A small meteorite unexpectedly fallen to earth, but
certainly not one destined to burn out quickly because
he has everything required to continue to shine within
the firmament of contemporary art. This is how the young
Li Wei, "fallen" to Italy from his distant
homeland of China, made his appearance to the public,
first in Milan and then in Como where on 13 November
2004 he inaugurated his first personal show with a performance
at the Marella Project Space.
He seems shy and reserved, but his art is the bearer
of tremendous emotion. Even though the language barrier
made verbal communication impossible, he succeeded in
surprising the numerous members of the public who came
to see him in a performance in which, hanging by a thin
metal wire attached to the balconies in the courtyard
outside the gallery, he remained with his head buried
underground for twenty minutes while his assistant took
the photos that would become the actual work of art.
During that time, which seemed never-ending, one sensed
a mixture of admiration and preoccupation for this small
giant of a man who succeeded in holding all of us with
But what lies behind Li Wei's spectacular performances?
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days
with him and get to know him better after we had met
a couple of times in Peking, and to discover how much
depth and sense there can be in a message that to some
might seem superficial, the dare of a crazy man or a
His photos always immortalize him at the very limits
of the absurd and are stupendous for their originality
that, at times, borders on madness. Reworking at the
computer is generally minimal if not totally non-existent.
What he uses are mirrors, transparent wires, scaffolding
and, above all, tremendous physical stamina that allow
him to create his extravagant performances.
His form of artistic experimentation is a metaphor for
a restless existential state that puts stress on our
physical condition by putting it to the test and going
beyond the limits of human resistance. There seems to
be no plot or story-line behind his works_, what emerges
is only the emotional aspect and behind this, a predominantly
philosophical concept and his aesthetic approach.
Even if he speaks another language that brings with
it symbols and stories from a culture distant from our
own, what he transmits in a very direct manner is the
will to have his own sense of self explode, to demonstrate
to everyone that each of us, if equipped with will power,
can succeed and even defeat the laws of nature and gravity.
He makes existential contradictions, instincts and feelings
physically manifest, entrusting himself to his own strengths
and controlling both body and mind. And it seems that
through this transcendental act, he succeeds in stepping
outside himself in search of something else.
A constant thread runs through his works_: the real
and figurative separation of mind and body. In his "Li
Wei falls to ..." he "falls" head-first,
implanting himself in a car windshield, into the pavement,
in a lake, into ice ... like an ostrich that isn't interested
in knowing anything about what happens around it. Plastic,
rigorous poses that seem comic scenes from disastrous
dives into empty swimming pools.
In his "Love Like Dream" series, however,
he utilizes illusion and reflection created by a mirror
with a round hole into which he sticks his head. Here,
his head seems cut off, to float in air and bounce around
like a ball with which a young girl has fun playing.
This creates a double vision: the statement that love
is a wholly mental sentiment and therefore detached
from any corporeal sense, but at the same time that
this floating with your head in the clouds leaves you
increasingly without your feet on the ground. The head
can travel, trace hyperboles and perform painstaking
work, break through bounds and preconception and distance
itself only to return. We can move while remaining still
if we have the ability to open our minds and look around
us, thus freeing ourselves of that diving suit of our
body to become butterflies. We are not totally bound
by physical limits because we are Thought. It's highly
unlikely that this artist knows Latin, but his message
may very well be summed up in the phrase: "Cogito
In his surrealistic self-portraits, reality and the
absurd mix freely through the illusion of the image
thanks to his mirror that allows them to be both here
and elsewhere simultaneously. For this reason, he asked
me to take him to the Milan cathedral on whose walls
he wanted to fly. When the police stopped us, with his
usual calm, he just smiled and said to me, "Don't
worry, in Tienanmen Square this happens a lot and we
artists just run off. Anyway, this could also be seen
as a performance."
Athlete, acrobat and magician-when I ask him about the
tricks he uses to create the optical illusions in his
photos, he answers, "it's a secret, it's magic."
And that's just fine with me because sometimes it's
nice not having an explanation to leave an aura of mystery
and give free reign to the imagination.
It also seems that Li Wei has almost succeeded in his
"wanting to fly". In his series "Freedegree
over 29th History", he enters and exits from windows
in a Peking skyscraper, suspended over the void and
ready to travel over our heads like an ironic Superman
or modern-day Icarus.
He is a creative artist who has the strength to give
shape to archetypes and ideas that live in his imagination,
waiting to become reality. Thanks to this, he succeeds
in having us get beyond appearances to thrill us and
make us reflect.
The philosophy that emerges from his work shows the
independence of the spiritual values of Chinese artists
and the internal peace of a culture which, thanks to
its wisdom and serenity, is able to treat fundamental
issues and questions with apparent lightness. The embarrassing
image of a cadaver with erect penis covered by a sheet
thus becomes the ironic symbol of a sublime thought
and profound religious concept according to which "when
we die, if we haven't accomplished our goals, something
stops us at the threshold".
There is no question but that Li Wei accomplishes his
goals. In fact, he goes beyond them, leading us to hope,
like children, for the thrill of some additional bit