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February 15, 2006

Impossible Art


I've just spent about 20 minutes smiling and staring wide-eyed at these photographs of performance artist Li Wei. You must take a look!

Update: Though Li Wei used to be a painter, he gave that up a few years back for performance art. These are not retouched photos. Each performance takes place in front of a live audience (I added a photo below to demonstrate). His work is also conceptual, which can be problematic; the Chinese authorities often don't like his kind of concepts and have shut him down on occasion.

Update 2: Li Wei's site has inexplicably gone down.

(via: bohemian rhapsody in blue)





The bottom photo was taken by a tourist who happened upon one of Li Wei's (very cold) performances.

February 15, 2006 | Permalink


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» The impossible photos of Li Wei from Boing Boing
Robyn Miller says: "I've just spent about 20 minutes smiling and staring wide-eyed at these photographs of performance artist Li Wei. You must take a look!" Link... [Read More]

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Tracked on Feb 20, 2006 7:58:55 PM


The bottom one reminds me of Katamari Damashi...

Posted by: Adam Wilmer | Feb 15, 2006 4:45:40 PM

Wow! I am afraid of heights...I guess he isn't! ;-)

Posted by: Mr. Condo | Feb 15, 2006 5:03:39 PM


That's a stretch of the word as in "clip art".

more so a portfolio preamble for commercial advertising gigs.

Posted by: BG | Feb 15, 2006 5:11:49 PM

it's moving
it's engaging
looking at these pictures and feeling viscerally what it would be like to be in those positions and the various trajectories that are implied is an esthetic experience
in other words
it's art to me
i don't insist that others call or do not call it art however

Posted by: tbell | Feb 15, 2006 5:28:33 PM

Those photos don't leave a lot of leeway.

Posted by: Gaijin Biker | Feb 15, 2006 6:08:58 PM

Using the modern digital technologies plus the appropriate software (e.g. Photoshop), one can draws whatever kind of fantastic pictures he wanna!

Posted by: w.y. | Feb 15, 2006 6:58:56 PM

Whoa, I think we're getting too hung up on the "how" and forgetting art is all about the "why." Remember it doesn't matter if an artist uses paint, clay, canvass or computer... the definition of art is the creation of beautiful or significant things. Its creative and shows an imaginative eye... it encourages conversation and discussion. And frankly, regardless of its medium, I say these photos do just that.

Posted by: Adam Wilmer | Feb 15, 2006 7:06:55 PM

Art? I don't think so. Not even terribly wonderful examples of what Photoshop can do. Compare it with the work of Storm Thorgeson and Hypgnosis in the 70s - before computers let alone Photoshop. They were UK album sleeve designers. Yes, designers, not artists. Different.

You guys ought to get out more. Look around, round, round...

Posted by: chris g | Feb 15, 2006 11:08:38 PM

I think that as long as it is pleasing to certain people, it's art. after all, one man's art is another's garbage. or table mat, or rock poster or album cover.

I like it, so i think it's art. so even if an album cover was made by a "designer", i'd still call it art, and those designers artists.

Posted by: Richie | Feb 15, 2006 11:37:42 PM

Are they Photoshoped? They look to me to be more choreographed. Maybe a wire or something in the building shot. Whatever the process, they are interesting. Art doesn't always have to be profound.

Posted by: Stoneface | Feb 15, 2006 11:47:00 PM


Posted by: Manjusha | Feb 16, 2006 6:05:32 AM

The Tate Modern in London proves that *ANYTHING* can be called "art". Hang a dead horse and call it "art". Take a crap into a large glass container and call it "art". Take a bunch of used condoms and throw them all over a bed and call it "art". Ad nauseum.

I consider these pictures to be way more "artful" than most of the crap I see at so-called "art galleries" these days.

Unfortunately, something seems to have happened at Li Wei's website, and none of the pictures are accessible anymore -- everything gives you a 403 error. The top-level web page has only text visible, and all graphics are gone.

I'm guessing that his web hosting company decided that he'd used too much bandwidth and effectively neutered it.

Posted by: Brad Knowles | Feb 16, 2006 6:31:26 AM

Of course it's art. If the creator says it is, or if it's placed in an artistic context, which this obviously is (as in, you have photos which a bunch of people are regarding as art and discussing as such), then it's art.

Doesn't mean it's good art of course. The same goes for all the conceptual, modern art that gets shown in places like the Tate modern, or at the Turner prize. Just because you don't like it, or think it's unsuccessful, doesn't mean it isn't art, it just means it's BAD art.

If you didn't like a sandwich, or a book, you wouldn't say that that thing isn't a sandwich or a book. You would just say it's a bad sandwich, or a bad book.

Don't see why art should be any different.

I for one like these quite a lot. And I think knowing how they're done would spoil it quite a lot. Like The Matrix film.

Posted by: Graeme | Feb 16, 2006 8:32:56 AM

Umm. These could easily have been edited using Photoshop. I don't see how they could be real.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 16, 2006 9:34:31 AM

Graeme's comment brings a chuckle; I once knew a guy who I considered a conceptual artist. He on the other hand was humble enough to call himself a 'Contextual' artist. (That is, "sometimes *it* is -sometimes it isn't, *it* all depends on who is buying.")

Li Wei's mirror work is compelling, and if we were kept from realizing that the images were staged with a mirror they would lose their present tense impact. As a result when the materials (mirror , wire...)are not present then the works become entertainments. (A painting that is not as much about paint as it is conveyance, falls short of the full worth of its medium).

Then there is the thing of the Artist as Art- didn't Albrecht Durer cross that bridge back in the 15th century? I.e. place himself in the center of the work. Then again, I guess Durer didn't make himself the center of the work, like the many idiosyncratic amalgamated types of today.

Posted by: Bill G | Feb 16, 2006 10:03:24 AM

Then again...
web sieded notes always end up with "into each their own." (Room :-)

Posted by: BG | Feb 16, 2006 12:43:34 PM

I think Bill G's put his finger on it - the "art vs entertainment" thought. Li Wei's stunts are great 'spectacle' - but that doesn't make them art, good, bad or indifferent. I don't mean to put down any of the posters whosay it's art 'because I like it' - but sorry, needs a bit more intellectual rigor than that. People used to say "I don't much about art, but I know what I like" - usually attributed to dull, unimaginative types. Then Marcel Duchamp pronounced that anything could be art if he said so, hung a urinal upside down on the wall and opened the doors to the whole twattish and thoroughly idle conceptual art schtick -self-publicity as art, anyone?

Posted by: chris g | Feb 16, 2006 11:55:35 PM

As an art teacher I have struggled with defining art to my students for years. The problem is that every time art is defined, some artist will come along and deconstruct it. Regardless of what each of us thinks art IS we have all proven Li Wei's images to be relevant by discussing it as a community. If that isn't proof that there is an "art" to these photos, I don't know what is. After all, the urinal in the gallery was not the work of ART, the real art was the ACT of Duchamp puttting it there and the resulting controversy that followed.

Posted by: J | Feb 17, 2006 11:39:32 AM

It's not art until I jack off to it.
Oh, wait.
That's pr0n.


Posted by: Z-Man | Feb 18, 2006 12:08:17 AM

question: I don't get too involved in the art world, but I was under the assumption that performance art was a performance and not really intended for viewing afterward (i.e. in a picture). So, I wouldn't expect to see these pictures in a gallery because they're supposed to be seen during the performance. Is that wrong?

Posted by: dave | Feb 18, 2006 8:12:12 AM

...that's a very good question.
Isn't performance art like the Cirque de Soleil-type stuff?

Posted by: Alli | Feb 18, 2006 5:36:42 PM

Interesting observation dave, and Alli,
From the history I was taught and observed, Performance Art has a deep history in Acts Actions and Spectacle . The Acts jump from Surrealist and Dada on through the Beats and Actions of Fluxus (to flow) into the 60's. Video changed thing a lot because events could be broadcast and recorded in real time. Arise the Duration pieces regarding body and time in the 70's and onward to balls out Spectacle in the Imperial 80's. This cursory and not to be all inclusive of these periods. But it seems that in the 80's the Artists realized that to get that killer loft, they needed artifacts sell (the shinier and polished the better). Video tapes and Photographs became the fashion. Then the fashion started to become the fashion, and performances became staged with the artifact as the end point.
This is what seems to be going on in Li Wei's work. The materials (wire, mirror and audience) are removed from the artifact, and in a sense, the performance aspect is no longer present; what remains is an entertainer's illusion.

I like Graeme's note that a bad sandwich would secese being called a sandwich, so why should Art be any different. Art is different because, "Art" is not tangible, it is a notion. Notions can move us and this may seem tangible but, it's not something we can eat. :-)

The argument that 'because we are talking about *it* makes 'it' Art -is dim. If someone were talking about how some ones dog is as human as their master their conversation would not bring grater 'dogness' or 'humannes' or even - intelligence to either.

And that's the sum of my 2cent dim doggie insight. :O)

Posted by: Bill G | Feb 20, 2006 1:05:29 AM

Correction (spelling and paraphrase) :

A bad sandwich would -NOT- cease being called a sandwich...

Respectful pardons Graeme.

Posted by: Bill G | Feb 20, 2006 1:16:18 AM

Personally, I think art can be anything tanglible that has some message or emotional meaning for someone - anyone- no matter what it is. It may not be a 'masterpiece' like a Raphael or Monet, but then again there's art in a three year-old's fingerpainting. Why? Because that something, whatever it is, means something to the one who made it. It may not be art to some, but to others it may seem a masterpiece. I never would have considered an upside-down urinal to be art (certainly not my first choice of subject matter), but then again, I can't see the meaning behind it. In the same way, some of Li Wei's pictures are art to me, because they hold some sort of meaning. Granted, that meaning is left entirely to personal intepretation, but that's the beauty of art because it can hold a different message for every person that views it. It all depends on how objective you are.

Posted by: Alli | Feb 20, 2006 7:29:32 AM

correction: "tangible"

Posted by: Alli | Feb 20, 2006 7:30:55 AM

Well put Alli!
A work of art that embodies the attention or sociatal/politicaly charged intention is a great thing.
I often find it burdensome, if not elitist to load on having to have societal 'prior knowledge' or inside information to fully appreciate a work.
(fat with verbiage gravy and lean on Perception).

You remind me of something the film maker David Lynch said about effort. paraphrased: It may not seem like much to most of us but, to a shut-in who sits on the edge of their bed all day thinking of shutting an open window; to do so, however long it takes is a step of courage. This is off subject but just a thought.
(Man it's cold outside...;-)

Posted by: Bill G | Feb 20, 2006 8:07:47 AM

I've been giggling at the people who were complaining that it was photoshopped, and even worse, not very well photoshopped!

Strange how reality can look like something that's been knocked up on a computer, and vice versa.

Posted by: Graeme | Feb 20, 2006 8:41:39 AM

Yeah, almost like a "there is no spoon"-type thing.

Posted by: Alli | Feb 20, 2006 12:33:51 PM

Oh, and thanks, Bill G.
Yes, it is extremely cold!

Posted by: Alli | Feb 20, 2006 12:37:05 PM

This is like beating a dead horse and it is a shame that Li Wei's site is now FORBIDDEN because I can say with certainty that the gent was suspended from cables hanging from a crane to stage these photographs.

And here is a wrinkle to the parameters of material evadance. Film can be Art yet, we do not need to have all the trappings of materials etc present to call it Art. Then again, Anthony McCall's "Line Describing a Cone" is truly fantastic, as is Mike Snows "Wave Length" and Hollis Frampton's "Nostalgia" do and so remain ground breaking Art.

Posted by: Bill G | Feb 20, 2006 7:09:34 PM

The Li Wei site is up and working again.

Time to delve.

Posted by: Graeme | Feb 21, 2006 5:13:47 AM

"But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: 'It's clever! But is it Art?'"

Personally, I think Art is a warm puppy. Or maybe that's Love, in which case the puppy's name isn't Art after all.

Which means that love's opposite, indifference, is a frozen puppy named Ursula. Not a pleasant thought. I mean, ew.

(Art is anything that took effort to produce, embellish, or display. It's almost not worth defining, since any specific definition can be considered an artistic challenge, thereby rendering said definition obsolete upon completion of said challenge.)

Things that are not art:
Someone jabbing me in the eye.

My subsequent retailiation, though a case might be made for a tasteful arrangement of entrails as being "artistic."

Gangsta mimes.

Reheating Hagrid's haggis.

Anything with Pauly Shore's name on it (he _is_ the American Yahoo Serious).

Unmodified Garfield cartoons.

And other things, like junk and stuff.

Posted by: Scott Elyard | Feb 21, 2006 11:09:21 PM

hes not using photoshop nor is it fake were r al jus dumb asses and no seeing it for wut it is its and illusion the same as harry hudini and chris angel its a form of majic u olny see wut ur mind wants u to c and once u can see beyond that u can see that it is real but its not wut u think it is

Posted by: Rob | Aug 16, 2006 11:18:19 AM

hes not using photoshop nor is it fake were r al jus dumb asses and no seeing it for wut it is its and illusion the same as harry hudini and chris angel its a form of majic u olny see wut ur mind wants u to c and once u can see beyond that u can see that it is real but its not wut u think it is

Posted by: Rob | Aug 16, 2006 11:18:24 AM

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