From Pets to Animals

From Pets to Animals
—— Li Ji’s animal painting and photography

By Luo Fei

Li Ji was known by the art world in the1990s and early 2000 for his series “Ladies and Pets”, which depicted some well-dressed ladies with different animals, implying a delicate interdependent relationship between them. This series is slightly erotic, humorous and yuppie. The ladies and pets in these photos are not actually themselves but roles being shaped by some kind of culture. Besides, since either ladies or pets have been carefully domesticated by their “masters”, they know not only how to please their “masters”, but also how to show their soft and tamed side. However, their “masters” are not in these paintings, because what indeed tame the women to sexy ladies and animals to pets are invisible but ubiquitous consumerism, patriarchalism and anthropocentrism.

For Chinese contemporary art in the 1990’s, the artists were generally vigilant, or could be said as having not yet adapted, to the rise of consumer society, hence they usually expressed severe criticism to the human alienation and physical materialization in the consumer society. Similarly, the world revolved around patriarchal society and anthropocentrism reached its domination and possession by the materialization of women and animals.

Li Ji revealed in this series not only his interest and thoughts about people – the “ladies”, but also his knowledge and extraordinary love to animals – the “pets”. Grown up in a family of intellectuals, Li Ji has shown a strong curiosity about all kinds of knowledge since young especially in biology. He is even more familiar with his mother’s books than herself. His interest in the living conditions of animals around the world is so strong that he always dreams of going to Africa to see the wildlife.

Li Ji started his wildlife discovery in 2009, when he just completed the “Ladies and Pets” series and then photographed wild animals while visiting national parks and nature reserves with his wife in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other domestic places like Yunnan, Tibet, Qinghai, Hoh Xil and so on. In every trip he would return with countless adventurous stories and fantastic wildlife photos, even though he has encountered with the danger of life and death several times.

As an artist, Li Ji responds to the rapid disappearance of wildlife in the world with the conventional means in visual art. From 2009 to 2011, he painted a series of modified masterpieces of Western art history, such as Miller’s “Late Prayer”, Goya’s “May 3rd, 1808 Nightmare” and Manet’s “Lunch on the Grass”, turning these human’s godliness, gallantry and livelihood into a denouncement to the tragedies of the large-scale massacre mankind implemented on wildlife. In this series, by misappropriation and codification to the masterpieces in art history, Li Ji responded to the world’s classic contradictions: Does human develop and evolve at the cost of eliminating animals (especially large animals) ? Furthermore, will this irresponsible and insatiable destruction of anthropocentrism be the final call of mankind in world history? In contrast to his critique of consumerism in the ” Ladies and Pets ” series, the critics and allegories of anthropocentrism are simpler in painting style but are filled with deep compassion.

Artists tell the story of world history with the story of art history. It is interesting that it is the artist – we – this group of Homo sapiens who have the ability to tell the stories, and turn these imaginative things such as art, justice, history ultimately into the common values and social norms. In the view of researchers of contemporary human history, it is precisely because of such a “cultural evolution” about the “cognitive revolution” that begun 70,000 to 30,000 years ago, making Homo sapiens on the road of “gene evolution” leave the animals far behind, and thus began to rule the animals.

In the 18th century, one of the four pioneers of the French enlightenment, Buffon assumed: “Human domination of animals is a lawful rule that can not be destroyed by any revolution. Which is not only a natural right, a power based on some eternal principles … people have thought, so he becomes the master of all creatures without thought at all. “A the same time, aware of the animal’s misfortune: “Let the animals feel uneasy and fearful, let them flee, let them become more wild than the nature is human, because most of the animals are only calm, safe, controllably and unharmfully breathe the air, eat the food on the ground. “(Quoted from Buffon ” Natural History “).

However, the glory of human nature after the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the revolution in science and technology, the expansion of Homo sapiens in the world may have long been not only to disturb the animals but also the earth, including human beings themselves. Of course, from the history of the evolution of the world, the mass extinction of animals did not begin in any campaign in the past two or three hundred years, but began 70,000 years ago with the birth of Homo sapiens. Only the industrial revolution exacerbated the extinction of species, not just terrestrial creatures, but also marine life. So, for those who live today, to record and describe the animals who are expelled by human and are still disappearing, means personal comfort or self-examination and change in human’s own crisis?

In recent years, through trips in the wild nature, Li Ji has photographed the hovering buzzard in the sky, vulture, long tail lobular monkey playing in the jungle, vigilant leopard on the road, brown bears foraging in rubbish, the rare Bengal tiger。。。As Yuval Noah Harari, a contemporary Israeli historian, wrote in his book, A Brief History of Humankind: “From ancient times to the present, the whole animal community has suffered the most important and most damaging power from this group of homo sapiens wandering around and telling the story”. But in Li’s painting and photography, wandering around is no longer the story telling people, but the animals constantly on the alert of people.

Since 2012, Li Ji has created a number of paintings of single small wildlife in the studio, such as African spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, Asian jungle cat and Cambodian bison. These animal images are mainly derived from Li Ji’s own photos or related books, as he tries to avoid the dramatic sense that normally presented in this kind of pictures, to show their daily lives instead. Owing to his understanding of animal habits and physical structures that learnt since his childhood, his modeling ability built up in academic studies, and ability to capture the decisive moments in photography, Li Ji is good at epitomizing and capturing the shapes of different species of animals vividly and accurately, supplemented by some lines and colors, so that these animals are more dynamic and expressive, while maintaining their natural beauty.

As an artist, Li Ji also regards his painting in this stage as an exploration of “return to painting”, which could be interpreted as a balance to the excessive conceptualism in contemporary art world. This idea of returning to media has been expressed by more and more artists in recent years not just in painting, but also in other media such as performance art. Li Ji, however, did not return to the formalism painting which abandoned meaning and cultural functions. He was exploring another possibility of expression contemporary painting.

In the West, ecological criticism has become an urgent proposition both in the field of cultural studies and contemporary art since the 1980s, for people realized that art can not be simply appreciated without common life scenes and cultural connotations. By ecological and ethical criticism, artists, curators and critics re-examine the increasing desertification, and the conflict among natural deterioration, drastic animal extinction and human invasion. Today, this kind of environmental-oriented scrutiny and criticism has become a global theme in contemporary art. In this sense, Li Ji’s animal photography and paintings will provide the most basic textual support for ecological art.

Nowadays, the animals hanging around us are neither domesticated animals nor objectified animals being consumed in “Ladies and Pets”. They wander, forage, seek for a home and try to live together with mankind. At this moment, what are we searching for?

Jun. 16th, 2017

FROM PETS TO ANIMALS – Li Ji Solo Exhibition
2017.07.08 – 08.26 / 10:00 – 18:00
ANART OFOTO Gallery
​2F, Building 13, 50 Moganshan Rd., Shanghai, China

从宠物到动物——有关李季的动物绘画与摄影

从宠物到动物——有关李季的动物绘画与摄影

文/罗 菲

李季在20世纪90年代和2000年初因画“女郎与宠物”系列而被艺术界所知,画里是一些打扮艳丽的女郎和依附在她们身上的各种动物,他们彼此之间维系着微妙的相互依存的关系。这些画作整体带着轻微的情色、幽默和雅痞趣味。画面里的宠物和女郎并非他们自身,而是被某种文化改造后的角色扮演。并且,无论是女郎还是动物,都已经被他们的“主人”精心驯化过,他们知道如何讨好“主人”,也知道如何向“主人”展示自己柔弱乖巧的一面。只是他们的“主人”并不在画里,因为那些塑造女人成女郎,动物成宠物的,是不可见却又无处不在的消费主义、男权社会和人类中心主义。

在20世纪90年代的中国当代艺术叙事里,艺术家们普遍对消费社会的到来保持着警觉,也可以说是尚未适应,他们往往较为激烈的艺术方式批判消费社会里人的异化和身体的物化等问题。男权社会和人类中心主义盛行的世界也是通过对女性的物化和对动物的物化来实现统治和占有的。

对李季而言,除了对“女郎”——人的兴趣和思考,还有他对“宠物”——动物世界的博学与超乎常人的热爱。成长于高级知识分子家庭的他自小对各类学问表现出强烈的好奇,尤其生物学,他对母亲的生物学书籍比母亲自己还谙熟于心。他对世界各地的动物生存状况的兴趣像个心结,以至于他从小的梦想,就是去非洲看野生动物。

李季的野生动物发现之旅始于2009年,那时他阶段性地结束了“女郎与宠物”系列绘画,他和太太先后多次前往印度、尼泊尔、斯里兰卡等地的国家公园、大自然保护区,以及国内的云南、西藏、青海可可西里等地拍摄野生动物。每次出行他都带回无数惊险的故事和精湛而罕见的动物图片,甚至差点几次丢掉性命。他对野生动物的兴趣很多时候难以被身边人所理解,动物世界似乎仅存于偶尔晃过的电视节目和明信片里。在他去过的部分大自然保护区,当地人甚至从未听说之前有过华人造访。

作为艺术家,李季仍然用视觉艺术的传统来回应全球野生动物急剧消失的现状。他在2009年至2011年期间画了一系列以西方艺术史的经典图像改造的绘画,比如米勒的《晚祷》,戈雅的《1808年5月3日夜枪杀起义者》,马奈的《草地上的午餐》,这些关于人类的敬虔、英勇气概、男女生活的画面,全都成了对人类大规模屠杀大型野生动物的悲剧性场景的控诉。在这个系列里,李季以艺术史经典图像的挪用与纂改来回应这个世界自智人诞生以来的经典矛盾:人的演化和发展是否是以消灭动物(尤其大型动物)为代价的?以致更严峻的问题是,这样一种人类中心主义的不负责任的、贪得无厌的破坏,会否成为人类最终在世界历史里的谢幕表演?与他之前在“女郎与宠物”系列里那种艳俗美学和调侃态度批判消费主义不同,这组对人类中心主义的批判与讽喻在绘画风格上更加朴实,却充满深深的悲悯之情。

艺术家用艺术史的故事来讲述世界史的故事。有意思的是,正是艺术家——我们——这群智人,具有讲故事的能力,并且把艺术、正义、历史这些想象的事物,最终变成人类共同的价值和社会规范。在当代人类史研究者看来,正是因为这样一种距今七万至三万年前的“文化演化”的“认知革命”,使得智人在“基因演化”的道路上把动物远远地甩在了后面,并因此开始了对动物的统治。

而在18世纪时期,法国启蒙四大家之一的博物学家布封(Buffon)看来:“人类对动物的统治是一种合法的统治,是任何革命所无法摧毁的,这是精神对物质的统治,这不仅是一种自然权利,一种建立在一些永恒不变的原则基础上的权力……人有思想,因此他便成了根本没有思想的所有生物的主宰。”布封同时也意识到动物的不幸:“让动物们感到不安,避之唯恐不及,让它们四散奔逃,让它们变得比本性野性万分的正是人类,因为大部分动物都只求平静、平安,尽量有节制地、无害地呼吸空气,食用地上的食物。”(引自布封《自然史》)

然而,人性的光辉在经历了启蒙运动、工业革命、科技革命之后,智人在世界上的扩张可能早已不只是让动物不安,甚至让大地也开始不安,包括人类自己也惶恐不安。当然,从世界演进历史来看,人类对动物的大规模灭绝并非始于近两三百年来的某场运动,而是始于七万年前智人的诞生。只是工业革命加剧了物种灭绝,不只是陆地生物,也包括了海洋生物。那么,对于生活在今天的人而言,去记录去描绘那些被人类驱逐且仍在消失的动物,究竟意味着个人意义上的慰藉,还是人类在自身危机中的自省和改变?

近些年,李季游走在野生动物出没的地方,用相机捕捉空中悬停的大鵟、兀鹫,丛林里玩耍的长尾叶猴,路上警觉的花豹,人类垃圾旁觅食的棕熊,还有运气极佳才能偶遇的孟加拉虎……当代以色列历史学家尤瓦尔·赫拉利(Yuval Noah Harari)在《人类简史》里写到:“整个动物界从古至今,最重要也最具破坏性的力量,就是这群四处游荡、讲着故事的智人”。不过在李季的绘画和摄影里,四处游荡的不再是会讲故事的人,而是那些随时提防着人的动物。

自2012年,李季在画室画了许多单个野生动物的小幅画作,如非洲斑鬣狗、灰背胡狼、亚洲丛林猫、柬埔寨野牛。这些动物形象主要源自李季自己拍摄的图片或相关图书,他尽可能避免使用通常动物摄影所追求的那种戏剧感的画面,转而表现它们更为日常的情形。得益于自小对动物习性和构造的了解,得益于他在学院传统中练就的造型能力,还有摄影中练就的捕捉决定性瞬间的功夫,李季总是能十分生动而准确地概括并捕捉那些不同种类动物的形态,辅以一些块面化的色彩与运动态势的线条,让这些动物更具运动感和表现力,同时保持它们自然的美感。

作为艺术家,李季也把这段时期的绘画看作“重返绘画语言”的某种探索,这可以被理解为对当代艺术领域过度观念主义而做出的自我平衡。近些年,这种重返媒介语言的想法在越来越多的艺术家身上表现出来,不只是绘画,也包括行为艺术在内的其他媒介。只是李季并没有在绘画上重返那种去意义、去文化功能的形式主义绘画,他在探索另一种当代绘画表达的可能。

在西方,自20世纪80年代以来,无论在文化研究领域还是当代艺术领域,人们都意识到生态批评成为刻不容缓的命题,艺术无法绕开人们生存的场域和文化内涵而被简单欣赏。艺术家、策展人、批评家通过生态批判、伦理批判来重新审视我们这个日渐荒漠化的环境,审视自然恶化、动物锐减与人类入侵的矛盾。今日,这种基于环境的审视与批判正在成为全球普遍的当代艺术表达议题。在这个意义上,李季的这些摄影与动物画作,将会为生态艺术的叙事提供最基础的文本支持。

如今呈现在我们面前的那些四处游荡的动物,已不再是“女郎与宠物”里被驯化的动物、被物化的动物,不再是被消费的动物。它们在大地上四处游荡,觅食,寻找可安息之处,寻找与人类共处的故事。而此时,人类又在寻找什么?

2017年6月16日

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FROM PETS TO ANIMALS – Li Ji Solo Exhibition
从宠物到动物 – 李季个展
开幕 / Opening: 2017.07.08 / 16:00
展期 / Duration: 2017.07.08 – 08.26 / 10:00 – 18:00
一个艺术 ANART 全摄影画廊 OFOTO Gallery
​中国上海 莫干山路50号13幢2楼
​2F, Building 13, 50 Moganshan Rd., Shanghai, China

Painting Makes the Soul Visible

Painting Makes the Soul Visible (excerpt)
Essay on Bai Xuejuan’s Art
-By Luo Fei

On a number of palm sized notebooks, a great many variety of colorful patterns filled the pages. There appear to be some traces of natural growth. One of the covers reads: I’m afraid of waking up, for the dream would be gone. The one who didn’t want to wake up from her dream is Bai Xuejuan, a painter from Yunnan and is now living in Gejiu, a small city in southern China only about 200 kilometers away from Vietnam. She’s a high school teacher there. However, she’s been painting about Nordic islands in recent years: places where human beings are few, forests deep, and iced rivers flowing.

This is due to the residence program that Bai joined in the Nordic Watercolor Museum between February and April 2011 in Sweden. For this three months program on Tjörn, she witnessed how the ice melted in Scandinavia, and the rigid winter changed to the warm early spring. She spent these whole three months in her cabin next to the Pacific. Two diaries were jotted down and countless watercolors painted. And only a few new friends visited her occasionally. The minimalism manifested naturally around her in Northern Europe began to fascinate her. Even back to the mountains of Yunnan, those images related to the Tjörn kept coming back to appear on her paintings. I can feel the characteristic transparency unique to the Nordic in both her watercolors and oil paintings, light and thin, loose and soft. The free-flowing in her paintings is reminiscent of Edvard Munch. Just that one doesn’t sense the desperate darkness, but the bright and poetic flowing.

For Bai Xuejuan, cultural collision and blending are external and concrete, and she does not study art as a cultural matter. When it comes to art, by following the experience deep inside of her heart, she’s been continuously recording like diaries the trajectory of her inner feedback on life, surroundings and her own feelings. She captured in her paintings those moments like cruising the sea, walking in the night or strolling aimlessly. Those are the times that the burden of reality was kept at a distance, and the ones for thoughts and drifting away. To drift is both for the soul to breathe and to escape.

Rather than delving into the texture of a particular piece of leaves or a stone on the ground, Bai does not regard the world as a stable substance, but a series of flowing, breathable and free forms. Going up and down, they are plain and simple, yet grow like a poetry. They are as free as if one falls into a trance. At this very moment, painting makes the soul visible.

和丽斌的临界状态

和丽斌的临界状态

文/罗 菲

2005年末,和丽斌在丽江拉市海村子里推着堆满画材的板车,一天画了近百张风景油画。次年,他开始了“荒原”系列油画,凛冽寒风里一个微小的人兀立其中。那之后,和丽斌开始做行为,他在喧闹的酒吧里把自己关进狭小的用布包裹的屏风,透过光线和声响在布上勾勒外界形象。他在一个播放家乡录影画面的塑料棚屋里拼命原地奔跑,扬起的灶灰呛得他难以为继。他在楼顶把自己裹在黑布,聆听城市入夜的声音,并在地板上描绘出来。他奋力让自己从钉在墙上的影子里挣脱出来。他捡一整天的树枝,筑巢,把自己赤身露体藏进去……这些细节和场景是艺术家和丽斌过去十多年的作品片段在我脑海里闪回的画面。他钟情于自然,着迷于黑夜的进入与出来,着迷于人——自身在某种困局里奋力突围,最终进入某种释放与安息的叙事逻辑。

和丽斌善于在作品里营造自身与自然对话,自身与自我较量的情境,这些对话与较量同时发生在身体层面、观念层面和时间层面。他通过建立几近于封闭的情境,使内在的对话与较量发展到一个临界状态,然后引爆或释放,这也是和丽斌的许多作品具有观赏性的因素。由此产生的爆发力可以是某种画面表现力、某个决断的行动或某次漫长压制后的释放。

这样的表达方式在和丽斌近期“盲山计划”里得到更为极致的体现,他在黑夜里“盲画”,关闭自己以往的观看经验,关闭来自智性的判断。尤其在普者黑实施的长达30米的“盲山计划”中,观看、经验和思考都被悬置,艺术家完全依靠身体直觉和想象来推进。外在障碍成为达成内在增长的契机。在“盲画”过程中,每一次推进都是冒险,因为一切推进或失守都不可见(至少暂时),也都成为艺术家自身与自然、与时间、与自我不断关联的痕迹。

在黑夜里,绘画这一拥有悠久历史的艺术实践被逼入临界状态:可知与不可知之间,可见与不可见之间,可画与不可画之间。唯一能确定并不断被确定的,就是在广袤自然环境中的艺术家自身的存在和自我的增长,这种确认在漫长黑暗中通过对话和较量来完成。这让绘画成为摄影一样,在暗中显影,在日光之下观看。

当艺术被引入临界状态,艺术的当下性就被重新激活。当一切可见之物变得不可见,自我及其与周遭的关联,就成为一切观看的目的。黑夜,成为艺术苏醒,自我觉醒的通道。这种自我觉醒并非祁克果意义上的跳跃式的,而是显影式的。

和丽斌在“盲山计划”中以反观看的方式达成对未知自我的观看,与未知现实的关联,以漫长的“盲画”方式让绘画的可能性重新显影出来。而那些从黑夜中进去又出来产生的遗留物——绘画,竟也出奇地令人惊艳。

2017-6-6

“盲山计划——和丽斌个展”
策展人:艾艾
学术支持:和文朝 / 唐佩贤 / 罗菲
展期:2017.6.16—7.25
学术研讨会:2017.6.16,14:30—17:00
开幕式:2017.6.16,17:30
地点:北京草场地国际艺术区327号,进行时空间

艺术成为信物

去年秋天挪威艺术家巴布洛·托马森和丹麦艺术家玛丽安娜·任纽访问昆明,在TCG诺地卡进驻并举办展览。有一天在和丽斌28楼的工作室聊了整整八个小时。席间,玛丽安娜问了每位艺术家三个问题:

请描述圆形(或循环)的形式,请描述水,你想要我现在问你一个什么问题。

她把所有回答记录在本子上,为大伙挨个拍照。回去后做成了她的一组艺术家书籍(artist book)的作品“戏剧系列三”,这种形式她从1995年就开始创作并在欧洲各地展出。这次她把每个人的回答从对话中抽离出来,形成一首特别的诗,每人一首,作为各自那本书的封面。我的诗是:

来自无数个三角形
下坠与上升
你还安静吗?

内页是照片和一面锡箔纸,一封简短的感谢信、作品介绍、一些好像盲文的孔,一些金色的痕迹。艺术家书籍作为艺术形式,早在达达时期、激浪派时期就开始了,今天许多西方艺术家都在沿用,包括邮寄艺术。这让艺术变得很好玩,像艺术家之间的游戏。

我上个月在挪威做展览,她和先生驾车从丹麦跑来利勒桑看我们,一起野餐、聊天、散步,做了很多即兴作品,写诗。艺术在这样的友谊中成为礼物,成为信物,也是惬意的事。

左至右:常雄、王蓓、雷燕、和丽斌