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To celebrate Chinese New Year, a study in red and rhubarb

Chinese New Year is celebrated with the color red, and it is also the color of rhubarb tart.

By Cassandra Edlefsen LaschFeasting On Art / February 3, 2011

"Yang, 2008" by Hung Liu features a print of a prior work embedded in cast resin and superimposed with Liu’s signature use of historical Chinese motifs.

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Artist Hung Liu’s artistic production is a process of recollection – a symbolic excavation. Having weathered the re-education of artists vis-a-vis Mao’s Cultural Revolution and immigration to the U.S. in 1984, Hung Liu’s influences are richly transcultural. She is known as one of the very first Chinese artists to study within the US and has since received numerous accolades for her dynamic work. Starting from anonymous photographs (often of unnamed Chinese prostitutes), Liu’s portrayals pair elements of tradition with contemporary critique. Vividly, her use of color challenges her audiences’ emotive links to color. In an interview she gave in 1995, Hung Liu refers to her vibrant use of color, particularly red: “Red is an alarming color. We use red lights to warn people; to tell about danger and to use caution. In China, red is the color of the national flag. It is also the color of revolution; it suggests blood. Red also is used for celebration; it is festive and is used for such things as weddings, the Chinese New Year, and red banners. I like to work with layers of meaning.” (1)

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Quite literally layered, "Yang, 2008," features a print of a prior work embedded in cast resin and superimposed with Liu’s signature use of historical Chinese motifs (here cherry blossoms) and thinned pigment dripped across the surface. Liu’s repetition of the dominant red background in the red of the woman’s crowning flowers and more intensely in her set lips, draws on the color’s innumerable associations. Pairing a recipe to this painting requires a taste both strong and lingering – a rhubarb tart tinged with the spice of ginger and cayenne. Like the wavering paint drips, the straight lines of the recipe’s fresh rhubarb stalks melt into stringy red and pink ribbons. The bittersweet nature of the rhubarb paired with the delicately burnt molasses and speckled sesame seed crust recalls her subject’s strength of character and altogether tragic displacement in time – an otherwise lost history uncovered and commemorated by Hung Liu.

In parallel to Liu’s use of skills steeped in traditional technique and her constant reintroduction of layered meaning to her work, the classic rhubarb tart is brought full circle to its own origins. The rhubarb pie of Western origin meets the plant’s Chinese heritage in its combination with a sesame and buckwheat crust. Stemming from the buckwheat family, rhubarb has been used for centuries as a medicinal plant to cure a wide variety of ailments. It is this curative quality that perhaps best links the recipe with this work as it compliments Hung Liu’s desire to create memorial sites for lost memories – both celebrating and mourning their subject.

(See next page for recipe)

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