My first meeting with Castor Liu was in 2009. At that point he was attracting wide recognition for his work on Sulphur Diaphragms but remained as a man a mysterious figure. The Tribune wanted a piece on him, but the interview left me shaken in a way that I couldn’t explain, in a way that left me unable to parse my thoughts together. It has now been fifteen years, almost to the day, since that interview, and Liu has passed to his grave in a shroud of condemned obscurity. In some ways his vision was never achieved; the air we breathe is heavier with soot than it was then, the water we drink murkier with algae. Looking back on it, the point in his life that I met him could easily be considered the peak of his career, and for that reason I believe now is the time to re-examine my tapes and view his incredible brain in the wake of everything that has transpired since. It was a cold day in March, raining cats and dogs. I met Liu outside of his house, tucked in a folded patchwork quilt of a neighborhood. “I think generally, you know, my work is misunderstood...Right in here, yes. It’s easy for people to get the wrong idea.” Liu had brought me into his inner sanctum of sorts, an incredible sight for anybody with any scientific knowledge, but glimmeringly inscrutable to me. Gossamer films of experimental membrane rested in pools of oily liquid, shattering the cold light of the ceiling lamps into rainbows on the walls. Seeing it in its full glory made the pictures that came out years afterwards crushing, the lab abandoned, vats rusting, the desk in the corner tipped on its side. Liu continued after a pause; “Even this? It's very romantic, yes, the thought of the mad scientist, you know, in his lab. But so much of my work... no, I would say all of it, it’s all theoretical. Here, come right in here, this is where I work most of the time. Yes, much more comfortable...the lights out there are bad, terrible really. Yes, at this desk. It’s all on paper, the stuff I’m doing. On paper, and in my mind.” Liu had led me into his study. As we continued to talk, the sweeping applications that he envisaged for his invention unfolded like a tropical flower. He showed me designs for prosthetic muscles, heat proof gloves, and massive dirigibles. Papers began to delicately coat every surface of the room, but he finally paused and gave an awkward sort of laugh. “I forgot for a moment, you are a reporter. There are certain things that I talked about, umm, I don’t want some of that stuff out there yet. A lot of it, the things I was mentioning, they’re still in development. What with the stock market, a lot of it is pretty sensitive.” He paused, looked around the study, but not really looking at the study. “I still hope you can write something, just the larger idea of what I was saying, right? I really want this idea to get out there, these ideas. It’s so difficult, when you can’t tell people what it is all really for. It’s like they say, ‘Once all struggle is grasped, miracles can happen’, But right now, people just don’t grasp the struggle, they don’t get it at all. I would love it if you could give people that larger idea, some idea of the struggle.” At the time I admit that that monologue, fitted as it was, just one brick in his sprawling castle in the sky, did not strike me as it does now, listening to it by itself. It was his urgent feeling about what he was doing that drove him to what he did in the next five years. The full details of the lies he told to investors, to other scientists, are disturbing to me. He fooled others with the same expansive language that held me under its spell that afternoon. But it was more than a
facade. I still believe that he was constantly just a dollar away, an hour behind, that close to his rainbow world. Six years after we talked Strader, his alma mater, revoked his PHD just as the lawsuits began. Everything came to a head at once, and he was pulled under and drowned in the typhoon that engulfed him.
Artist Statement: This work was inspired by the pressures that society can instantaneously apply and decry. It is also a study of dialogue, though a rankling one in some ways.