In an antique mirror from old Shanghai, the memoirs of a seductive socialite appears and dissipates phrase by phrase in its glass panels, drawing the viewer into fragments of her glamorous former life. She ruminates in a dreamy, yearning stream of consciousness on the experiences she has had and the aspirations she still clings onto. Her thoughts and feelings appear like words on an open page upon the mirror, scrawled on with the de rigueur red lipstick that she used to spread on her once luscious lips.
A sister piece to "Mademoiselle Mao", in which the same socialite appeared in the mirror adjusting her clothes, "I was their Queen" delves into the mind and worldview of the flighty social butterfly who lived in the glitz and glamour of 1930s Shanghai and danced with Belgian tea monarchs, dined with top Mingxing and Xinhua film producers and smoked delicate cigarettes with the local Mafia kingpins.
The work is created in the overarching theme of its artist Liu Dao’s search for self-reflection and exploration of the human psyche. As viewers are swept into the world of the brooding socialite, they are also at the same time equally conscious of their own reflection in the mirror, upon which the socialite’s musings materialise and fade. One faces the inexorable question of who exactly owns these wisps of memories -do we not also cling to vestiges of a formerly, self-perceived glorious past as well? Do we not also hanker for the life, beauty, youth and happiness that we think we once had, but let slip through our fingers? The reliability of human memory is unavoidably muddled up by our dreams of the past, dissatisfactions with the present and hopes for the future.
"I was their Queen" is an antique-style mirror constructed in the style of old Shanghainese furniture from the shikumen longtang and yangfang longtang periods, in the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Found only in Shanghai, the shikumen, or “stone gate” architecture and its corresponding interior decoration is a blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles built in the foreign concessions the city. Viewers are transported into the era of the roaring twenties and thirties Shanghai -but at the same time reminded of the city’s never-ending quest for modernity through the use of the LED screen embedded in the wooden frame behind the glass. [Loo Ching Ling]