LEAP: LI Ming: Mediation
Published in LEAP
By: Sasha Zhao
Translated by: JiaJing Liu
Aug 01, 2014
In his video work, Li Ming maintains a self-directed practice as both actor and director; the moving image is, for him, an effective means of expression that can effortlessly transform the creative impulse. Li generally treats concept as secondary to the visual outcome of his mental fermentations, allowing his work to consistently retain a sense of improvisation. But rather than a game that Li has deliberately put into practice, it is more fitting to see this creative context as one in which the artist embarks with the audience on a journey free of restrictions. In “Mediation,” this spontaneity reflects Li’s artistic training. Four years have passed since his last solo exhibition. Now, with the financial support of Antenna Space, Li can produce more concrete and expansive project.
Zoom is the first work that a visitor sees upon entering the gallery, where it acts as a prelude to the entire exhibition. Its simple visual language and awkward style belong to Li’s signature way of working. A slow tracking shot establishes a line that advances without limit. While the camera takes in this scene, Li signals to the viewer that the body exists outside of this visual intermediary——he must enter a series of buildings to physically chase the mechanical zoom of the camera. It does not matter whether the resulting imagery depicts a body searching for its destination or a pure contest of differing fields of vision.
In the central gallery, the eight-channel video installation Movement produces a carefully calculated effect: stepping into a darkened gallery outfitted like a movie theater, the viewer is surrounded by long shots of the artist running. In each channel Li runs forward against the same background of city streets while simultaneously chasing his own image. The synchronization of the eight videos as a single group creates parallel narratives, such the Li continuously chases what is in front of him using different modes of transportation until the end of the video—which is also the beginning—when he gives up any hope of increasing speed yet continues to run without purpose. Each video cycles endlessly, but the starting times of each are scheduled a few seconds apart as a signal to the viewer to look for the beginning and end of the artist’s movement. The relationship between these channels of content is not a logical progression, but rather an endlessly overlapping dislocation that together forms a choral loop.
In Li Ming’s description of the works in “Mediation,”he repeatedly raises the management and control of time: effectively controlling space and time, fighting against unexpected occurrences during the creative process, and relying on outside stimuli during the creation of the work. Li’s attention to the subjects of these videos forms a circular logic by which he is able to solve the problems that arise in the current stage of his practice. In Movement, the viewer sees the Li Ming of his earlier work Nothing Happened Today, but here he has given up acting, existing within the video not as creator, but as pure prop. Not only the recorder of the performance, he is also the tool that cuts between, makes connections across, and otherwise controls time.
Rather than relying on intuition, Disposable Lighter displays a clear vein of social investigation and focused purpose. Li Ming tracked down a factory that manufactures disposable lighters, where he filmed the entire process of production before destroying the lighters(the protagonists) in order to display the aesthetic standards of the work. Li records the process of throwing and exploding 361 lighters, using time to measure the limits of his physical exertion. The work on paper 977 is the physical witness to this act. The gas released by the lighters colors the white paper pink, while the traces of butane explosions leave scar-like impressions on the paper. The physical action of throwing brings excitement and boredom, a taste rather familiar to Li’s viewers. It appears futile, but is in fact an attempt at answering the same set of questions: time, as a medium, is clearly consumed and controlled. Li uses the camera to remind his viewers of the limits of the video format.