Wei Li

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Wei Li
"Mirroring: On Coal Hill", Copyright: Li Wei

Article

Reflections

In his home town Beijing the performance artist Li Wei sometimes hovers as a green emblem on a red flag, sometimes stands upside down with his head hidden below paving slabs, and is sometimes face to face with his wife and baby at a dizzying height on a steel scaffold. His mirror-performances are meant to be publicly entertaining but also to mirror the public literally. “What I experience during my performances,” says Li Wei, “inspires me for my following projects.” He thinks of his artistic work as a continual balancing act between his striving for freedom and his concern for preserving the little emotional security still available, – for instance within the family.
Li Wei did not complete his studies at a private arts school in Beijing, since the school had no leanings towards contemporary art. Instead he turned to painting in oils, which he went on with till 1999. He then realised “that only performance art offers a chance to experience an action’s message through one’s own body.” He has now been performing internationally since the year 2000.

Li Wei says about one of his earliest works, which shows him with his whole body painted green in front of a red flag: “´Green Guy Flag´ dates back to 1999. The key thing is the amount of effort needed to reach the flag. This is the force we need to defend our personal scope of freedom. The work is an homage to human resolve, which is what the colour red is here about here. It has nothing to do with the Chinese national colour.”

Li Wei began with the performance series “Mirroring” in 2000. In a mirror about a yard wide he cut a hole for his head. The mirror, propped by his hands, can be seen in many photos documenting the performances in private places but also in many public ones in China and abroad. Long shots show the observers as well as their surroundings mirrored round the performer’s head. Close-ups are more striking in excluding the mirror’s rim and the artist’s body. Li’s head seems to hover, be it in the midst of a crowd of observers, in a gully between buildings, in the sky or on glittering water. “The mirror turns concrete reality into an immaterial image by establishing new relationships between things. The process mirrors that of imagination, since we are always putting single impressions together to form an imaginary reality. Insofar as my head is stuck in the middle of this reflection one of the important functions of contemporary art becomes evident: it is unsettling – like this performance – and questions our everyday habits of perception. We see ourselves and also the surrounding reality anew.”

One of his most effective series of performances has been his “Falls”, begun in 2002. Photos show the artist with his head and chest embedded in the asphalt of a street, the roof of a ruined house or the ice of a lake with his legs pointing up to the sky. “No, these images are not computer montages,” the artist tells us. Sometimes he worked with the help of props in the literal sense of the word. But for him the main thing was physical exertion, the experience – be it brief – of keeping a posture up and of feeling the absurdity of the situation through his own body. “If you picture someone falling to earth from another planet… it would really be no soft landing in the sense of a happy moment, whether the landing were in China or in another part of the world: It’s crazy what we do to one another. And this feeling of having fallen headfirst into something and of having nothing firm under the feet is familiar to everyone. One doesn’t have to fall from another planet to feel it.”

What brings a small family to be on steel girders at a dizzying height above the roofs of a shabby Chinese borough of housing blocks? The photos entitled “A Pause for Humanity” (2005) show the artist with his wife and baby in a situation giving the impression that they are about to leap to their deaths. Only their calm faces are reassuring. Especially the first photo of this performance series, on which Li hovers with his head fastened to one of the steel girders above his family, shows clearly that the situation is also meant to be symbolic and full of pathos, as suggested by the title. Even if details of the scene seem rather surreal, Li manages through these artful interventions to make very precise statements about what it means in the present day – and not only in swiftly changing China – to preserve the ” sanctuary called family”. “There is a feeling of losing a grip on things, an uncertainty about the morrow. It’s a feeling of hanging in the air, of having nothing firm under the feet. And even if the family is my priority and thus a key part of my performances, I wonder: How much are we able to put up with?”


From an interview with the author in April 2006
Author: Ulrike Münter

Bio

Born 1970 in Hubei, southern China

Works

International News Syndication

Production / Performance
Video

How Much Does your Head Weigh

Production / Performance
Video

Dazzling

Production / Performance
Video

Global Village

Production / Performance
Video

Transparent Ecology

Production / Performance
Video

I am on Ice

Production / Performance
Video

BaoBao and I

Production / Performance
Video

Mirror

Production / Performance
Video

Li Wei Falls to Red Square

Production / Performance
Video

Green Guy. Flag

Production / Performance
Video

Solo Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2006 “LI WEI”,10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong, China “LI WEI”, Galeria Espacio Minimo, Madrid, Spain 2005 “Illusory Reality”, Marella Gallery, Bejing, China 2004 “LI WEI”, Marella Gallery, Milan, Italy „LI WEI”, Eastlink Gallery, Shanghai, China

Group Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2006 „China – Between Past and Future“, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany „Ruins“, Gallery One, Wisconsin, USA “Para todos los públicos“, Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, Spain “China here”, MyOwnGallery, Milan, Italy “For all the Audience”, Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, Spain 2005 “Dimension Folly“, Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea, Trento, Italy “The Second Reality”, Piazza of the Berlaymont Building, European Commission, Brussels, Belgum “The Gesture – A Visual Library in Progress”, Macedonian Museum Of Contemporary Art, Centro Produzione Arte, Florence, Italy “New Photographers 2006“, Gettyimages, Cannes, France „Ruins`Flowers”, OX Warehouse, Macau, China “Out Of the Red-2”, Marella Gallery, Milan, Italy 2004 “Between Past and Future- New Photography and Video from China“, ICP, AsiaSociety, New York, USA “Officina Asia”, Galleriad’arte moderna Cesena, Bologna, Italy “Artificial Happiness”, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne, Australia „Pingyao International Photography Show”, Pingyao Photography Festival, Pingyao, China “Between Past and Future”, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, USA 2003 “China Art Now -- Out Of the Red”, FlashArt Museum, Perugia, Italy “I am China-- Chinese Conceptual Photography”, SOHO, Bejing, China “Manufactured Happiness”, Shangri-La Art Space, Bejing, China “The Peripheries Become the Center”, Prag Biennial, Prague, Czechia “DNA”, Visual, Bejing, China 2002 “Flying --Performance, Photography, Video”, Beijing Red Square, Bejing, China “The 2nd ´PingYao´ International Photography”, Ping Yao, ShanXi, China “Red Square - Contemporary Art”, Beijing Red Square, Bejing, China “Mask Vs Face”, Red Gate Gallery, Bejing, China “Bogus---Chinese Conceptual Photography”, Hall of Capital Normal University, Bejing, China 2001 “0℃”, Beijing Bridge Art , Bejing, China “Constructed Reality--Beijing/Hong Kong Conceptual Photography”, Hong Kong Arts Center, Hong Kong, China “Pawn•COM --Site Performance”, Happy Garden Bar, Bejing, China “Scar--Chinese Conceptual Photography”, Exhibition Hall of Capital Normal University, Bejing, China “Site of City -- Four Person Conceptual Photography”, Fun Gallery, Bejing, China 2000 “Open Art Platform”, Performance Art Festival, Bejing, China

The Person´s Hand

Production / Performance
Video

Human Beings-Floating Substance

Production / Performance
Video

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

China - Between Past and Future

A project on contemporary art in China

(24 March 06 - 14 May 06)

Www

Homepage of the Artist