Li Ming, Inspired by transliteration—Chapter Five: One Day, 2021, 4K video, color, sound, 13 minutes 43 seconds.

Li Ming, Inspired by transliteration—Chapter Five: One Day, 2021, 4K video, color, sound, 13 minutes 43 seconds.

Li Ming

The first work one saw on entering Li Ming’s exhibition “Being Consumed” was Inspired by transliteration—Chapter Five: One Day, 2021, which might have been the artist’s response to the abnormal state of life during the pandemic. But the scenes on-screen could not be more normal: a tree-lined street, passing cars, a bird gliding through the frame every now and then. The artist, bored at home during lockdown, had decided to film the parked cars from his window and to continue doing so until only white cars were parked on the street. On the seventy-sixth day of shooting, he finally got the “coincidence” he wanted. One had to wonder, however: Was the artist playing tricks with us? Reality was clearly being manipulated in this piece: People and cars constantly fade in and out, sometimes dissolving into each other like ghosts. Sometimes the footage seems sped up. When the white cars “magically” align in a single row near the end of the video, are we really seeing seventy-six days’ wait consolidated into a single image, or an unnameable time and memory, already thinned out and gone before its existence can be confirmed?

The dislocation between life and the screen, the rupture between past and present, the unreliability of memory (continuously receding yet reconstructed) are themes that permeated the whole show. Sometimes their presence was obvious, as in a subtitle in Inspired by transliteration—Chapter Four: Fèng, 2020, which instructs the viewer to “focus on the screen that is being played at this moment.” For Li, the distance between two points is a question of both space and time; one of these points would exchange positions, overlap, even combine. Hence the symbolism of the sequence at the beginning of Fèng, in which the artist stands on the balcony of an old building as if ready to leap to the opposite side. If editing allows for the stitching together of images, for suturing the gap between two points—fèng means “seam” or “crack”—the bridging of space becomes dangerous in physical reality. A similar danger is present in the video G, 2016–21, displayed on one of three computer screens at the center of the exhibition space. Here we see a more archaic kind of “leap”: the salto mortale taken by value in acts of economic exchange. Li shows Shanghai-based artist Liu Chuang’s 2008 installation Past Opportunity No. 1, which asks the audience to insert a one-renminbi coin into a slot in the wall in order to receive back a one-renminbi bill from a second slot at the other end of the wall. Li himself is seen in a small town selling a live pigeon for one renminbi, which he then turns into ten by playing a slot machine. Familiar acts of exchange start to look absurd, leading us to wonder whether they have any solid basis to begin with.

Li has embedded G in the blockchain, made corresponding physical coins to symbolize the virtual copyrights, and invited other people to participate in this series of exchanges, performing another vulnerable gesture of openness with no guarantee of success. Written on the wall at Antenna Space is the theme that Li established for this project: “Waiting for a Stroke of Fortune.” To wait may seem passive, but as Li has shown by literally sewing a row of buttons onto his body—a “random image” he picked up during a collaboration with his studio neighbor, artist Zhu Changquan, in a previous exhibition (the whole process is documented in the series “Féng|fèng and memories with relation to Féng|fèng,” 2021)—waiting for a rare occurrence can also be painful, requiring great patience and perseverance. However, starting from there, we may also arrive at an active embodied politics.

Translated from Chinese by Yujia Bian.