Hung Liu’s artistic production is a process of recollection – a symbolic excavation.  Having weathered the re-education of artists vis-a-vis Mao’s Cultural Revolution and immigration to the U.S. in 1984, Hung Liu’s influences are richly transcultural.  She is known as one of the very first Chinese artists to study within the U.S. and has since received numerous accolades for her dynamic work.  Starting from anonymous photographs (often of unnamed Chinese prostitutes), Liu’s portrayals pair elements of tradition with contemporary critique.  Vividly, her use of colour challenges her audiences’ emotive links to colour.  In an interview she gave in 1995, Hung Liu refers to her vibrant use of colour, particularly red: “Red is an alarming color. We use red lights to warn people; to tell about danger and to use caution.  In China, red is the color of the national flag. It is also the color of revolution; it suggests blood. Red also is used for celebration; it is festive and is used for such things as weddings, the Chinese New Year, and red banners. I like to work with layers of meaning.” (1)

Hung Liu, Yang, 2008

Quite literally layered, Yang, 2008, features a print of a prior work embedded in cast resin and superimposed with Liu’s signature use of historical Chinese motifs (here cherry blossoms) and thinned pigment dripped across the surface.  Liu’s repetition of the dominant red background in the red of the woman’s crowning flowers and more intensely in her set lips, draws on the colour’s innumerable associations.  Pairing a recipe to this painting requires a taste both strong and lingering – a rhubarb tart tinged with the spice of ginger and cayenne.  Like the wavering paint drips, the straight lines of the recipe’s fresh rhubarb stalks melt into stringy red and pink ribbons.  The bittersweet nature of the rhubarb paired with the delicately burnt molasses and speckled sesame seed crust recalls her subject’s strength of character and altogether tragic displacement in time – an otherwise lost history uncovered and commemorated by Hung Liu.

In parallel to Liu’s use of skills steeped in traditional technique and her constant reintroduction of layered meaning to her work, the classic rhubarb tart is brought full circle to its own origins.  The rhubarb pie of Western origin meets the plant’s Chinese heritage in its combination with a sesame and buckwheat crust.  Stemming from the buckwheat family, rhubarb has been used for centuries as a medicinal plant to cure a wide variety of ailments.  It is this curative quality that perhaps best links the recipe with this work as it compliments Hung Liu’s desire to create memorial sites for lost memories – both celebrating and mourning their subject.

{Rhubarb Tart with Burnt Molasses & Sesame Seed Shells}

Burnt molasses and sesame seed shells:

2 tst butter
1 cup sesame seeds
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup buckwheat flakes
1/2 cup molasses
1 tsp cayenne

Begin by roasting the sesame seeds in a hot saucepan.  They should crackle and pop.  Stir quickly until they are browned and fragrant – not burnt.  Turn down the heat to medium.  Add butter, stirring until it melts.  Mix in brown sugar, buckwheat, molasses and cayenne.  Stir constantly as the mixture thickens – between 5-10 minutes.  Spoon enough mixture into each cupcake form to roughly 1/3.  When the mixture is cool enough to touch, yet still malleable, press along sides of the mold.  Bake at 170 C for no more than 10 minutes watching closely to see that the sides do not fall.  The crust will harden fully at room temperature.  Let cool completely before filling.

Rhubarb filling:

150 g rhubarb, chopped
4 TB caster sugar
3 TB tapioca flour
3 TB lemon juice
1 thumb ginger, finely chopped

Mix together in sauce pan and cook until thick.  Pour into hardened shells.
Let set and enjoy!

Cassandra Edlefsen Lasch is a Berlin-based art historian and artist advisor active within international contemporary art production and project realisation. Investigating collaboration is central to her work and all of her recipes are gluten-free.

The Colour Project