HuArts|Jiang Li: The Naked Heart

Peter Hagan, HuArts, January 29, 2018

Teeming, swarming city, city full of dreams, 
Where specters in broad day accost the passer-by! 
Everywhere mysteries flow like the sap in a tree 
Through the narrow canals of the mighty giant.


When I entered Jiang Li’s exhibition at Capsule Gallery opening night the exhibition was teeming with life. Like little ants, we threaded our way around the artwork and picked at morsels. Jiang, ever present through his work, required nothing from us other than our presence. His work is an offering to be taken by choice. What he presents is not otherworldly but rather unfaithful to the familiarities of our world. 

Jiang’s exhibition initially seems to invoke subtle contrasts between the inside and the goings-on outside. Instead, it is a vision into an alternative world. Except for the murmurs he recorded in his bedroom, the exhibition is nearly noiseless. Banal objects you would find in your home have been brought into the gallery and have been slightly altered. An iPhone charging cable and two shower heads have been straightened to rigidity; there is Jiang Li’s family photo of two distracted parents and a focused artist; a Duchampian light fixture has been suspended from the ceiling; and as Jiang Li puts it, “The most famous liar is being impaled by a businessman.” The similarities between the objects is not immediately apparent but Jiang did not intentionally confuse the works. I see all of these pieces as a collection of an alternative world Jiang is setting up for himself and the rest of us, if we’d like to join. His world is one created and led through intuition.

Intuition is a rupture in social fabric and in Jiang’s work it is the start of continuous upheaval of the mediocre. I imagine when the upheaval occurs it is spontaneous: Jiang is sitting on an airplane and a thought crosses his mind, “What would happen if I painted the plane?” And there you have it. From that simple thought most of us dismiss as a fantasy, Jiang paints an airplane. The result is a brief fissure in the norm that opens a space for Jiang Li to bring out his distinct world. The world he creates does contain truth. He too is trying to grab the mushy definition of what is guaranteed, and, not being able to handle the whole thing, he decided to create his own version.

“I just say what I can say and see what I can see. I don’t worry about what I can’t say. If it can connect you with other people, it works. If you do anything you know you’ll miss something else. We cannot do everything; maybe the ‘missed part’ is a part of it.

“I hate pretend, I hate fake. I can accept some kind of fake [like plastic surgery], but when the fake becomes real or tries to be, I don’t like that. Just tell what you are. That is the important and natural thing. Fake is anything against nature.”

A bi-product of Jiang’s artistic style is his rejection of anything esoteric. Listening to your intuition means you need to quell the desire to overanalyze and be open to impromptu thoughts. We all have them and realizing them is our responsibility. Maybe Jiang is more serious about merging his inner life with the outer world but the results shown in the gallery seem effortless. 

The result of Jiang’s work is a naturally satirical exhibition aimed at just about anything that crosses his mind. How sharp are his critiques? They are more like a hand through water than a knife through flesh: the disturbance of the status-quo isn’t so blatant but it reverberates in the larger scene.

"Language is a tool. Relationship is our tool. Sex is our tool. That connects our inner [self]. My idea is that the most basic stuff inside is the same thing. We call it, human spirit, or soul. In China, we call it chizi zhixing. It means Naked Baby Heart...You don’t have to see mine, you just see yours, because its the same. We are a part of this world. I am you, you are me. That is what I believe."