May 03, 2019
[Liaoliao | Art Review] Li Feng: Failure is also a kind of temptation.
“WHY IS IMAGE INNOVATION IMPORTANT?”
Success is full of temptation, and failure is also attractive. Post-modern cultural producers are willing to believe that this is a failed era, with nothing worth pursuing or believing in, only emptiness is real, and disillusionment is unchanging. Many artists are keen to depict the process of faith collapse and scenes of spiritual ruins. In this respect, Li Feng is not trendy. In his series of creations, we see more of a declaration that art cannot save the world, but it can make the world look more worth saving. Through poetic dwelling, the construction of personal space order, and the exploration of poetry and painting language, he has constructed an artistic domain that is both personalized and universally meaningful.
In Li Feng’s works, we can see how the artist views the world, with the cold and absurd social landscapes depicted in “Jianghu” and “Possible Dilemma”. We also perceive the artist’s own positioning in the era through his works, such as the enclosed feeling conveyed in “Closed Window” and the sense of detachment created by the lighting in “Miss You”. The artist seems to isolate himself from the external world. At the same time, we can see how the artist inhabits the present with what attitude, such as the personal willpower and confrontation with the trends of the times in “I’m Always Alone and Sad” and the installation painting “Private Space Series”.
More importantly, we see in Li Feng’s works how art makes our ideas more complex, our feelings more delicate, and our senses more profound. It shows how the artist approaches and becomes themselves step by step through their creative process. These are more important than personalized images. In other words, the significance of innovation lies in whether the artist has a unique response to the new landscape of the times, and the creative significance depends on whether it is based on new ideas and new perspectives.
In Li Feng’s works, he constructs a private space and a sense of alienation, but he doesn’t lean towards pure individualism. The ideas conveyed in his works have significant universal significance, and this universality can be said to transcend the contemporary era. We can always expect the desire for poetic dwelling and face the erosion of daily life in any era. In other words, Li Feng’s creations have both contemporaneity and can declare that they do not belong to this era.
“GESTURES BEYOND LINGUISTIC ONTOLOGY”
In Li Feng’s works, there are occasionally “abstract elements,” but he is not an artist who is obsessed with the language itself. Li Feng’s paintings, like his poetry, are not just about pursuing the self-discipline of internal artistic logic.
For Li Feng, poetry is not about putting colloquial language and Modern one on the same open system and completing the evolution of poetic language within its internal rules in the local context. Similarly, we cannot see in Li Feng’s painting that the artistic order composed of lines, colors, and structures is the highest aesthetic value. Li Feng does not pursue linguistic autonomy and pure literary quality in his poetry. Similarly, in his painting, we can see that the formalistic self-sufficiency and closedness need to be broken through. In the face of the bifurcation of form and content, how to shape the posture of an art producer becomes an important issue.
The most important thing is not the language system, but the refinement of self-expression through artistic language. Beyond exploring the ontology of artistic language, there are more important things, such as raising questions as an edge cultural producer while struggling with social reality and oneself, which is still one of the most important things for an artist.
Li Feng’s poetry is full of images of oppression, helplessness, and absurdity, but it does not lead to disillusionment and despair. His paintings also do not fall into emptiness and fragmentation in the bleak and gloomy atmosphere.
In Li Feng’s works, the artist attempts to express the relationship between self and the times through figurative human figures and architecture, depicting his perception of the world in expressionist landscapes, and constructing cultural identity and self-space in his painting installations. We can see that Li Feng has abandoned the pursuit of artistic language ontology, and his works directly point to the questioning of the meaning of human existence. In his poetry and painting, it is clear that the revelation of the essence of humanity is far more important than the revelation of the self-sufficiency of artistic language. As a free, independent, and complete individual, one must confront reality. The reason why people are free is that they can constantly break free from bondage and imprisonment, constantly awaken themselves, and constantly struggle against the external world’s alienation of the self, all of which determine to what extent one can grasp oneself.
In Li Feng’s works, we see a romantic rebellion against the domination of instrumental rationality over human beings in reality. When the viewer is engulfed in the boundless loneliness of Li Feng’s works, we understand that it is the artist’s response to the “cocoon” and isolation that everyone must face in the information age. When we see the struggles and outbursts of people in Li Feng’s works, we realize that it reflects the fact that new media and new communication platforms created by technology have not brought greater liberation to people. And when we see the cold architectural forms surrounding people in his works, it represents the fact that in reality, people have become mere components of the massive system of social production and commercialization.
As a poet and painter, the value of the human in Li Feng’s works lies in how to confront the alienation of society and the oppression of power. The subjectivity of the human is reflected in how to struggle against society and break away from inferior culture.
In a sense, the crisis of painting is the crisis of humanity, and the plight of poetry is the plight of reality. For Li Feng, a writer and painter, the independent and rebellious attitude in crisis and difficulty is the most genuine response of artistic creators to the world. This response is more real than the creation of images and more urgent than the pursuit of linguistic autonomy.
“DAILY LIFE SHAPING”
In Li Feng’s works, there is neither a deconstruction of grand narratives nor historical, monumental landscapes and bizarre, magnificent scenery. From food and drink to building architecture, almost all of the scenes in Li Feng’s works are ordinary, trivial, and even boring daily life scenes.
“Daily life” is the foundation of social order, as well as repetitive behavior that confines our minds and disciplines our bodies. As social beings, we need to learn and follow traditional customs, experiences, and common sense. These repetitive practices shape our daily lives and our personalities and behaviors.
In agricultural societies, where individual autonomy is not strong, we need to learn and imitate the daily life of our predecessors. When this “daily life” becomes too strong, people will be trapped in a repetitive and uncreative life. “Daily life” not only maintains social order, but also makes people lose themselves in the repetitive behavior of a rigid body. By simply following the collective unconscious inertia, one can satisfy “daily life,” and human autonomy is thus limited.
In the era of globalization, the internet, and post-industrial society, capital and power provide us with an “ideal” model of daily life. At the same time, the worship of technology, consumerism, and success exacerbate the alienation of daily life, and we become “one-dimensional people.” Li Feng’s works do not depict the “ideal version” of daily life given to us by capital and power. In his works such as “Possible Predicament,” he expresses the desolation of the human soul and the ruin of the spirit. In “Everyday Scenery,” he depicts tamed and orderly color blocks, as if they were unwillful individuals trained by society. In more romantic and liberating scenes, the artist depicts personal struggles and resistance, expressing the initiative of contemporary people towards daily life.
Li Feng’s depiction of daily life does not include festive celebrations, as one does not need to find vitality and courage in more intense festive celebrations than daily life, nor does it include visual spectacles, as spectacles are also shaped by the commercial system of technology and capital. By depicting a daily life that is withered, in ruins, poetic, and romantic, Li Feng attempts to transcend the oppression and alienation of secular daily life that is defined by power and capital. The artist combines aesthetic ideals with daily life scenery, freeing people from the constraints of instrumental rationality and capital power, criticizing daily life while also achieving a kind of redemption through the creation of another space.
When Li Feng portrays these everyday scenes, he is actually trying to break free from the alienation caused by this dull and rigid life. When everyday life becomes an object of aesthetics, a life that is too “rational,” mundane, or trained is not worth living. Li Feng attempts to show the scenes of everyday life in order to reshape the meaning of everyday life.
“AS A SPACE OF PRODUCTIVITY”
In addition to the concept of “everyday life,” Li Feng also creates a concept of space in his works. However, his notion of space is not the traditional one of natural or spiritual space. The space in his works is not a container for piled-up objects and crowds of people, nor is it a utopia of the mind. Rather, Li Feng’s works point to the cultural meaning of space, the way in which space shapes people, and the productivity of space.
When a space is formed, it has autonomy, and space itself is a productive force. The formation of space is the result of various power struggles. Different forms of society have specific spaces. The urban space in traditional society is conducive to the rulers’ management. The Greek square is a space for citizens to gather and speak. The divisional planning of Chang’an City reflects a rigorous hierarchical system. Capitalism’s success lies in its great use and transformation of the productive power of space. In order to circulate capital, huge new spaces such as airports, railways, banks, and supermarkets have emerged. Capital uses space to change time and thus changes the organizational relationships between people. Socialist space emphasizes collectivity, and the uniform arrangement of residential buildings eliminates any individuality and private space, and does not care about communication between people.
In the context of today’s globalization, networking, nationalization, and capitalization, private space to public space has been thoroughly infiltrated. The private space of independent individuals is squeezed to the point of suffocation. The attributes of public space have been altered by power and capital.
In the series “Mobile Screens,” the virtual new media space flattens the world, and the seemingly colorful and diverse space, rather than expressing equality and diversity, highlights the hierarchy and consumerism. The space shaped by new media does not reveal as many potential truths as we imagine.
“Wanda Plaza” and “Shopping Bags” are spaces created by commercial capital. The dreamlike and exquisite spaces conceal the unbearable aspects of life, while also providing people with an ideal model of life. The uniformity of commercial spaces also indicates the single and thin aesthetics under globalization and consumerism.
In “Missing,” the lighting cuts the dim, warm room into pieces, leaving the absent owner’s body and mind with nowhere to rest.
The cold and sterile architectural structures that frequently appear in works such as “Closed Window,” “White Sofa,” and “B-Movie” create a space that is indifferent, rigid, and hollow. If the artist uses this to isolate themselves from the external world, in the “Private Space Series” installation paintings, the artist tries to emphasize the importance of individual space through intimate actions such as kissing and urinating, and strives to break free from the subjugation and discipline imposed on individuals by the space shaped by power and capital.
If space has become a place where various productive forces compete, then Li Feng, as a cultural producer, is actually creating a space with cultural productivity. He attempts to liberate the alienated space in his works. If space is shaped by various powers, Li Feng is also trying to gain the power to shape space. The “private space” created in his works becomes a poetic last dwelling place. Li Feng is not only an observer of spatial culture, but also a rebel who is immersed in it.
The true face of a cultural producer is more meaningful than the works themselves. The real Li Feng, who is unrestrained and aggressive in reality, the shadow of the oppressed and gloomy poet in the lines of his poetry, and the flesh trapped and oppressed by space on the canvas, these images together form a multi-dimensional Li Feng.
“Becoming an artist” is more important than creating personalized symbols. Questioning one’s relationship with the era is more important than exploring the internal logic of artistic language. Of course, this kind of cognition may not conform to the philosophy of success, and Li Feng may not be a successful artist in a secular sense, but success is tempting, and failure is equally attractive. Li Feng is as he said in his poetry, “No longer working hard like a painter”, he is just trying to fulfill his mission as a human being.