Interview with Adam Lik Lui


Thought-Image Landscapes, oil on canvas

Interview with Adam Lik Lui

Time: Afternoon of July 18, 2012
Location: TCG Nordica Gallery, Kunming

Luo Fei: Curator at TCG Nordica Gallery
R. Orion Martin: Art worker, translator
Adam Lik Lui: Artist

R. Orion Martin (hereafter Orion): After you returned from the United States in 2005, what was your impression of the Chinese contemporary art scene?

Adam Lik Lui (hereafter Adam): At first I thought about moving to Beijing, and Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Hao invited me to stay with them. Later I realized that my body wasn’t suitable for living in Beijing. The sandstorms were terrible, and I think that if you’re going to make art, you need to be in place where your body is a bit more comfortable. In Beijing there’s a feeling that you’re wrestling on an enormous stage, and it’s something I’m not fond of. I like to peacefully settle down in a location.
At that time I thought that Chinese art was in a terrible state. It was all commercialism and hype, like selling stocks. When artists got together, they would talk about brands and luxury goods instead of art. The successful American artists I know are all very low key and lead simple lives. I think it’s great that the bubble burst in 2008. It allows us to reflect a bit. We can’t over-speculate art to such an absurd extent. I returned to Yunnan in order to peacefully paint, take photos, and think.

Luo Fei (hereafter Luo): Your paintings after you had just returned to China feature clear symbols such as pandas, Chinese tunics, and umbrellas. Now you have moved towards pure abstraction. What caused this change?

Adam: When I had just returned I was bewildered. I saw other people painting like that and thought [that style] had ideas behind it. After a time I discovered it wasn’t interesting. Many people were just developing their own recognizable symbols. It was too Pop, too preachy. It lacked artistic perseverance. I realized that artists need to have their own unique style, and express things from their inner world. Of course among those paintings I did there were some that were good, but I never published or exhibited them.
This new group of paintings is based on my reverence of and return to nature. Nature is the eternal vessel and mother of life. I believe nature is created by God. When I enter nature, I am struck by a vast longing and creative power, a feeling of drifting. Especially when I take a plane above the clouds, I feel an inner release and tranquility.

Luo: I think your paintings search for a stark contrast between nothingness and reality, between movement and stillness, between dry and wet, between pure and mixed colors. Is this correct?

Adam: Adam: Yes, abstract art in China is actually just [the Chinese artistic tradition of] xieyi (spontaneous expression). My recent series of “Thought-Image Landscapes” is an example. In Thought-Image Landscapes I listen to the wind and observe the scenery. Traditional Chinese painting has always carried poetic connotations, integrating images with texts and poems.
Actually I began making abstract works when I was living in Hong Kong in the 90s. Later I returned to oil painting from ink paintings.
The essence and significance of art is to create the realization of the present and the recollection of the future! It is to enjoy all of the experiences and joys that the artistic process brings, and have an ultimate justification for and rich interpretation of life.

Luo: In the past year you have been using your iPhone to take pictures. This method is more sensitive and convenient in capturing a feeling of daily life. In your experience, what is the difference when using a camera phone, traditional SLR or film camera?

Adam: Professional cameras put people on guard because they seem so much like those used by reporters. When I use an iPhone, there’s no fear. People act very naturally. As soon as you take out a professional camera, everyone scatters. Mine has been in my home, resting for the past year. The iPhone also has software that allows me to photograph and edit at simultaneously. It’s also useful for consultation when I paint landscapes.
In the Dali International Photography Exhibition coming up in August, we will have an exhibition named “Cellphone Yunnan – the Images Around Us.” This allows everyone to find their own method of recording and become their own director. I want to thank Steve Jobs for making life more beautiful and changing the way we see the world.

Years has left a mark, by iPhone

Orion: Today there are many people using iPhones. In regard to your audience, how can looking at your works be more valuable to them than looking at those that they themselves have taken?

Adam: My works worth the gaze of the audience because of their cultivation, unusual entry point, and unique viewpoint. I search for subjects that can convey content and significance in conventional and unconventional ways. This is true of all things that are worth looking at, and a fundamental goal in my work with the iPhone.

Luo: A few years ago when LOMO photography was popular, it was common to cover the walls with photos during exhibitions in order to construct the overall exhibition atmosphere. This is quite different than the methods used for traditional photography. Have you thought about how best to display cell phone photos?

Adam: For the exhibition we’re preparing now, we have decided on a unified system. There will be a frame of 45cm by 45cm and the artist will decide the dimensions of the photo inside. It could be the size of a postage stamp or some other dimensions. This will be relatively conventional exhibition style.

Luo: Whatever media they use, all artists face two questions. The first is how to develop their own language that is not merely based in their tools. The second is how to effectively communicate with their audience, that is, how to display their works. As I understand, the best platform for smart phone camera photography should be the internet, such as Weibo, facebook, and other Social Networking Services (SNS). In a conventional exhibition space, the audience primarily admires the works and has no actual interaction with the works and the artist. But if a photo is posted on the web, it will quickly receive comments, support, likes, and attacks. Internet friends may even use Photoshop to recreate and reinterpret your works. The interactivity is very strong. If the photos you take have news value, they will quickly become a public event. Photographers aren’t just artists, but citizen reporters. In other words, in a digital environment, cellphone photography is not just for aesthetics but for information and social contact.

Adam: That’s right. The internet is more interactive. In the next 20 years, will paper media cease to exist?

Luo: Perhaps after some time the profits of book publishing will be 80% from digital sales and 20% from paper-based works for collection.
Last year in Louisiana, Copenhagen I saw an exhibition by David Hockney that was done completely on iPads and iPhones. I found that his iPad based works were almost of the same quality as his oil paints. Do you think cellphone photography can stand shoulder to shoulder with traditional photography?

Adam: In terms of development, it should be possible. From film to digital and now to cellphone photography, we should keep an open attitude. In the future there will be more iPhone artists around us. I think that the media they use is the only difference. It’s important to take many photos and gradually develop, and to pay close attention to the composition, lighting and message. If it has a clear message that comes across naturally, that’s enough. Actually I see many people using iPhones on the internet who shoot very well. There’s no need to compare equipment, so instead we compare ideas, vision, and accomplishments. You can write with a pencil or a Parker fountain pen. Ultimately we don’t care about what you write with, but whether your essay is good or not.

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