Risk Society----Li Wei Solo Exhibition
Dec 06 - Dec 25, 2014

Press Release

Curator Article

Ulrich Beck a renowned sociologist who claimed the concept “risk society” published in Germany 1986 alarms the process of western-oriented industrialization and modernization stating modern society as accomplished without reflection of the society’s prescription. Li Wei captures the risk society resulting from 30 short years of obsession on rapid development in industrialization and modernization making China concentrate only on material abundance which led the contemporary society in disequilibrium with potential risk elements rising newly. By photographing his performances into an artwork he expresses the process of reflection on negative factors of modernization and development to a way to proceed into a community which can reduce jeopardy.


The previous Chinese government strived to tighten the reins of liberalization, but failed to block the flood of western information. The 85 New Wave is one of these intercultural inflows which possess a critical position in Chinese Pop art followed by the 1930’s and the 1950’s western floods. They contributed an attitude of embracing modernism in systems as in the Artist’s Association of year 1985. The exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg held in Beijing and Lhasa worked as a catalyst which boosted the liberal atmosphere. At the same time there was an international book fair which motivated young radical artists with western modern ideology or modern art history starting from Marcel Duchamp. Li Wei was one of them.


Li Wei did not start as a performance artist. Receiving influence from Dongcun[1] he expanded from painting to performing and used filming as a method for recording. He started to try out performing starting from the late 1990’s. Reckoning performance a way to fully express his thoughts and reality, that time was a significantly experimental stage for him to find ways of new methods and materials. Like today’s modern Chinese artist Li Wei was also one of the beneficiaries to accept the nourishment of creativity from the modern environment. “Green Guy ·Flag; 绿人·” a green body painting performance using a red flag as a background later becomes the starting point of the levitation works. The green artist Li Wei holding the red flag express the eve of China’s social atmosphere facing the 2000 millennium era at that time. I remember a phrase in Moyan(莫言)’s frog()’[2] Kedou(蝌蚪) says “I made it ‘Wa’ which potentially means frog. Of course I could have used ‘Wa’ as in Nuwa(女娲). Nuwa created mankind, and the ‘Wa()’ from the frog equally is the symbol of fertility.” This artwork becomes the womb of Li Wei’s work announced in the future.


There was an international festival in the year 2000. Due to non-permission of the official authorities it was held in the outskirts of Beijing avoiding notion. Many foreign and Chinese artists participated here making the event itself meaningful. Here, Li Wei attached flags from every nation into a 10 meter square form and marched through a riverside with a face popping out from every flag. It was China’s first multinational audience participating performance. That year Li Wei showed a series of performances using mirror, he strived to express life and desire through camera lenses letting the artist, viewers and objects mix together to share the experience of the weight of life and desire. The Korean proverb ‘Knocking a wall will shake the crossbeam above’ has the same meaning. Through this work Li Wei became internationally famous.


The series ‘Li wei falls to ~; 李暐撞入~[3]’ is one of Li Wei’s most famous works which presents incidents or messages in a rather not straightforward but a metaphorical way. This type of communication is a traditional way of expression in East, all the other works were alike. People connect this work to the 911 terror. Whatever happened first does not matter. Li Wei’s later artworks also relate with many incident both in direct and indirect ways, for example ‘The baby leaves away from the Earth; 远离地球的孩子, 2003’ and ‘Hands stretched out to the light, 2003’ is related with Wenchuan Earthquake and ‘20110121-01和谐号(hexiehao)’ is connected to a high-speed train accident that occurred in Wenzhou, Zhejiang district in southeastern China which was made just 6 months previously from the accident.


 ‘29 levels of freedom; 29自由度’ is a work made in the year 2003 when changes occurring inside China resulting from the progress of rapid economy development was remarkable. Out-of-towners who lived in Beijing could feel the progress immediately. The habitation improved as people moved from one place to another, then another, and the residential area expanded to the suburbs. Through the process of urbanization, elite classes lived in important and pleasant areas and many types and levels of people lined up as the city expanded to the suburbs. This type of urbanization accelerated the social hierarchy. The measurement unit for land in the farmland was [4](zhang) and in the city it was 1 square meter. The 29 floors in his artwork had no space for out-of-towners to enjoy material and spiritual freedom. In this distorted and restricted area it is natural to think about flying to an outer space. Whether in one’s own decision or by others, does not matter. The artist demands reflection about the reality of this present by expressing the situation we are undergoing with has positive and negative effects of westernization and industrialization. Li Wei does not persist only on social problems. That year he also started a series about love. At that time the artist created the artwork with various imaginations and reality with curiosity towards the opposite sex. The interesting fact he portrays is the diverse experiences one can have during a relationship or marriage, this series spread out through the internet becoming well known and in QQ or Weibo it became a symbol for a lover’s betrayal or an affair.


‘A pause for humanity; 人类止步’ is a series that was made starting from 2005 the artwork stops time which normally runs so fast due to the drastic growth of China and the universe. It lets people who strive so hard for rapid growth to pause for a moment and look back at the achievements we have made. ‘A pause for humanity 1; 人类止步 1’ made in 2005, talks about real estate problems, in other words living conditions. A mother cuddling a child with a father strangled next to her shows the situation in a paradoxical way. Afterwards as our economical difficulty first occurs from real estate, crisis starts from the Chinese symbol of development, the skyscrapers in his works. ‘I in; 我在’ 2011 is a work that candidly expresses the reality of today where a person is hanged upside down on a sleeping bag barely large for one person due to the Chinese domestic real estate crisis.


‘Ahead 1; 在前方1’ is a work made in 2006 which symbolizes harmful consequences of foreign capital influx. Modern society is classified by money. This is relevant to everyone from a person to a nation. Unconsciously we are divided by politics·economics·authorities into rich and poor. The general public becomes frustrated whether one shall follow the political, economic flow or should find one’s own path. It is true that numeral global economic organizations are thoroughly chasing their own profits by their own concerns. We are in ‘an era of governing’ by these pressure groups ruling and controlling with their economic and political power and not caring for the general public but rather for their own profitable gain. Therefore, the artist is throwing a question about ‘Is this the development that we want?’ or ‘Is this the development that they want?’! In the artwork we cannot know what kind of face the masked people (what they are thinking of while working) are making. The person who throws does not know what he wants, thinks, or represents while he does as he is told. Using Hong Kong commercial center, a typical place where financial business groups gather, provokes many thoughts while the artist who represents us flings himself out.


‘Bright apex; 光明之巅’ is a work from 2007 and the streetlamp in the artwork means hope. This bright light contains a representation of the bright future. However on the contrary, the brighter the light is the higher the danger it carries. The glowing streetlamp named hope soaring higher to the sky signifies the relevance of having greater desire will conclude to greater disappointment. Leaving behind 2007 when the economic rise has soared up through the ceiling, the sudden drop down of 2008 due to the Lehman Brothers questions us whether we are a correspondence to the fireflies who craved for the brightness of the lamp.


‘Free dais; 自由的讲台’ is a work made in Finland in 2008! Practically this speech was done in improvisation without regarding politics·ethnicity·relgions. Standing upside down not correctly shows how the 21st century civilization of humankind is not being accomplished in an equitable and a righteous way. During the 10 minutes of speech we were able to realize that we were not living in a fair society. Nowadays boai(博爱) which means great love is not mentioned anymore. It once was an important intellection. In the present egoism(利己主義) is overflowing everywhere.


‘Live at the high place8; 生活在高处8’ is a work of a human pyramid made in Sanlitun, one of the most thriving places of Beijing. The artist paradoxically presents the most stable structure human made by turning it upside down. He expresses a forever growing economy suddenly collapsing into a bottomless pit, which has a meaning of ‘warming a snake in one’s bosom’.


‘Bullet; 子弹’ series show how war differs from the past. Before the way of war was conducted by soldiers marching into battle, however nowadays it is performed through screens aiming and pressing buttons as if in playing computer games. Caused by this result now in this world there is no place safe and anyone can suddenly confront immediate death. This means a single person’s power or right has become so immense that it can control the rights of the majority. It symbolically sends the message that now there is nowhere safe in this world.      


One of the mostly often appearing themes in Li Wei’s work is motivated by religion. The first time he displayed religion was at Spain in the work of 2010 ‘Conflict is up in the air 1; 悬空的冲突1’. It was not intended pre-hand but was done when a sudden thought occurred when he saw a group of nuns passing by a palace. Our society contains numerous conflictions.     


There are various conflictions starting from minor problems to big problems as paradigms. He uses religion as a simple way to express the truth of collision happening from cultural differences. ‘We in; 我们在’ a work in 2011 shows religious people hanging in the air. This shows the inseparable intimacy in human life, and also satirizes how we tug religion when redemption is needed and let go when not in everyday life.    


As we can see in the artist’s work, his performances that disregards the function of physics and gravity proportionally shows how social problems are becoming more dangerous and unstable as China accelerates the rapid economy development. Danger is a dilemma the successful modernization gave us, risk elements increases as the economy develops, and occurs not in the underdevelopment country as a social pathology phenomenon but in the advanced country where scientific technology and industry has progressed, and mostly it being a daily peril not an exceptional danger contains the magnitude of the problem. Therefore we must point out the incident·accident·phenomenon Ulrich Beck mentioned following with economic affluence of the successful development of modernization, overcome the limits of the modernization we have progressed so far and accept the offer to step into ‘the new modernization’ or ‘the second modernization’. It will be important to reduce the risk science and industrialization gave us and ultimately restructure social danger to move forwards to a ‘reflective modernization’. We must consider with the artist about what the priority assignment is, we ourselves caused this risk society, and should be aware that we alone must solve it! There is a phrase ‘Onewhohastiedaknotmustuntieit’. It is time this proverb is desperately needed.


Lee Jang-uk

[1] Beijing Dashanzhuang(大山庄)

[2] frog() Mo Yan(莫言)2009

[3] ‘Li wei falls to the Earth ; 李暐撞入地球’, ‘Li wei falls to the Car ; 李暐撞入汽车‘Li wei falls to the Italy; 李暐撞入意大利 and the like.

[4] 1zhang() is 10chi(), approximately 3.33m


Installation View


  • Buddha in St Moritz_2011
  • CRH 2011
  • Li Wei Falls to HK_2006

Media Report