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antenna’s up 

antenna, opening this week, is a multimedia installation by Lucy Liu. Jane Kansas talks to her about acting versus art.

Lucy Liu, best known for her work as an actor in films such as Charlie’s Angels and the Kill Bill volumes, will show off another side of her expression—her multimedia art. Her show antenna opens on Sunday at emotion picture gallery. There are connections between visual art and the film world for all involved: emotion picture gallery is owned by Halifax director Thom Fitzgerald. He and Liu met in Thailand while filming his Three Needles—which has its American premiere at the Museum of Modern Art on March 18—and when Fitzgerald opened his gallery he suggested to Liu that she show there. Liu is happy that it’s Fitzgerald hosting antenna. “He’s incredibly visual,” she says of Fitzgerald. “I think he really gets it.” She is asked to say something nasty about him. “I’m sorry,” she says, laughing. “I’ve had only lovely experiences with Thom.”

Liu is on the phone from New York City, where she was born and raised, in Queens. She went to university in New York and Michigan, studying Chinese Language and Culture. Her first show was Unraveling, a show of photographs at Soho’s Cast Iron Gallery in 1993; the show led to a grant for Liu to study in Beijing. Her next show, Catapult, was held in Los Angeles in the late 1990s. Her voice is lower and has more gravel than it does on screen. Liu does not sound like any of the characters she has played—not Ling Woo, or O-Ren Ishii or Alex Munday. She speaks thoughtfully.

“This show is a mix of work from my first two shows,” she says, “with two new pieces added.” Liu is showing seven works here. The chronological range of work will give viewers a chance to track the evolution in her craft. “The work has progressed in the years,” she says. “As you go through life and experience things and travel, you change. You create different energies in your life. You discover new things about yourself and people, and you channel that into your work.” Liu sees a difference between her work as an actor and as a visual artist. “The beauty of art,” she says, “is that you can go and look at a piece and move around in the space, go back and go forward. When you look at something like film or television, you can’t stop or go back. The frames pushes you forward.”

Liu has used photographs in her collages but hasn’t moved to digital photography yet. “I don’t know that I feel secure with it yet,” she says. “There’s something wonderful about development the old fashioned way. And we don’t know enough about the life span of digital media yet. So I’ll stick with the darkroom for now.” Liu is actually moving away from photography. “It’s not really capturing the look of a moment anymore for me. Rather, it’s actually capturing the experience. When I made my collages I was trying to do both at the same time, and now without using photographs I’m forced to capture the image with everything else. It may not look like what the moment was, but it captures the feeling of how it felt.”

Besides photographs, Liu’s work sometimes uses boxes, collected objects, paint, odd shapes and text. “Liu cements her works together,” says Fitzgerald, “like bricks in architecture. Politics and religion ripple under the surface, sometimes emerging in a fragment of a photograph. Voices of protest and conflicting ideologies are woven into a fabric of complicated emotions.”

Liu is known as a fan of outsider art and already owns work by a Canadian, Rene Richard. “It’s extremely tangible,” she says and she’s excited to hear about Nova Scotia’s folk art. She speaks enthusiastically about artists she explores—Matisse, Turner, de Kooning. Jean Michel Basquiat she calls mesmerizing. “There’s a certain rawness in his work I really like.” She says Lucian Freud’s retrospective in LA a few years ago was “amazing and incredible.” She went three times. Asked if she would ever model for Freud, Liu draws in her breath and speaks slowly and forcefully. “In a New York minute,” she says. “That would be beyond the beyond.”

antenna opens at emotion picture gallery, 5182 Bishop on March 5, noon. The show continues Thursday to Sunday, noon to 5pm, until June 30.

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