can beauty be most embodied. This is why my work is all shot in natural light, to reflect the most natural, true state.”
The elements of nature and the body are mediated by mirrors and opaque glass, which relate to her additional themes of order, equilibrium and dynamic perspective. Home spaces are so familiar, because these are the spaces in which we live and express our most personal lives. However, the way each person interacts with those ornaments within their home space is idiosyncratic, varying from individual to individual. It is in the privacy of her home that Liu gives life to her theme of perspective, creating a dual image in which the familiarity of the body in a home space is undone by reflection.
“In my work, the image in the mirror represents the idealized world I wish to live in, and the integration with the outside is just a reminder to respect and recognize the imbalance in the real world…” says Liu.
Liu’s series titled Reflection of the Inner World transcends the representation of the ideal world she hopes to live in by capturing her deepest inner world. This series becomes the visual embodiment of the expression, “as above; so below”, as the inner world, which is often hidden, is made visible and tangible through a mirrored image. As a result, we see how this series is not only profoundly personal, but functions to illuminate the unconscious mind.
In her Second Dimension series, Liu makes use of opaque glass as a veil to separate herself from the elements of nature. In this series, the body is enshrouded in enigma as the body of the artist recedes while nature is foregrounded. Throughout this series, the artist appears as if she is gently grasping for nature, revealing a nostalgic longing for a return to the intrinsic closeness that existed between humans and nature, while the opaque glass represents the separateness that currently exists between the two.
We must now contend with a gradual fading from nature, and subsequently from ourselves. Second Dimension poses poignant questions about returning to nature, to the true self, and how this return would manifest.
A sense of mystery emanates as a recurrent characteristic of all Liu’s self-portraits. Her face remains concealed, creating a more abstract image that deviates from the traditional self-portraiture that accentuates facial features. The elusiveness of the photographs is affective insofar as engendering a heightened interaction between the audience and the artist’s work, because mystery has above all been employed as a tool to entice engagement and a deeper dialogue.
Given the current and very urgent ecological crisis, humans have reached a point of reckoning. It is a particular reckoning that requires us to acknowledge that the relationship between humans and nature has always been intimately symbiotic, and thus our treatment of the natural world and the subsequent fate of our species is inevitably intertwined with the rest of the species on Earth. Humankind will not be exempt from experiencing the effects of climate change, hence, Lui’s self-portraits act as a conduit for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Life on Land.
In some of Liu’s self-portraits, nature seems to mimic the body. In others, botanicals are placed as if emerging and blossoming from the body’s skin, the interface of flesh that connects the body to other bodies. Other times, nature and the human body combine to create a new form entirely, something both human and non-human, with all three forms coaxing us to envision an (ideal) world wherein nature and humans coexist harmoniously.
See more of Ziqian Liu’s self-portraits on her website.