Qinmin Liu in her studio
Qinmin Liu in her studio

Qinmin is sitting next to me in her studio—the entire space feels like a gesture that occurs just before someone arrives.

The room is covered in a vibrant red—“this is blood” she says— “the energy of young artists—a new generation”—she was born in China—in Hunan—Mao’s home—Mao is before her time but not before her father’s time—red is a color not entirely free of communism—of the red guards—and so maybe that too is referenced in her use of color, or cannot be helped but associated with her—

Tying her long black hair in a loose bun—she explains the training she underwent in China as a dancer—ten years of Chinese traditional dance—“We had to do 500 battements a day”—she stands up and lifts her leg to her ear to demonstrate the movement—the movement is so easily done—her body is no longer an obstacle—it can fully express, without limits, an idea—that is her aim—to go beyond the vocabulary of dance—to develop her own vocabulary of the body—like Pina Bausch.

The history of China spreads out before me— “every artist’s studio is their home” she says—she is trying to find words that will express a thought—phrases slowly collect—(body mover)—(a conversation with space)—(San Francisco is about technology)—(her work is a performance between technology and art)—(is it too much technology)—(should she leave San Francisco?) This is what each artist in this community is asking themselves—the politics of Studio 17—of our imminent departure from this space— this keeps coming back to what San Francisco is—what it wants to be—the artists’ space is an ecosystem—but the ecosystem inside these walls also extends out into the street and is influenced by the city—so if that influence becomes less diverse—the artists will leave of their own accord—looking for inspiration—for ideas that are being manifested in their surroundings—

I ask Qinmin if there is a movement of the body that characterizes Chinese traditional dance? What I am asking to see is the root of her disciplined structure—what I want to see is the ten years of a culture embedded in her form—how she developed and translated it into a personal modern expression—this is what we must do now—what each artist in this space must do—look at the culture and environment—understand what we are translating—distill it into one movement—an impossible question—Qinmin thinks about the question—she walks over her paper barefooted—the red paint is dry—sits down on her knees and begins to move through her body memory until her hands come to be still— “it is in the hand gesture” she says—and against the red back drop of her studio I photograph the hand gesture—

“I am an unstoppable body.” That is the title of her work—and it strikes me heavily—as I watch the first second of video—her body on the pavement moving—this is it!—an artist will try to express an impossible idea—try to answer a question with whatever medium they have—they will not stop at ‘its impossibility’—Qinmin calls herself a body mover—she develops the 4 a’s—anywhere, anytime, anything, anyone—what do we lose when artists move away—we lose a moment of China in a room of red drawing, a vocabulary with the body—a poet making bulls-eyes out of bowls and poems out of material—a painter talking about wave length and nano particles—so tomorrow I visit another studio—another artist—I move down the halls collecting and documenting this ecosystem as it disappears.

More about Qinmin Liu:

About STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

At the end of June—a community of over 70 artists—at the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District—must leave STUDIO 17 to make way for high-cost working space. This blog will catalog the end of this community above Thrift Town (on Mission &17th Street) and what it means. To understand what is being lost—I will spend the next two months carefully observing how artists work in their space—to give an intimate look at the inside of this community.

More about Alex Nichols:

Read more:

Feature on Alex Nichols and STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space

How the journey began… STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

More Featured Artists:

Lucinda Buxton Martin

Rick D’Elia

Jeffrey Martin


Daniel Lichtenberg

Ellen Rosenthal

Lauren Marchetti

Adam Barry

Lexie Bouwsma

Denise Laws

Andy Vogt

Qinmin Liu

Truong Tran

Kate Nichols

Published on April 6, 2015

Published by Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist and writer who deconstructs the experience of self, tracks the perceived and performs the narrated idea of self through a disarming physicality, rigor and humor. Her current projects utilize video, monologue, performance, and installation, reconstructing the physical boxes, strings and language of constraints.


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