Hand-sewn fabric masks, cement, sewing needles
Life starts with a breath, it ends with one.
Measuring, with Beili Liu’s own—17 breaths a minute, for 8 min 46 seconds, it totals 149 breaths. The absence of 149 breaths is what it took, for life to depart from a human being, George Floyd.
How would we try to begin to fathom, and to heal? It starts, perhaps, from a breath of our own. We are connected by this air that we share, for life, and for death. 2020 is a year centered around breathing and the inability of doing so. If 2020 is trying to tell us something, it is that we must learn to care for others, as in the face of this air we share, a breath connects us all.
A Breath was made in response to the collective traumas of 2020’s global pandemic and the precipitating international outrage following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police. 149 hand-sewn, cloth masks, laid out in 15 rows of 10, minus one. 149 absent breaths enumerating the time it took for life to leave Mr. Floyd’s body. The mask stands in for the social contract we make to protect others. It serves as a calamity-filter for our lungs yet, in this case, we can imagine its blockage of breath because of the cement coating that renders it impervious, hard and fragile. Each breath, heavy in its absence, weighted, vulnerable, ghostly. Powerlessly witnessed then, tenderly commemorated now.
Beili Liu, A Breath, 2021. Image courtesy Beili Liu Studio
Beili Liu is a visual artist who creates material-and-process-driven, site-responsive installations. Liu has held solo exhibitions at venues such as the Crow Museum of Asian Art, Hå Gamle Prestegard, Norwegian National Art and Culture Center, Hua Gallery, London, UK, Galerie An Der Pinakothek Der Moderne, Munich, Germany, and the Chinese Culture Foundation, San Francisco. Liu’s work has been showcased in group exhibitions at the National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., New Orleans Museum of Art, Artpace, Hamburg Art Week, Germany, the Kaunas Biennale, Lithuania, among many others.
Liu is a 2016 Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant recipient, and has been designated the 2018 Texas State Artist in 3D medium by the Texas State Legislature. Liu’s work has been featured by Sculpture Magazine, Art in America, New York Times, Washington Post, Art Papers, ArtSlant, The Huffington Post, among many others.