Art Frontier | Jiang Li: Eliminating the Hypocrisy and Retaining the Sincerity

Wang Wei , Art Frontier

Though varied in their choice of themes, Jiang Li's works maintain a tight connection with reality and individual experiences. By appropriating and transforming everyday items and existing concepts, the artist illustrates his observations and contemplation of himself and the surrounding world, in a way that eliminates hypocrisy and reveals sincerity. The artist takes a critical stance of reality, often conveyed satirically, precisely depicting his authentic and sincere feelings, as an individual, towards our time.


Art Frontier: Put It In, the eponymous work from your solo exhibition at Capsule Shanghai, is a photography series documenting a performance: a man urinating. The urinal in this piece is reminiscent of Duchamp's famous work is this an intentional appropriation? Perhaps there is also an expression derived from Duchamp's work?


Jiang Li: Purely intentional, a not-that-witty metaphor. In my eyes, 100 years ago when Duchamp identified the urinal from within its social context, it became a historical moment of enlightenment, a cognitive expansion. This type of event should not just work in a particular field, such as art: instead it should impact human concepts on a broader scale. One hundred years after Duchamp’s Fountain, where are we now - what traces has that art left behind, when the dazzled looks of artists and artworks fizzle out? Nothing - only that urinals are made with with stainless steel, a mechanical product. People urinate and run loose on it, complacently making urine patterns, and decorate the act with ambiguous language, even describing urine as holy water ... I'm among them. In other words, we haven’t made any progress in terms of concepts of actions. Hence the touch of enlightenment in Duchamp’s work becomes more brilliant. If you recognise what I describe, you'd be able to create photographs of urinating men.


Art Frontier: In fact, the urinating figure also appears in another exhibited work, Red Sun. Do you intend to position your attitude alongside the playful yet natural status of this figure, confronting the hypocrisy of art? 


Jiang Li: The setting sun shines on a rushing river, a man stands on a lonely bateau, indulging in the beauty of nature - then he urinates in the river. As you said, this is natural, or consistent. Images have a logic: in my case, the man is supposed to urinate. In other logics, he might set fire on the water, or fish quietly ... it depends on the creator. Only untruthful things would emphasise the significance of embellishment. Once it becomes authentic and sincere, embellishments are not the purpose: instead, they emerge naturally, in various forms. Phone cases only come into existence because of phones. Chasing after phone cases would lead to confusion and falsehood ... one ought to start by confronting the inner hypocrisy.


Art Frontier: In Death of the Liar and Funny, children are obvious victims. The viewer can see a sort of antagonism towards the grownups' world. In these works, does the adults’ world hint at some hypocritical or even brutal social rules, or hierarchies of power?


Jiang Li: It's the elephant in the room. Power or the society itself can be dangerous, even fatal. It’s more than violence that hurts us, but violence is only ever apparent. Knowledge, even morality, is a type of power. And hurtful acts can be conducted in the name of love, innocence, or even joy. Swamps engulf animals sometimes, but we don’t blame nature for that. However,in the human world, we do have the capability to construct a better society. Swamps exist in nature, but in human society we can make choices, that is to say, how you construct your "nature" in what you claim to be "civilization" ... in searching for better "individuals".

Art Frontier: Family elements can be seen in multiple works on view, such as family photos hanging on the wall, and the installation piece that contains a house with these photographs hanging inside. Does it imply the influence of close family to you, or your reflections on the concept of family?


Jiang Li: ”Family” is whatever influences the "other” imposes on you, be they positive or negative. It's a ubiquitous effect that no one can really escape. Some try to run away from it by cloistering or becoming a monk, but this in turn becomes counter evidence for that very effect. Even if you escape from the notion of ’family; you can always encounter a Buddhist abbot in the temple. There is no need to flee. That said, it is not a bad thing to be influenced.


Art Frontier: In the installation piece, I am the Tower, you create an artificial scenario, comprising architecture, human figures and domestic settings. Even the interior lighting is presented in the form of models or simulations. The only authentic object in this piece is the worn out ”window curtain'; setting a contradiction with the context. Could you share with us your thoughts behind this work?


Jiang Li: The entire piece can be viewed as a painting. The entire setting, light, wind, "family'; sleep, sand, room, text, metal accessories, is nothing but the frame - a replaceable one. The piece of cloth, instead, is the painting itself. I created a fan in the context, but the breeze it gives out cannot even interrupt a thread of the cloth, whereas the movements of wandering viewers can, however. The piece is a metaphor for the relationship between you and the external world.


Art Frontier: You often appropriate everyday objects in your works, but you tend to alter their appearance. For instance, in Shower Head and String, commonly seen objects appear alien and peculiar when presented in a vertical composition. Can you explain your idea further?


Jiang Li: A slightly different way of positioning can change your willingness to look at a mundane everyday obect, even if nothing about the object itself is altered. The same situation may apply to human beings ... we never pay attention to a familiar sight.


Art Frontier: Similarly, Lamp in My Room and Gymnastics feature a motorcycle, an everyday object made by yourself - however, some conceptual transformations are made in the artistic process. In other words, you can notice some subtle changes to the ready-mades, that convey certain concepts. Were the objects created as artworks, or simply as everyday articles? It seems to point to the boundary between art and life.


Jiang Li: "The boundary between art and life" is an artificial notion in itself, like distinguishing between professions. However, such a boundary does not exist in essence. An Fl1 racer and a taxi driver are the same in nature ... it only depends on how you spend your time. An artist’s profession implies that he has to title some artifacts as "artworks"; yet the name could also be "stock"; "ugliness"; or even "Peppa Pig". A painting is a painter’s article of daily use, as a car is to a driver - it just depends on your choices.


Art Frontier: In fact, very diverse mediums are employed in your artworks - among which, stainless steel seems to be the protagonist. Just like mirrors, stainless steel is reflective... does it have some conceptual implications?


Jiang Li: Very straightforward, you can see yourself. This confrontation either makes the viewer stay a few seconds longer,or turn around and leave.


Art Frontier: In addition to the rich diversity of media, your work also encompasses a wide range of genres. Some poetic works are also exhibited this time. Do you see poetry as a supplement to your artistic expressions? Or does it demonstrate an alternative to ”visual art”?


Jiang Li: Text is another form of image and sound. Rhythm and tempo appear as you read through it. Text is power. It draws images and inspires imagination. It can also be sculptural - the act of deleting or replacing texts is a sculptural one. To be capable of writing "poetry-like” texts feels good. An artist who cannot write well using everyday language is not a good one.


Art Frontier: It's not hard to notice that, although your works are highly varied in theme, they maintain a tight connection with reality and individual experiences. Your work demonstrates a critical stance towards realities, often conveyed satirically. Could we say that your work, in its essence, depicts your authentic and sincere feelings, as an individual, towards our time?


Jiang Li: Absolutely so, and I think it’s both the highest benchmark as well as bottom line. The key doesn’t lie in "whether to be sincere or not'; that is not the issue. Instead, it's about how to express that sincerity most acutely and concisely. If you are to claim to be an artist, then circus tricks would only lead to a dead end, even if the world recognises you as a master.


Translated by: Long Xingru