Li WAKE, art never ends ...

Part 4

Continued from Part3 - Bai (français ici)

While waiting to go back to China,

which is taking longer as each days passes, and proving to be so difficult with many documents to prepare, have stamped, approved, certified, legalised, sealed and signed from the Chinese side, there are times when I forget the small moments, people, words, smells, sounds and textures. Grieving for what was, back then, in another time, another world, BC - Before Covid. So, it quickens my heart when I hear from Wake and Bai and Yuan and Ying and Livia and Will. I am connected to their world. Ying, my work colleague, passes me the messages from the cooks at the school and the fisherfolk on the beach near to the home we shared for 5 years. It all seems another world.

I want to come home to China. Take my camera and continue filming Wake, visit the northeast, the snows, feel the biting cold. Eat another hot dumpling, a ripe mango, drink a real soy milk smoothie with berries and walnuts from the young girl who stands on the side of the street at 6.30am, and try to memorise the sayings from Confucius: Crisis is an opportunity riding the wild winds. Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. The way to get started is to stop talking and begin doing. Memories can never be taken, they live strong in the mind.

As the heat of this lovely June day falls down in the UK, far off sounds come through the window, children play in backyards, and the sun bathes speckled patterns of end-of-day glory. I muse on how Uranus stamps its way in Taurus reeking havoc, and despite the chaos we can still connect with each other (through email as other methods are harder or banned.) So, with these thoughts, I end my Wake Stories today. I will continue to write a column about his art and work on my SCATTERFLIX website, as I feel I have not even touched the surface. So much more to say . . .

Thank you all so much for your comments,

and for sharing the posts. It is very hard for Li Wake to get his work seen outside China and these moments shared with him have been endearing. I have learnt a lot. He wrote me an email the other day: Hello Jeanne. I just arrived at my home in the Northeast last night. I went to the ruins in the mountains of Sichuan to shoot my performance art. I am very encouraged to read your illustrated article today. I deeply feel the love and warmth from you, the artist from foreign countries. I will be more active in artistic creation and keep in touch and exchange with you. Looking forward to your visit to the Northeast and also looking forward to sightseeing and exchanges in your country. Wake-Bai X

Performance Art

WAKE: The name of this painting is  Leather Plungerism: water deep and fire hot. The "leather plunger" here refers to a tool for cleaning the toilet. “Water deep and fire hot”(水深火热)means to live in great misery.

The creation of this painting originated from a story about a female college student named Wu Huayan who died in January 2020 due to chronic severe malnutrition. She was only 1.35 meters tall and weighed 21.5 kilograms. Her family is very poor. When her affairs were exposed, it caused a huge reversal in the society, and the amount of donations for her treatment reached 1 million yuan. However, from the beginning to the end, the organization that organized the donation only paid a sum of 20,000 yuan to the hospital where Wu Huayan saw a doctor. Wu Huayan died of malnutrition due to insufficient food. Moreover, Wu Huayan herself refused to go to Germany to receive free treatment. She believed that going abroad for treatment was an unpatriotic manifestation.

I began The Toilet Plungers series in the 1990s

The Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, destroyed culture and moral order under the phenomenon "All the people are soldiers".  The generation that grew up in this kind of social environment had differing education, and cultivated the vice of beating, smashing and looting, and the brilliance of human nature had almost disappeared.

By the "reform and opening up" in the 1980s, people were involved in the wave of an era called "all people are businesses", as all they were thinking about was making money and making a fortune. The absence of spirituality and human nature caused by cultural gaps and the idea of the supremacy of money made people lose the most valuable abilities of a human being.  Until now, people have also measured a person's success in terms of money, house, and car. People who only know how to chase money have no internal spiritual power, just a shell.

With the rapid economic development, people have changed from “beating, smashing, and looting” to the frantic plundering of the environment. Haze, water pollution, excessive use of pesticides, etc., people are clogging their spiritual world while clogging the earth. Toilet Plunger symbolizes the role of dredging. From the "all people are soldiers"  to "all people are business”, people blindly follow phenomena, which has become a kind of inertia and a normal state. Independent thinking has become a superfluous thing.

People always ask me: Can your art make money? Is thinking useful? The Toilet Plungers series of works is an irony and criticism of this reality.



The Golden Wedding

The inspiration for "Golden Wedding" originally came from my parents. Their "classes" are not the same. One comes from the so-called landlord class, and the other from the so-called capitalist class. After they got married, they fought and quarrelled for a lifetime.

The golden wedding is a blessed marriage anniversary, but it is not like this with my parents. The pain in their marriage is greater than the happiness. Their marriage is more of a political marriage, which is introduced and combined by an organization, in order to actively respond to the call of the times and became activists and progressives.

Of course, you don’t have to accept the marriage partner introduced by the organization. If you did, then you might become isolated and the situation may be even more difficult. This seemingly natural marriage is actually not normal. It is a marriage relationship steeped in red politics and red genes.


Some of my drinking buddies say my works are expressionist,

some say they are critical realism, some say they are Populist . . . In fact, I know what I'm about. I'm just a native-born person who just wants too identify as a "magical social anxietist."

1989: First major exhibition of modern art in China. Organised by the Beijing art critic Li Xianting under great duress. Wake - front left - stands in front of his first inflationist installation which stood at the entrance

The artistic mission undertaken by the "magical social anxietist" could never have been achieved by easel painting alone. Therefore, on the basis of installation art and performance art, I have created "Wacker Performance Films": "Contemporary Life Clothes Fashion", "Sewing", "Big Sound", "Sleepwalking" and "Golden Lotus". Their common feature is that they are, first of all, characterised by performance throughout. The second is the reduction of plot or the absence of plot, the creation and capture of 'meaningful forms' (Clive Bell), to match and highlight the 'nakedness' of the human condition in reality.

Among them, “The Big Voice” and “Sleepwalking” have been exhibited and won prizes, but for me contemporary art is like a lighted Luoyang shovel (a folk invention for tomb-robbing), designed to unearth the obscure, the demonic and the monstrous, and then to reveal them to the world, which is the first and foremost aim of "magical social anxietist,” as evidenced by the poem: "With a Luoyang shovel / / On earth and heaven / / Seam single tomb exploration / / Meet double sun.


National Anthem is the first short film I saw by Li Wake, and will finish this series

That cold night, in my first few months in China, I took the bus number 7 through the mists to the Qingdao film festival, an event which draws filmmakers from all over China, staged over a few days. I had only just arrived in Qingdao, as this was my first term as a teacher at the Beijing Film Academy Modern Creative Media College. I was finding my way, still hot on nerves, and racking my soul to find ‘my people’. It was Yuan, a young friend, introduced to me by our Canadian friend and filmmaker, Tao Gu, who saved me, literally. Despite obstacles to our communication and age, she became the other CHINA for me. Bright, daring, brilliant and young. So very young. She steered me to her world which lay outside my peripheral vision. 

There, in the dull light of the projection room, was Yuan’s friend - Li Wake.

And this is the film we viewed. My first film in a festival in China.

There is no red, or gene, or performance, or need for explanation.

Wake simply lets us into another brave world


Thank you for spending some time with Li Wake in China, and for your comments.

Leave a comment

I wish you all a great few weeks, enjoy life wherever you are. I also thank Wake and Bai for the work they have shared, and the stories and photos. 非常感谢我的朋友们

I will continue to share Li Wake’s art on my documentary film website: www.scatterflix.com under, Li Wake, Chinese Artist, as he is constantly creating, and much that I could not write about here you can catch up with there.

Thank you.