Aug 20 2018

“Play and Loop:” Recap of Li Ming screening

by Dennis Mao

Installation view of LI MING’s A Succeeded Failure, 2015, HD single-channel video: 1 min 3 sec, at “Play and Loop,” Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, 2018. Courtesy Blindspot Gallery.

As a space dedicated to contemporary photography and moving image, this summer, Hong Kong’s Blindspot Gallery hosted “Play and Loop,” a seven-week screening program of video works by Chinese contemporary artists. Week four of the series presented two video works by Li Ming, A Succeeded Failure (2015) and Nothing Happened Today No. 2 (2012), which were played on loop during gallery opening hours from July 31 to August 4.

The two works were screened in independent booths, each equipped with beanbags and a bench, and separated by black curtains hung from the ceiling. In the first booth, A Succeeded Failure shows Li squatting in a supermarket shopping cart while holding onto a moving car in front, with the one-minute video ending in unintentional slapstick when the artist falls off the cart and rolls along the road. Although truncated (Li had originally planned a longer performance, captured by a continuous tracking shot), this clip questions the dichotomy between success and failure, positing a re-examination of what constitutes an effective artwork. In hindsight, the ending of Failure may seem to be an obvious result of Li’s outrageous attempt to follow a car in a shopping cart, yet it demonstrates the unpredictability inherent even in a planned artistic action. As Wang Zi, director of Li’s representative gallery Antenna Space, once said of the artist: “Li’s work is a kind of exploration into himself . . . motivated by instinct . . . his creation always ends in an unexpected but inevitable way.”

LI MING, A Succeeded Failure, 2015, still image from HD single-channel video: 1 min 3 sec. Courtesy the artist and Antenna Space, Shanghai.

The older of the two presented works, the four-channel video installation Nothing Happened Today No. 2, has been featured widely in multiple exhibitions, including "ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice” in 2013 at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA). However, unlike the presentation at the UCCA exhibition, in which each channel was displayed simultaneously on separate monitors, Blindspot played the four episodes consecutively using a single projector. This curatorial decision diminished the immediate multi-perspectival insights characteristic of Li’s style, but an advantage was that the sense of absurdity was amplified through the increased duration of the looped single-channel format.

LI MING, Nothing Happened Today No. 2, 2012, still image from HD four-channel video: 53 min 50 sec. Courtesy the artist and Antenna Space, Shanghai.

In the video, the artist records himself committing various actions while conveying the words “Nothing happened today” to surrounding spectators in different ways. For example, in the first segment, Li is shown sitting on a boat from a fixed camera set behind the artist, holding a recorder that keeps playing audio of himself saying, “Nothing happened today.” Occasionally, he pauses the recording and instead shouts the line, which is amplified through a speaker. In subsequent segments, the words “Nothing happened today” reappear, for instance, as a slogan printed on an airship, or in Chinese and pinyin inscribed on a wooden board and installed on the back of a bicycle.

LI MING, Nothing Happened Today No. 2, 2012, still image from HD four-channel video: 53 min 50 sec. Courtesy the artist and Antenna Space, Shanghai.

Installation view of LI MING’s Nothing Happened Today No. 2, 2012, HD four-channel video: 53 min 50 sec, at “Play and Loop,” Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong.

As one who often participates in his own video works, Li continuously reflects on the role that artists play in artworks. In Nothing, Li enriches the concept of “mediator” through the slogan “Nothing happened today”, which implies an indifferent day but triggers skepticism from both the bystanders in the video and the audience at the gallery as it begs the question, “What is there to shout about if nothing really happened today?” In this sense, the artist becomes not only the conventional mediator between artworks and the audience but also a catalyst that provokes transformation from normality to novelty, comparable to what Li does in Failure. The repetition of this slogan, beyond communicating absurdity and boredom, is Li’s intervention into the viewer’s time and space.

Compared with the artist’s previous exhibitions at UCCA or Antenna Space, in which Li modified the gallery environment to add another dimension to his works, the typical cinema-like screening at Blindspot appeared flat. Nonetheless, the selection of videos showcased Li’s ongoing fascination with the ambiguities surrounding change, perspective and urban existence, providing Hong Kong audiences with interesting ways of re-analyzing their everyday experiences. 

Dennis Mao is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

Play and Loop: Li Ming” was on view at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, from July 31 to August 4, 2018. The screening program continues to August 25, 2018.

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