The Dreamers

Ziqian Liu

The artist and photographer creates quiet, yet powerful self-portraits that record the symbiotic state between herself, nature and the lens. Here, she talks to The Floristry about beauty and art, as part of our series on pursuing dreams and embracing change.

I never thought I would become engaged in photography; I didn’t believe I could be an artist. But then, a few years ago, I found myself in a very negative state: I did not have a satisfactory job and had just ended a long-term relationship. I went travelling with friends and bought my first camera. On my return, I began taking self-portraits at home, to keep my mind occupied – over time, I felt more and more that taking pictures would calm my heart and make me feel more confident.

“It was those years of ‘dust’ – feeling unstable and insecure, floating like dust – that inspired me to start photography”

It was those years of ‘dust’ – feeling unstable and insecure, floating like dust – that inspired me to start photography. After entering the field, I found myself admiring René Magritte’s work: each piece has a hint of mystery, giving the viewer a lot of space to think, to show us that what we really want is always hidden behind the objects we see. I think his work can ‘speak’ to and interact with the audience. For me, this is the most interesting place to work from as an artist.

Since I usually spend a lot of time – and take all my photos – at home, I like to create a sense of ritual for myself. After getting up, I will open the curtain to observe the world and take care of my plants, spray the leaves, cut branches and change water in flower vases, and then start a new day. In addition, I will arrange my life very regularly. For me, a regular life helps keep me calm. For example, I will shoot my works in the morning, when I have the most energy, and deal with text work in the afternoon.

The rest of the time, I observe everything. It’s a way to stay aware. I have a hobby of constantly adjusting the placement of things in my home, sometimes to minute angles. Just as people’s beauty is constantly changing, the layout of the home will also change. The process of sorting your home soothes the heart, and I also think keeping things fresh stimulates creativity.

My shooting process is always a little different. Sometimes, I start by conceiving the shot in my mind – all the required scenes, props, composition and character posture, ensuring everything combines and matches up – before recording the perfect picture. But most of my photographs are unplanned, shooting whatever comes to mind in the moment.

It is a very physically demanding process for me to bring imaginary images into the real world. I don’t remember how many times I shoot each image because it takes so many attempts to find the right angle, to make sure the mirror reflects exactly what I want. The whole process is difficult, but it is very satisfying to see the final result.

Nowadays, the pace of our life is getting faster and faster, and the surrounding environment is always very noisy. It is easy to ignore the small details around us and the real feelings in our hearts. It is also very rare to have the opportunity to be alone, to allow time to observe the changes… Through dialogue with ourselves, we can understand the truest self in our heart.

Self-portraiture is not only about photographing works, but also about recording the changes in myself and my life, which is very meaningful for me. At the same time, I also want to convey to the audience: being alone is not lonely, it is a state in which to enjoy, but also to discover beauty.

“Mystery is very important, not just in capturing the self, but also in stimulating the curiosity and imagination of the viewer”

The concept of feminine beauty, in my opinion, is very broad and does not have a specific scope. It is like water, which can exist in different forms, in different mediums… Everyone has a different view and expression of beauty; what is seen as ‘good looking’ completely depends on the individual.

Mystery is very important, not just in capturing the self, but also in stimulating the curiosity and imagination of the viewer. It leads the viewer to bring themselves into the work and have a certain resonance with the content. I think the resonance brought by mystery is more precious than just remembering the appearance of a piece of art.

Through becoming familiar with the mirror, I have discovered that I can accept myself more easily. In the past, I was very concerned about my appearance, looking in the mirror to see if there were imperfections I needed to cover up. But by photographing with mirrors and looking at them from different angles, I found that so-called ‘flaws’ are also beautiful, they are just a normal part of my body; I have become more positive, more peaceful. Recently, I just plucked up the courage to face a part of my own body, the wrinkle, in front of the camera. This ‘flaw’ is my favourite body part now.

“I also deeply feel that working with and understanding the nature of plants has encouraged me to embrace both softness and toughness.”

The process of creating these images often feels empowering. I also deeply feel that working with and understanding the nature of plants has encouraged me to embrace both softness and toughness. While the perfect body can indeed be said to be sexy, I think sensuality should not be limited to appearance. In my opinion, allure comes from the heart – the sensual can be found in a person’s true self-attitude.

Once the face appears in an image – no matter whether the features are beautiful or not – the viewer’s attention will automatically go to it, making it easy to ignore the other elements in the work. Expressing emotions through the face can be very precise and direct; I would prefer to do it indirectly. Body parts and plants are not as ‘tagged’ as faces. The main character can be anyone, and each viewer will have a different view of the work due to their different experiences, allowing a unique kind of participation that I find very interesting.

In my work, the image in the mirror represents the idealised world I wish to live in, and the integration with the outside is just a reminder to respect and recognise the imbalance in the real world, but also to adhere to the order and principles of our hearts. The idealised world relates to my deepest desires for symmetry and perfect order, both in the appearance of things and in the patterns of human interaction. It may seem just a dream now, but hopefully it will become a reality in the future – then again, perhaps this is too idealistic. After all, society is not balanced, some imperfections make it real.

I think the most wonderful thing about nature, the plants featured in my works, is that they can grow into completely different shapes – no matter their color, shape or texture – by relying on the same water and air. However, when they wither or dry, they show a different feeling. I am grateful to the rich expression of nature for inspiring my creativity.

Man and nature live in the same world and breathe the same air. They depend on each other and contain each other. I believe that only in the harmonious coexistence between man and nature, and in such a balanced and symbiotic state, can beauty be best embodied. This is why all my works are shot under natural light, in order to reflect the most-natural and real state. I hope to show more beautiful pictures of symbiosis and integration through the creativity endowed by nature.

Photography by Ziqian Liu. Follow the artist @ziqianqian