Interview with Li Mu Between curator Tang Xin, Su Wenxiang and Li Mu
Question: We haven’t communicated effectively with each other for a long time. We said hello to each other more. Are you still writing your Left-hand Diary? When will it end? Li Mu: I stopped the Left-hand Diary last June. I kept writing a diary on my left hand and photographed it. I kept doing it for almost two years. This is actually a self- practice to cultivate a habit of observation and expression. In the end, I got bored, so I stopped. Q: After your Blue Book being exhibited in 51m2 Project in Taikang Space,have you ever visited those children? LM: I went to Shanghai Correctional Institution for Juvenile Offender once. I wanted to take back some video documents that had been kept there. I didn’t see the children who participated in my activity. I don’t have a suitable reason to apply for seeing them again, unless I want to start a new art project. Q: The thoughts about “interference” and “participation” in your work needs to rely on the audience or needs unknown elements to participate.They might result in the consistent change of the work and may cause it to get into an uncontrollable status. Is there any change about all these now? LM: Nothing much has changed. I still take great interest in communicating with the outside world through my work. Q: You were very addicted to video and video installations at the beginning. What made you change? LM: If I think carefully, this change appeared along with the change of my understanding of art. During the first several years, I liked video and video installations very much. In front of the complicated and overloaded art documents, I could only see the things that I liked. But obsession like this can only make your creation develop along a narrower path. In 2007 I made Wind of The Great Wall for the exhibition “Refresh”. This installation work made me feel the multiple possibilities for my creation. I remember I was really unconfident about my work. That feeling is like throwing the buoy when you don’t know how to swim or losing the walking stick when you are limping. You felt mentally disturbed, nervous and a surprisingly risky feeling as well. In 2008, Public Knowledge was made in an apartment of the French concession in Shanghai, which was the beginning of all my following attempts. At that time, I just came back from a short residency in Macau. There, I realized my daily life could be the theme of my creation. I asked myself what I wanted to do, what I had and what I could do. Therefore, I had the idea of providing my books for the audience to read. After finishing that work, Blue Book, Gift and Strangeness naturally showed up… Q: You always pay close attention to documentary films. You also tried to film a documentary. How did they influence you? Are we shocked by the truthfulness in them? LM: I still like watching documentary films, but they didn’t influence my creation much. I just like watching them. Q: Let’s talk about My Question. In fact you already have an answer, right? It is a rhetorical question, which is demonstrated as an obvious exterior form. Then the original privacy is designed intentionally…What kind of definite answer are you expecting? LM: These years, with my age older, I clearly feel a sense of crisis. This finds expression in my occasional anxiety and consistent turbulence.This anxiety has always been there, but it was hidden. However, during the first half of last year, it was quite obvious. I suddenly felt I should face these problems. What on earth caused my anxiety? If I couldn’t figure it out clearly, the development of my art creation would be influenced. Therefore, I concluded six questions that bothered me at that time. I went to Yushu, Qinghai Province to ask for help from an eminent monk in the Labu Temple. The monk answered my questions from the angle of Buddhism and it didn’t give me much help. But the travel on the highland gave me an unforgettable experience. After I went back to Shanghai, I changed my ideas about these questions with Xu Tan. He talked about how he faced these questions. That conversation helped me a lot. Afterwards, I participated in the exhibition “Moved, Mutated and Disturbed Identities” curated by Biljana with my questions. Except for showing these questions, I decorated the exhibition site into a space for communication and discussion. Every day I exchanged ideas about these questions with the audience and people invited by me. Now I have collected many records of those discussions, but I haven’t put them in order yet. During the process of making the work, I realized these questions had become the media through which I communicated with the outside world. Different people have very different viewpoints. As for me, I am not looking for an answer. The communication itself has brought more important things to me. Thus, this work is still going on. I will stop when I think it’s the right time. I will trim the results of the communications and share them with everybody. As for the demonstration way I used in the exhibition, I think it was the best way that I could find, unless I only wanted to do it but not to demonstrate it. Q: Some of your works involve some “exposure” of your personal data.Can we say it’s strategic? LM: Every time you speak, you are exposing your information. I don’t have other things to “expose” other than these data. Q: Based on my understanding of your previous works, there was always something simple and unadorned in it (of course we won’t stay the same forever. I’ve changed a lot as well after I got to Beijing). But now I feel that you are transiting to “dexterity”. Am I right? Please tell me something about it. LM: If you must say you see a little dexterity in my works, it shows that apart from the majority part of “plainness” in my personality, there is actually a little dexterity in it, too. No matter plainness or dexterity, I cannot control them. All I can do is to present myself. Q: What about the work Friends? LM: It was a small exhibition in a small gallery in M50. I just wanted to be involved, so I made a work that was more like an exercise to me. I didn’t provide a plan. Two days before the opening, I was wandering around the gallery and saw there were relics of buildings everywhere.I picked up some rocks at my convenience, put them in my bag and took them to the gallery. During the two days, I took more than one hundred rocks. I wanted to write all my friends’ names on the rocks. I wrote a few names and thought it was not very good. Then I started to write some dates that I could remember: my birthday and family members’ birthdays, my wedding anniversary, the dates that my grand-parents passed away and other special dates. There were still some rocks left empty, so I wrote some dates randomly. In the end, rocks with dates dispersed on the floor of the gallery.When the exhibition was coming to an end, I informed the staff of the gallery to throw them away. Q: During your travel in Lithuania, you made several works. You must have had a lot of thoughts and feelings…Does our creation need to come from the stimulation of a new environment or the careful excavation of life? What is the relationship between your creation and real life? LM: That year I went to Lithuania to participate in The Baltic Sea Triennial. That was the first time I went abroad and I was curious about everything. We had five members in our group (Comfortable Group) and we lived there for 24 days and created our work there. Two weeks passed quickly. When it was time to submit the project plan, I still didn’t have a clue. Every night after dinner we started to discuss about our respective plan, one round after another. The plans were consistently discussed and then denied. During those days, I was thinking about the project even in my dream. I felt a lot of pressure and it didn’t come from others, but from myself. In the end, I made four works. After I came back, my friends complimented my works, but only I knew how difficult it was to make those works. I’ve talked a lot. What do I want to say exactly? We all say that life is art, but I always feel there is a layer of paper between life and art and you need to puncture it. But in order to do that, it requests your knowledge, wisdom, opportunity and all the other conditions. I am very lazy (both physically and mentally). My process of creating art is a consistent resistance to laziness. This process can’t be very comfortable. I am an emotional person in real life. I keep reminding myself not to fall in the lyrical and formalistic trap, because the final road I choose is to break away from my own restraint in concept and thought. Only by this means, can I gain spiritual freedom Q: Let’s talk about your hometown. You are from Xuzhou and you settle down in Suzhou, but you live in Shanghai? Which one is your…? LM: My hometown is a village in Feng County in Xuzhou. It used to be poor and underdeveloped. Now it’s different. Family-workshop style board processors are everywhere. Many people have become rich. Most of the land is occupied. Trash and the sound of the machines fill the whole space. I started to dislike this place. Of course, the main reason why I don’t like it there is that I have conflicts with my family in the aspect of concept. I am trying my best to coordinate this relationship. All my relatives live there. I go back there every year. My home is in Suzhou and my studio is in Shanghai, which is very close to Suzhou, so I can go back often. There’s always a feeling of battle in Shanghai. I feel stiff all the time. There’s nothing fun except for discussing art with friends and participating in exhibitions. I become relaxed every time I go back to Suzhou. I eat, drink and play there. There are lots of places to play there. Where is my real home? Nowhere. I’m just a passer-by and I also don’t want my heart to be chained in one place. Q: What about your work My 2019 for Sale? Did you sell it? How did you set the price for your work? LM: That was for the exhibition “New Art Economy” in 2009. I made a work for sale. In the end, no one bought it. I set a price of 300,000 RMB for all my works created after 2010. I think it’s a cheap and appropriate price. This comes from the confidence about my works. If I set it too low, it will look ironic; if too high, no one dares to buy it. Q: After Duchamp, anything can be art. How to differentiate artworks and daily goods? If we say the process of art creation is a process of selfrecognition, then was he searching for the method and skill to turn a stone into gold? LM: It reminds me of a consecrated Buddha statue. There is no physical difference between it and statue without consecration. Once you know it has been consecrated by an eminent monk, you’ll think this statue has life. There is no material difference between artworks and daily good. The difference is in my heart, in my recognition of that thing. My creation is a process of self-searching and self-perfection. I regard this road as disciplining in the city. I don’t think there are good methods or skills for making art. If I feel the methods, I will throw them away because I know once I have the methods or skills, I will be stuck in my own rules and traps. Q: In Shanghai, art ecology must have been a little different than previous years. Please tell me something about your group and the activities you organize. What experience have you gained from it? Please share it with us. LM: I organized a group with Zhao Junyuan, Tao Yi and Xu Zhe. The name of the group is “Company”. The three of them all studied in Europe for several years and then came back to Shanghai. They have the habits of basking in the sun and drinking coffee. Their relaxed status is what I’ve been missing. I am too tense. After the foundation of “Company”, we made “The Voice Performance in City Subway”, “The Noise Karaoke in Shanghai Music Town”, “The First International Walnut Battle” and “The Sound of Walking in the Old 1933 Workshop”. Now we are starting to introduce contemporary art masters to children. There will be a set of books and some interactive activities with children. Besides, we are preparing to do “The Second International Walnut Battle”.I feel relaxed working with them and I touched upon much knowledge about sound and extemporaneous music. This has unconsciously influenced my attitude towards life and made me face everything in a relaxed mood. I also gradually understand that you can only be relaxed when you don’t care about the result and give up the desire to win completely. Q: Let’s talk about your current life and work. We also want to learn more about the artists living in other cities. LM: It’s been my fifth year in Shanghai. It’s been too long and I feel a little numb. There are not many exhibitions that can make me excited. There are only a few friends to communicate with. Since last year,I have spent some time on English study. I am applying for some international residency projects. I hope to put myself on a bigger stage to learn and create. Q: When talking about creation, the artists always mention a word:pertinence. What do you think? What is your pertinence? LM: All my creations aim at myself, I think. Through the process of creation, you can cure or, improve yourself and live better. I hope so. Q: What have the artists of last generation taught us? What do you think highly of? LM: I try very hard to learn from them and I’ve already learned a lot. For example, when I see Huang Yongping’s work, I realize the importance of knowledge; when I see Cai Guoqiang’s work, I learn that artists need imagination and primitive passion. I was used to seeing the flaws of other people before. Now I want to learn the merits of other people and ignore their flaws. Q: Can we still create something today? LM: I don’t know. I’ll try. Q: Describe your creation using a few key words. What do you think they are? LM: My creation? Simple, plain, clumsy, sincere, lack of imagination. Q: The year of 2012 is coming. Do you believe in the future？What do you think the future is like? LM: I am expecting the future. I can live peacefully, like deep and tranquil water.