It isn’t uncommon to hear someone criticize or dismiss the merits of the art of photography; monumental advancements in digital technology have made capturing crystal-clear, truth-bearing images an option for everyone with access to a camera. But this dismissal is clearly proven unfair when you encounter photographs that unmistakably do what all great artwork has always done – provoke, enlighten, or incite wonder. Furthermore, the myth that good photography is easy or pure chance is likewise battled by those photos composed with an obvious thoughtful, artistic eye. Today, Daily BR!NK is showcasing an artist whose compositions are clearly products of vision and meticulous effort. Li Wei combines photography, performance art, acrobatics, and a bit of humor to create a surrealist style truly unique to the art form. His images are not composited, a fact that reminds us of the danger and possibility in both art and the life it’s presenting.
Your photography portrays scenes that are gravity-defying in the most extraordinary ways. How would you explain your aesthetic and the type of art you produce?
I think I represent a dangerous world. It’s unstable. I wish to break through gravity, to break through the “impossible.”
How is it possible to portray what you do in your images?
I use a wire at my back to lift myself high. I also have a technical crew who helps rent the crane when shooting begins. It’s not very difficult. Sometimes it takes several months. I’ve been shooting digital for one or two years, when I bought a 5D Mark II. Before that, I used Hasselblad. The only manipulation is to remove the wire, using Photoshop.
How and when did you start as an artist and photographer?
I was a performance artist before turning to photography. You can see performance elements in my images. I learned oil painting in school. In 1993 I came to Beijing and stayed with East village artists.
How did you first get the idea to explore the limitations of traditional photography and capture moments that are surreal?
I think it’s from Mirror series. First, I don’t treat photo as photo, I only use photo for recording the process of the performance.
Do you work with a team of artists or photographers to set up or create the photo shoots? Or is it an individual process?
I have a technical crew, who help me with the wire and the crane, also the costumes. I also use models, but mostly are friends. I have my own photographer to shoot these images. We’ve been collaborating for ten years already.
Your work – obviously – is recognized internationally. Oftentimes, great art transcends cultures and national identity. Why do you think your art is unique and celebrated in so many different places?
I think it’s because my works are not ideological, and are not political with Chinese symbols. I use another way of expression.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you are “fascinated by the unstable and dangerous sides of art.” How do you view danger or uncertainty in both life and in your art?
I use danger to express the living situation we’re living in. Everything is unstable, no matter your life, economy or politics.
You live in Beijing; how would you describe the artistic environment of photography there?
It’s becoming more and more interesting, and there are many emerging young photographers now. We also have 798 Art Zone [a section of Beijing often compared to New York’s Greenwich Village]. The artistic environment is good here.
What’s next for you?
I’m planning on a trip now. I will make some new works during the trip. It’s inside China. Also some exhibitions are going to be held in 2011. I’m still interested in making impossible things possible.