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The way we eat



Liu Xiaoxian

China, Australia

1963 –

  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Media category
    Materials used
    40 pieces cutlery + 2 chopsticks; porcelain with celadon glaze

    a - punch ladle, 39.5 x 13.5 cm

    b - crumb scoop, 35.8 x 7 cm

    c - fish server knife, 29.4 x 5 cm

    d - fish server fork, 23.9 x 5 cm

    e - soup ladle, 28.5 x 9 cm

    f - asparagus server, 23.9 x 7.8 cm

    g - cake knife, 28 x 5 cm

    h - cake server, 23 x 3.3 cm

    i - gravy ladle, 28.7 x 12 cm

    j - carver, 27 x 2.7 cm

    k - carving fork, 25.5 x 2.8 cm

    l - bread knife

    m - soup spoon, 20.5 x 6.6 cm

    n - dinner knife, 25.3 x 2.5 cm

    o - dinner fork, 19.5 x 3.2 cm

    p - dinner spoon, 20 x 4.3 cm

    q - lunch knife, 23 x 3.5 cm

    r - lunch fork, 15 x 2.7 cm

    s - lunch spoon, 16.3 x 3.6 cm

    t - lunch soup spoon, 15.5 x 3.8 cm

    u - seafood knife, 28 x 5 cm

    v - seafood pick, 19.1 x 2.5 cm

    w - seafood fork, 17.1 x 2.1 cm

    x - butter knife, 20 x 3.7 cm

    y - cheese scoop, 18 x 2.3 cm

    z - pickle fork, 18.4 x 2.2 cm

    aa - game carver, 16.6 x 2.2 cm

    bb - game fork, 16.1 x 1.5 cm

    cc - game server, 16.4 x 2 cm

    dd - ice tongs, 15.5 x 8.2 cm

    ee - bread fork, 12.5 x 5.5 cm

    ff - tea spoon, 13.5 x 3.4 cm

    gg - sugar sifter, 12.5 x 4.5 cm

    hh - oyster fork, 11 x 1 cm

    ii - baby food pusher, 9.5 x 3.5 cm

    jj - mustard spoon, 10.7 x 2 cm

    kk - salt spoon, 9.8 x 2.5 cm

    ll - sugar tongs, 9.5 x 5 cm

    mm - caddy spoon, 9.7 x 2.5 cm

    nn - small spoon, 5.9 x 1.4 cm

    oo - chopstick, 27.8 x 0.9 cm

    pp - chopstick, 27.8 x 0.9 cm

    Purchased with funds donated by the Allimac Trust 2010 in memory of Peter J. Love
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © LIU Xiaoxian

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Liu Xiaoxian

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Liu Xiaoxian first arrived in Australia in 1990, after the Tiananmen incident in China. Having originally trained as an engineer, he gave up this career to start doing photographic works, and encouraged by his artist brother Ah Xian was eventually to become an artist full time.

    While still in China his first exhibition was at the residence of Nicholas Jose the then Australian Cultural Counsellor in Beijing. Also exhibiting were Guan Wei, Ah Xian and Lin Chunyuan (Roberts, p.3). Liu was first invited to Australia in 1990 for the First International Festival of New Music and Visual Arts where he exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. From that time he decided to stay in Australia as many of the Chinese refugees during the period did, gaining his permanent residency in 1995. (Roberts, p.4). His first jobs here were in menial labour, but he was to eventually start to produce photographs again, studying photography at TAFE.

    In 1998 he produced a photographic work 'Mao Buddha and I'. Consisting of 3 portraits, one of which included Liu, it was made up of a further 108,300 small pixel like portraits. In 2000 he produced 'Our Gods' in the same type of format (an edition in the Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection) making a comparison this time between Christianity and Buddhism. In 2000-2001 he produced 'My other lives', in which he took old stereograph format photographs from 1800s Australia and inserted his own image, as a way of placing a Chinese face into the history of an otherwise perceived white Australia.

    From 1999-2000 Liu studied at the Sydney College of the Arts doing a Master of Photomedia, at which time he also had the opportunity to work with different mediums such as clay, glass, wood and bronze. This training was to put him in good stead for works that he was to later create.

    The cutlery comprising 'The way we eat' has been made from moulds of disparate pieces Liu has collected over several years from second-hand shops. Thus the ‘set’ is not a set in the Western sense, since it is mismatched, in terms of patterns and purpose. Moulds from dinnerware silver of traditional classic patterns are placed alongside moulds from EPNS flatware, and stainless steel and department store kitchenware. Liu has noted he chose to do this work in a sculptural form because its impact would be stronger than if expressed in the photographic context.

    Liu Xiaoxian said in his artist statement about this work that :

    'Confucius once wrote: “Eat, drink, man and woman are the main desires of humans.” In The way we eat, I investigate the differences of cutlery used in both the East and West through my observation and research. Focusing on the Victorian era with the most flourishing style in cutlery, I attempt to compare a simple pair of Chinese chopsticks with a wide array of European flatware. Although there is a high regard for the aesthetics and craftsmanship of the Victorian cutlery with Rococo and Baroque decorations, there are many made with an excessive overlap in their functional purposes. The only value of their existence is to serve the purpose of flaunting the extravagance of the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, a pair of chopsticks can cover the multiple purposes that the Western cutlery is to perform. In turn, it is also a metaphoric symbol of traditional Chinese culture and the ancient philosophy that “less is more”. In a time when the world is turning towards globalisation, there is a lot to offer and learn through the interaction of both cultures.'

    This work was made from October 2008-April 2009 in Jingdezhen, the famous Chinese centre of porcelain making. All pieces were moulded and glazed by Liu with celadon being chosen in this set not only for its historic significance but also in the fact that the rococo designs on the set are enhanced by the glaze Hence Liu feels in this context, the merging of glaze to improve pattern is another metaphor associated with the relationship of East and West.

    Claire Roberts, ‘Refraction: The Art of Liu Xiao Xian, in Suzanne Davies (ed.), "Liu Xiaoxian: from East to West", RMIT Gallery, August 2009, pgs 3-8.

    Claire Roberts, ‘In-betweeness: The art of Liu Xiao Xian, "Art and Australia", vol. 47, no 2, Summer 2009

    Asian Art Department, AGNSW, February 2010.

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

    • Claire Roberts, Liu Xiao Xian: from East to West, Melbourne, Aug 2009, cover (colour iilus.), 20-21 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on the cover is a detail of this work.

Other works by Liu Xiaoxian