Azure Wu | Li Jinghu: The Invisible Presence 

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By Azure Wu

When the bank of clouds stretches in the 30,000-feet-high sky like mountains, they inspire the secret of visibility and invisibility. The scene is indistinct underneath the clouds moving slowly and continuously. Our view lingers in between the visible and the invisible as if to question the existence of the world.

Objects reflect the connection between human and the world, and clouds may reinforce that connection, or they filter it.

So when the fluorescent lamps hanging high and low in front of Li Jinghu, I think what he sees is a connection that was there once upon a time. Those clouds, though long gone, are now vividly recollected and reconstructed – a proof of their former existence.

I see this kind of object testimony many times in Li Jinghu’s works. His works has a natural intimacy with life. He used plain and daily commodities to present a serious topic. These materials were rooted in the soil of a desperate bottom society: a wind-bell made from the dissembled alarm clock, a helmet remolded from a watermelon, or a broom with a bamboo flute as the shaft. He examined them, studies them, treated them like a humble man treating everything with enthusiasm and passion only because of his living hope for life. And then he dissembled them, grouped them, and reconstructed them into a new reality.

Their reality is different from ours. They have their own structures of the past and the future and abide by their rules. Now they are transformed to a visual proof so true yet disturbing. Truth, like time, is a soft knife. Soft though it seems, the wound is as deep and as painful as the sharp one piercing the heart. Li’s presentation of the trivial daily topics is very concise compared to other artists: no details, no atmosphere, no interpretation of significance and values. In his works Windbell, Helmet, and White Clouds, we could see that he gave up all the narrations, the details, the metaphors, and replaced them with scattered visual clips, on which people may gasp or sigh. Sometimes, his work is merely a proof of existence.

It is a strange and incredible encounter which reminds me of Li’s presence in Dongguan as an unemployed. For the locals, it is unthinkable. When Li came back from Shenzhen he felt the increasing absurdity when loss and the falsity failed the track of his memories. On one hand, he was aware of the “blood connection” between himself and the family, the land, and the entire history; he has expressed the dependence upon and affections for memories in Letter from Tobias, Counting Stars. On the other hand, he questioned his memories and refused to surrender in face of the changing environment, with such struggled farewell manifested in his works Powder and Don’t Speak Out. He had a keen observation on himself and the surroundings. He was confused by thinking but knew it’s inevitable. The doubt he had for the visible, and the bigoted ideal he had for the invisible served as an inspiration for his creations. The lost things he tried to find in the changing world are actually a testimony to his experience of the outside world.

Li Jinghu’s plain, concise summary on reality is contradictory to the romance and poetry in his works. His materials are like residuals that have been chewed and spitted, fading to the edge of life. However, he managed to make people laugh again with an optimistic black humor, when they were almost gripped by sadness, despair, anxiety, and loneliness. Take his Factory for example. Since people believe that gym equipment could refresh the body as well as the soul, by changing the machines, the artist convinced the audience that the factory where there was once the exhausting drudge that controlled people’s body and mind is now for healthy, uplifting exercises. In this way a stimulated pleasure asserted itself, keeping away vulgar and barbarism in reality. So the realism in Li’s works is actually fictional. It is distilled out of our lives to illuminate a veiled world so that people could see the beautiful side of life through this small hole of light. What Li is lightening is not only the hidden fact, but also the hope of life.

White Clouds is like s spiritual Utopia. They are hanging high above the sky but illuminating the possibilities that people have to make living with their own hands. Li Jinghu gives his ardor and attention to these seemingly unimportant but more than appropriate things, and presented them with calmness and peace. Life is nothing more than this.