Speaking with G.E. Liu about her show “Good Hearts” at Goldfinch Gallery might be one of the only conversations that touches on both shoujo anime and French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Liu, an artist based in Taiwan, wants to make work that has “a dark narrative with a cute color palette” drawing from themes of womanhood, sexuality, consumerism and desire—just in time for Valentine’s Day before the show closes on February 24.
Lacan, who studied desire and its effects on human psychology in the 1950s and sixties, is a “supporting force” for Liu’s creative studies. “Desire is a problem without a solution. It’s not just about you buying Gucci or Louis Vuitton, but about the fact that we’ll consume anything we can,” Liu explains. “We consume love. You turn on the radio and it’s just love songs all day long, or reality shows like ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘Love is Blind.’ There was a scholar of Lacan that said ‘Every demand we make is ultimately a demand for love.'”
The title “Good Hearts” comes from the hollowed-out chests of many of Liu’s female figures, where a vacuous heart shape stands in for an anatomical heart. “I want my work to be open to interpretation, but my initial idea was that it’s absurd that people will do anything to make themselves feel better. The heart decoration on the hollow chest doesn’t do the work—I want it to be cynical and funny.”
On the stylistic influence of anime in her figures and aesthetics, Liu recalls: “I grew up watching shoujo anime, anime directed at young female audiences. They’re very cute, with all these flowers and ribbons in the character designs. But the stories are all about how love is the most important thing for a young girl, to the point where your magic powers depend on love. It could just be a form of entertainment, not meant to be taken seriously, and some people have argued that. But there could be a darker side to it, too, and I borrow the visual elements of shoujo to bring up the serious elements with the entertainment.” The figures in her work have pale skin influenced both by clown makeup and by the tradition that women in ancient East Asian royal courts painted their faces white as a symbol of status.
“I made these works on silk meant for traditional Chinese paintings. Someone told me that silk is considered ‘kitsch,’ so working with it made me meditate on the different things that silk represents. It has this rich history of status, but right now it also serves this kitsch-ness,” Liu says. A striking example of this combination of kitsch, technical skill, and social commentary is “Vagineacure” (2023), which shows an alligator-like creature’s maw where female genitalia would be, surrounded by imagery reminiscent of a nail salon. “That piece had a lot of fun gestures to work with—the genitalia became monstrous, but it makes you question, is it because it’s evil, or is it trying to protect you? The half-transparent fabric gave me room to develop my narratives and to add a little bit of a theatrical aspect, since my work is also about what’s sincere and what’s insincere, what’s real and what’s fake, what’s rawness and what’s putting on a good show.”
“G.E. Liu: Good Hearts” is on view at Goldfinch Gallery, 319 North Albany, through February 24.