Weaving silkworms into artist's palette

Wang Jie
"Liang Shaoji: A Silky Entanglement" features a rich-layered collection of artworks, including immersive installations, videos, photographs and audio.
Wang Jie

In the past three decades, artist Liang Shaoji has been "entangled" with silkworms. In his eyes, silk is the visualization of time and life.

As part of the Power Station of Art Collection Series, "Liang Shaoji: A Silky Entanglement" is perhaps the veteran artist's biggest solo exhibition ever. The retrospective features a rich-layered collection of artworks, including immersive installations, videos, photographs and audio.

Visitors see not only the crucial pieces that highlight the different stages in his career path, but also exclusive artworks specifically created for the PSA and his new crossover pieces in relation to bioscience technology.

Several trays of living silkworms and stacks of mulberry leaves are scattered around one of the exhibition rooms. Visitors can take in the detailed movement of the silkworms, accompanied by a silkworm sound installation. In fact, the work "Listen to the Silkworms/Nature Series No.96" offers the starting point for how to understand Liang's creations.

Serving as more than just Liang's creative medium, the worm is also his friend and mentor, empowering him with both creative motivations and nature-derived inspirations.

Born in Shanghai in 1945, Liang learned soft sculpture from Maryn Varbanov (1932-89), a famous tapestry artist, at the China Academy of Art from 1986 to 1989.

In 1988, after witnessing silkworms working between light and shadow and discovering the scene's ethereal beauty, Liang began using silk – a natural fiber enriched with life – in his artistic creations, which led to his "Nature Series" in a slew of breakthroughs in the 1990s.

The artist now works and lives in Tiantai, Zhejiang Province, as he finds it the perfect place to breed his silkworms.

By breeding silkworms himself, he became well versed in the nature of caterpillars. He would place them on different materials such as wood, bamboo and metal for his works.

On the exhibition's first floor, visitors may be daunted by Liang's gigantic installation with 38 iron chains, titled "Heavy Chain: the Unbearable Lightness of Being."

Hanging down and falling as if from the air, these coarse and heavy chains are covered with soft, light silk, divulging a state of firm belief amid the struggles against destiny.

Weaving silkworms into artist's palette
Courtesy of Liang Shaoji

Liang Shaoji works on the installation "Heavy Chain."

"How to generate tenacity from powerlessness is precisely what Liang Shaoji has been investigating over the past half a century with all his heart and soul," said Hou Hanru, curator of the exhibition. "It is not at all his intention to satisfy a narcissistic complex of retrospection. Rather, he wants to lure every viewer into 'another world' that he incubates through navigating and struggling between being effortless and painstaking, where we can imagine and explore a poetic way of self-salvation."

Like a kaleidoscope, silkworms expand Liang's interpretations beyond art to life itself.

He firmly believes that "silk is a form of returning."

To him, silk amino acid, the most fundamental component of silk, is the origin of life and has healing power.

For example, in "Heavy Clouds," his silkworms have spun a sheath around pieces of fossilized wood dating back to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). While in "Wenchuan Stones," he collected pieces of debris from the ruins of the Wenchuan earthquake-hit area and enfolded them in silk to soothe their "wounds."

He feels silk-spitting is an act that resembles breathing and "cloud forming," which is why "clouds" are a recurring motif in his works.

His creations are filled with an atmosphere of meditation, philosophy and poetry, while illustrating the inherent beauty of silk.

The exhibition also rebuilds Liang's studio and the lab where he works with scientists to study silkworms, showcasing the artist's creativity and the scientists' research.

At the end of the exhibition, the archive section presents four videos that document his creative trajectory over the past several decades, providing another approach to the artist's world of silkworms.

Weaving silkworms into artist's palette
Ti Gong

"The Temple" is a monumental installation that bridges notions of eternity, ritual and redemption across religions and cultures.

Exhibition info

Dates: Through February 20, 2022 (closed on Mondays), 10am-5pm

Venue: Power Station of Art

Address: 678 Miaojiang Road

Special Reports