Thursday, March 11, 2010

Part II: The Cultural Revolution Pictures

In 1958, Mao Zedong led the campaign of the “Great Leap Forward,” based on the Theory of Productive Forces, aimed to use China’s population to rapidly transform China from an agrarian economy into a modern communist society. Iron and steel production was identified as a key requirement for economic advancement, so millions of peasants were ordered away from agricultural work to join the iron and steel production workforce. Private farming was prohibited and those engaged in it were labeled as enemies of the state. The movement ended in catastrophe, triggering a widespread famine that resulted in up to thirty million deaths in three years.

Mao had always desired to create a “classless” China, in which no one was better than anyone else, everyone working for the good of China. In 1966, he insisted on removing “liberal bourgeois” elements from the society through post-revolutionary class struggle, mobilizing the thoughts and actions of China’s youth, who formed Red Guard groups around the country. The widespread social and political upheaval resulted in nation-wide chaos and economic disarray, which spread through urban workers, the military, and the party leadership itself. People who had gone abroad were rigorously oppressed, labeled as enemies. At that time, people were still under the impression of being saved from war by Chairman Mao; they worshipped him and believed everything he said.

Fashion was denied – “beauty” resulted when everyone wore the same clothes, with no difference between genders. People rejected everything that was unique or Western, and anything from abroad. They even eradicated the “Four Olds,” which included old books, art, and museums. The Red Guards even attacked scholars. No one was safe from criticism: doctors, famous actors, writers, economists, teachers. Many people committed suicide because of the humiliation of being labeled an enemy.

The movement lasted for ten years, becoming a pivotal point in history for the development of Chinese culture. The Quotations of Chairman Mao played an important role during this time, considered the best gift for weddings, and everyone had to recite one quotation each time before they spoke.

Reading about the Cultural Revolution made me wonder: how would someone from that time period in China react if they traveled through time and arrived today, in contemporary America? How would they respond to the mass production of nearly all commodities? How would they respond a society of free individualism and identity? Unlike my parents’ generation, most of the people in my generation have not been through war, oppression, or hunger; they do not know how to economize or how to appreciate the life they can lead today.

As I dig into the Chinese youth identity during this project, I realized that everything always has two sides, but more importantly, that those two sides are not necessarily fixed. They can be flipped—good can be made of the bad.

Yexue Li
March 2010

Note: Part II: the Cultural Revolution Pictures is the second part of the project: The Occident and the Orient

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reflection to the Radicant Part III

"All graet artists copied, interpreted, and recycled masters of the past."

Who are you copying?
What makes you different from your idol?

Week 9 Progress Report

I developed all the films and scanned them over the week, and I'm in the process of editing them.

I'm also writing my artist statement, I will try to order the copy of my second book early next week.

comics = trash?

I've already loved comic books, even though I did not grow up in the Disney dream. But comic books were the first "art form" I knew. They offered me opportunities of imagination when there was no art environment for me.

The first comics I ever read was Do Ra A Mon, and I was 5: 
and of course it did not contain any sex, drugs or R&R elements.

The second one was Sailor Moon:
and it started to have violence involved.

I moved to Detective Conan which has a lot of death:
and right now I'm following Bleach and One Piece:
But none of these comic books I've read are similar to American comic books. I guess it is the eastern/western difference. Western comics are short and involved with ideas of self-expression (pornography in a way), and jokes I sometimes can't get. Especially for those underground graphics, they reflect the hidden history of culture, they contain political messages, and they always confused me. But I still appreciate them, as art.

I'm not sure about other people, but if they consider comics "trash", does that mean one day, art will become trash too?

p.s. I just realized that all the Asian comics I've read are Japanese. wow.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mentor Report: Nikki S. Lee

One of the most amazing part about Nikki S. Lee that I forgot to mention in my presentation is that she does not only adopt dress codes and behaviors of those social groups, she even observes them and then decides if she should gain or lost weight for her next project.

Nikki S. Lee's works are usually compared to:
William Gedney
Cindy Sherman
Adrian Piper

Tseng Kwong Chi

Nikki S. Lee's Works

A.K.A. Nikki S. Lee

- Nikki S. Lee, Projects,2001
- Russell Ferguson, Let’s be Nikki
- Vicario Gibert, Conversation with Nikki S. Lee
- Susan Chevlowe, The Jewish identity Project,2006
- Nikki S. Lee, Parts,2005
- RoseLee Goldberg, Only Part of the Story, 2005
- William L. Hamilton, Shopping with Nikki S. Lee, New York Times, Dec 2, 2001
- Holland Cotter, Nikki S. Lee, New York Times, Sep 10, 1999
- Projects at the Museum of Contemporary Photography
- Ben Davis: Cultural Karaoke, Artnet Magazine
- Assumed identities: Nikki S Lee Photographs, The Cleverland Museum of Art Exhibition Feature

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reflection to the Radicant Part II

by Greenberg

"... At this same party [a] friend introduced the then comparatively young art critic Clement Greenberg... Marianne seemed to be familiar with his writing and said, on shaking hands, "Oh, the fearless Mr. Greenberg."
-- Elizabeth Bishop 
in Efforts of Affection: A Memoir of Marianne Moore

This is Greenberg's breakthrough essay from 1939, written for the Partisan Review when he was twenty-nine years of age and at the time more involved with literature than with painting. He came, later, to reject much of the essay -- notably the definition of kitsch which he later believed to be ill thought out (as, indeed, it is.) Later he came to identify the threat to high art as coming from middlebrow taste, which in any event aligns much more closely with the academic than kitsch ever did or could. The essay has an air and assurance of '30s Marxism, with peculiar assumptions such as that only under socialism could the taste of the masses be raised. But for all that, the essay stakes out new territory. Although the avant-garde was an accepted fact in the '30s. Greenberg was the first to define its social and historical context and cultural import. The essay also carried within it the seeds of his notion of modernism. Despite its faults and sometimes heady prose, it stands as one of the important theoretical documents of 20th century culture.

-- Terry Fenton

Week 8 progress report

I'm in the process of editing all the photos' color for my first book, and scanning the negatives I selected from part 2.

I also went to take another 18 photos this weekend, don't know how they will come out yet...

Hopefully I can order a sample copy for Part 2 next week.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Week 7 progress report

I received the sample of my Part 1: the Shanghai Pictures last week.
But the color was off, most of the photographs in there were too red.
I will get another sample together with Part 2 when I finish it.

This was the third week for me to work on shooting photos for Part 2: the Cultural Revolution Photos, and I was planning to shoot outside. However, the weather this weekend was so bad, it was snowing on Saturday and really dark on Sunday, so I didn't go take any more photos. Instead, I was producing the negatives from last week and in the process of scanning them. Some of them came out really good, but they still hadn't reached the quality and quantity I was hoping for (30 finished photos for each section). So I will keep shooting next week, I hope the weather is nicer.

I used the new camera to take more sample photos. It seemed like that line from last photo on the wall was actually from the camera. I need to figure out how to clean the dust before loading the films.

What is your passion?

I was 16 when I first came to America through an exchange program. I even took a leave absence from high school because I thought this would be the only chance for me to see what America is like. I stayed in America for college, but I didn’t know what I wanted to become, so I studied Math and Economics because I was told that if I had no passion for anything else, Economics was the best major to find a job.

I studied one year of Calculus and took an intro course in Economics – it was awful. I instantly hated it and stopped caring about supply and demand curves. I got warnings from both professors and the school about losing my scholarship. I was not interested in becoming an investment banker, but I didn’t just want to randomly pick another major like I had picked Economics.

It was a stressful time. I had to find out what I could do and what I might be good at while worrying about my scholarships. The art class I was taking became my most relaxing time of the term. I enjoyed working on my projects no matter how long they took to be what I wanted them to be. So I thought, maybe I could be a studio art major. I went to declare it right away. So there I was, a studio art major student with no art background at all, but I had found my passion, and I was happy.

Three years later, I am about to graduate from college and I am trying to figure out where I will be next year. What I can do with a BA in Art? Will my passion save me again? After Prof. Jodi Sedlock’s lecture about changing her focus from art to biology, I feel like there are a lot of possibilities in the future, and I just need to be patient and continue to make art at the same time. When my new passion comes, I need to be ready to take it on.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Week 6 Progress Report

I shot 20 photographs last week and I'm still in the process of producing them out. Hopefully I will finish them by Monday.

So I bought this camera last week, it was like the new polariod, and I was thinking about using it for my third part of my project.
I'm still debating if I should use a regular digital camera or try this new product, so I made a sample:
I know there are a lot of dots need to be photoshoped, but this is only a sample to compare with the digital camera I used.
I used a Nikon D40x and took this photo at the same spot. (I had it at the same spot but she didn't like that one and asked me not to post that one on my it is a little different but the lighting was the same, the "polariod" forced to use flash.)
I'm still debating...the good part is I do not need to make a decision right now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Week 5 Progress Report

Book I:
I finished the book and ordered a copy last week just to see how it comes out, there might be some changes due to the printing quality.

Book II:
I started the second part of my photo series this week, I finished producing 10 photos. I will show some of them in class on Tuesday.

I had another idea about my project last week, which will be the third part of my project. After showing my work to several artists for critique, I realized that I need to expand the project so it will not be that educational. So my Book III will be about the present time (Book I was about 1930 Shanghai and Book II is about the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976), and it will not be self-portraits any more, I will take photographs  of other Chinese UNDERGRADUATE students studying in America. I am trying to get money so I could take photos of Strangers in other cities like New York City and San Francisco, because I really want to interview people I don't know and to see if they have the similar experience like mine. According to plan, I will ask for volunteers so I can stay with them for the weekend, and see how much I could know them in 2 days. I will also change the media too, I used 4x5 view camera and cyanotype printing technique for the first part of the project, I am printing black and white photos for my second part, I will print colors for the third part, I might even use a digital camera.

I'm really excited about the third part and I can't wait to go to that step. 

“Abstract impression art is real art”

Confucius said: “At fifteen I set my mind on learning. At thirty I acted on the proprieties. At forty I could make a clear distinction between benevolence and non-benevolence. At fifty I came to know the existence of the heavenly principles. At sixty, the heavenly principles were not offensive to my ears. At seventy I could do whatever I wished to without going beyond the heavenly principles.”
Andy Warhol: Self-Portrait with Skull Diptych, 1977

The late works of Andy Warhol showed how settled he was in his ideas and how clear his direction was. He knew what he wanted to do.

Andy Warhol started to look back to his old topics in the last ten years of his life, he re-examined the media and the media’s portrayal of himself. It was wonderful to see a show of Warhol’s last ten years, because compared to his early works, you can see maturity. His style was settled even though he was trying new things. He had become an icon, his art had become his business.

Is Andy Warhol too commercial? The ready-made subjects, such as soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, etc, seem so abstract in his works. They look like what you can see all over the place in your everyday life, but they have personality. You can see Andy Warhol behind them. However, I don’t think he was advertising, he was trying to explain that this is the culture we live in now and will have in the future, and the chicken soup can is just the tool he used to illustrate.

I feel Andy Warhol was pretty settled when he was 50. When he had the idea of looking back and trying to do something new with the old subjects, he was still the shiniest star of POP. I believe that, even though those works may not be as famous or mind-blowing as his early works, his late works definitely raised his art to a new level.

This is art, and you are not

The documentary about Nomi reminded me a lot of figures such as Lady Gaga, Edward Scissorhands, etc. I wonder if people from that period of time see Klaus Nomi the same as we see Lady Gaga today. I can find a lot of similar Nomi elements from Lady Gaga’s music videos.

Their cartoonish looks make them look unreal, but I understand that some people use makeup to hide what they really feel, for instance, clowns use makeup to create a generic happy character but they creep me out every time I see them.

What do you need to get famous? This was the question I have been thinking about ever since I saw Lady Gaga’s picture on the internet for the first time. Lady Gaga could sing well, there are a lot of people who can sing, but not all of them can be as well known as she is. Quality of singing is only one of the basic elements required to be a famous singer. One of the fastest ways to get public attention is by creating an outstanding different look. Both Nomi and Lady Gaga have the bizarre makeup and dream like movements and modern dance. Their unique entertainment eventually brought them fame. If you want to get famous, the earlier, the better, no matter what it takes, because the older you get, your opportunity decreases. There are a lot of artists working on a subject for their entire lives, but they didn’t get famous until they reached their 80s. I respect them, but I don’t think I would be that confident to keep doing something that doesn’t pay you back for 40 years.

Fame can make you do so many things you normally wouldn’t do. Nomi was so afraid of losing his voice, he abandoned his friends, and he didn’t trust anyone any more. Nomi started to get shots for his voice in the middle of the concert, because his voice was the only thing he could control at that time of his life. He was no longer that normal “German exchange student” who loved opera and came to New York City, so excited about his future.

Fame comes at a price, but not everyone can afford it.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Week 4 progress report

Book I:

I have finished Book I, but I still need a name for the book before I send it to lulu... anyone got any idea?

Book II:

I will start to shoot the photos next Saturday.

Welcome to the Party of the Human Race

Pray the Devil back to Hell is a documentary about how Liberian women communicated their message of peace through the media. They knew the power of media, they spread the news all over newspapers, internet, and national and global medias. They prayed with handmade signs and printed peace t-shirts, they even threatened to strip naked in public. These women proved that peace is something you make, not something you can take for granted. They used less money/resources and time to make peace, and they earned honor and respect.

What made these women succeed? How are these women special from the rest of the world? Their gender, their color, their nationality, their citizenship… they are not just cartoon figures, they are mothers, they have the power and the guts to stand against men their sons’ age who refuse to share power. Men believe that women cannot be leaders of a political movement or a war, but all these women want is peace. “Peace is about every action we make every day, peace is the communicating.” But communicating leads to conflicts, and conflicts bring war.

Disney stated that women from other countries had much stronger reaction to the movie than anyone in the US. She questioned why Americans did not seem to care about the film while people from other countries equate the movie with their own political background, and are very affected by it. Do Americans really care about anything? When the earthquake occurred in Haiti, there were charity auctions everywhere in America, the Hollywood stars were answering phone calls for donation, and even Lawrence had the orchestra/arts auction for Haiti. But this war in Liberia has been going on for many years and the US doesn’t seem to care. All I could think about was the similar earthquake in China last year, the media did not cover it nearly as extensively as the Haiti earthquake. Hardly any people knew what happened, it is the difference of attention that I don’t understand.

What do we need to pay for justice? For instance, Google was threatening to pull out of China because China was using google to target human rights activists. Google pretended to care about the human rights, but profit was what they really cared about. After all Google is just a company, and a company places profit before free speech or whatever else. Similarly, some people like war because it makes more money than peace.

War is the parent of army. But if you are still proud of your military power, you should be careful, because you might be easily beaten by those Liberian women. They know what it is like to experience war every day, and they have nothing else to lose, which is more powerful than a weapon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

the 3rd Week Progress Report

Week of Jan 18 – 24  PARTLY FINISHED

Set up Exhibition at Mudd Gallery

Event: Down Will Come Baby, Cradle and All
What: Opening
Start Time: Tomorrow, January 25 at 7:00pm
End Time: Tomorrow, January 25 at 9:00pm
Where: Mudd Gallery- Library 3rd floor

Finish Book I and send to  FAILED PART OF IT...
InDesign never liked me...I need help on the cover pages and the page size set-up. The new version changed all their looks and I could not find anything right.

Week of Jan 25 – 31 IN PROCESS~
Start to shoot for Book II

Reflection to The Radicant Part I

The audience is hungry for information.
----Bourriaud, The Radicant

I once read a blog saying that the art without nationality is above all the rest. People talk about their “own unique” cultures because they don’t have anything else to show off. The writer suggests that it is more important to think about “where should we go” rather than “where did you come from”. She says multiculturalism is the outcome of immigration, and the foreign “invaders” call their work “the recognition of the other”.


My American friend who studies Chinese at Lawrence University just came back from a Chinese graduate school. As she was talking about the things she experienced in China, I could only think about how hard my neighbors and friends in China had tried to go abroad. Most of them went to Australia, New Zealand and Canada because it was easier to get a green card in those countries. When they did get the permit to stay, they acted as though they had just received the best honor of their life. And they started to call themselves Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians.


The Radicant talked about secondary roots. I like that word. After staying almost five years in America, I don’t know which culture I belong to any more. “Multiculturalism… conceives the individual as definitively assigned to his or her cultural, ethnic, or geographic roots” (34). I talk about my Chinese radicant all the time, because that is where I come from. I talk about my life in America a lot too, because that is where I became who I am – I am stuck, I don’t know how to define myself and that confuses me. Liese Ricketts told me during a critique: “It is good to feel stuck, because that is who you are.” It seems like because I have roots in both America and China, I have more options in my life, but I need to know which side defines me more.

Can we really free ourselves from our roots? No. “The root is both a mythical origin as well as an ideal goal” (45). I do not want to be called a “Chinese American.” I need to find a better word to define myself, and I plan to spend the rest of my life seeking that word. For those people without roots, I pity you.

Time can do a lot of things to a woman...

I never really enjoy performance art, but I love Laurie Anderson’s shows. They are passionate, inspirational, creative, and powerful. She rocks! I think she is more of an artist than Buckminster Fuller.

Laurie Anderson is anti-technology, which is another reason why I love her, even though she uses quite a lot of instruments and modern lighting in her shows. “Computer is the end of human contact,” she says. I totally agree. I still write letters by hand, I keep a diary, I switched to email and blog only for convenience sake, but I can totally live without my computer and cell phone.

Whenever I try to get away from these modern communication tools, the world seems so quiet, and of course I get tons of complaints about how people cannot get a hold of me. I have a facebook account, only because it is easier to find people than email since some check their facebook more than their email. I do not use twitter, I am no celebrity and I do not need twitter to update my fans. I have a blog, but I only write about what I did that day just as a record for myself. I’m sure nobody will be interested in how many pages of reading I finished that afternoon and how many cups of coffee I drank that day.

The Internet is a new way of communicating. People skype instead of using the phone – I just saw a girl talking to her computer in the café yesterday which is still kind of weird to me – it is cheaper, and people do not need to fly across half of the world to have a business meeting any more. The technology makes some of our lives easier, and lazier.

It is easier to be lazier.

Reflection to Buckminster Fuller

Call me Trimtab.
---- Bucky (Grave of Buckminster Fuller)

The Dome Over Manhattan Island designed by Buckminster Fuller reminds me of the Bubble within Egyptian Religion.

Dome Over Manhattan Island

Ancient Egyptian Goddess Shu

Ancient Egyptians believed that they lived in a bubble, which protected them from chaos. The goddess Shu separates the sky and the earth, and the sun dies every night only to come back to life each morning. I don’t understand why Fuller chose to isolate Manhattan from the world – at least it seems like that was his intension to me – and I also don’t think it fits Fuller’s “socio-economic system” that he was trying to build.

Fuller was an architect, author, designer, inventor, and futurist. But he seemed more like a careerist to me. He blamed everything on the death of his first daughter, and I think he lost his mind after that. Artists are crazy, we all know that.

But can we even call Fuller an artist? We can say his creations began as oversized sculptures, but now these sculptures are widely accepted as architecture. The structure of Montreal Biosphere can now be found everywhere.

I love architecture, I wanted to be an architect when I was little, but Buckminster Fuller’s designs are too futuristic for me to handle. Sorry, Bucky.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Weekly Goals

2009-2010 Winter Term

Week of Jan 11 – 17 FINISHED!!!
Photos for Exhibition at Mudd Gallery (collaboration project)

It was an interactive piece. We made molds of life-size baby dolls with as many different kinds of media as possible: plaster, plastic, wax, clay, and wet clay and burn it after… When we had enough casts, we host an event at the amphi theatre and asked students to come join us drop the casts from above.

It is a collaboration project about child abuse and we learnt how to work with others and think about other people from it.

Mudd Gallery Opening:  7 p.m. Feburary 25!!!
(The image was too big to upload, Please come to the exhibition and check out!)

Week of Jan 18 – 24 IN PROCESS~

Set up Mudd Gallery; Finish Book I and send to

Hyped as the “Paris of the East”, Shanghai was a bustling cosmopolitan city with a foreign population approaching 70,000 by 1930. It held one of the busiest ports in the world and became the center for business in Asia. This influx of multi-nationals brought along new ideas and a new way of life and living, unlike anything China had experienced in the past (A Glimpse at 1930s Shanghai). 1930s’ Shanghai is a very typical time and place in the Chinese history, it was a city full of neon lights, money, crimes, mafia, and parties, it was a city full of hope and opportunities, and it was also a city full of hopelessness and threat of death at any time.

However, if I could travel through time and go back to a certain period of time and location, 1930’s Shanghai is my No. 1 choice. Inspired by Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills and Tseng Kwong Chi’s East meets West series, I realized that I could go back to that certain time through photographing, just like a dressed-up party. Not only did I go back, I also began to examine closely of what people were thinking then.And that is how I started this project.

Week of Jan 25 – 31 
Start to shoot for Book II

The time during the Culture Revolution was a completely different subject matter than 1930's Shanghai. It was a time when nobody thought about what they wear -- men and women wore the same clothes! It was a time when there was no gender differences, people were so pure and innocent. It was probably the most significant period in the modern Chinese history.

Week of Feb 1 – 7 
Shooting for Book II~

Week of Feb 8 – 14 
Shooting for Book II and have a few satisfied photos

Week of Feb 15 – 21 
Finish shooing for Book II

Week of Feb 22 – 28 
Finish Book II; Scan the negatives and send to

Week of Mar 1 – 7 
Frame for Exhibition in May; Research

Week of Mar 8 – 14 
Get the Final Copies of Book I and II; Start to write the paper

Week of Mar 15 – 21 
Final Week (presenting Book I and II)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reflection to Les Paul: Chasing Sound!

I didn’t know who Les Paul was when I was editing footage covering his death. Wearing a blue sweater, he was playing the guitar on the stage during his 90s. But as soon as I saw his image again on the screen last week I knew it was that guy who cannot leave the spotlight even though he was 90 years old. After the successful documentary Les Paul: Chasing Sound!, although I am no musician, I understood that to those who worship guitars, he was a legend and his music was his legacy.

Les Paul was a musician, inventor and engineer. He knew how to market himself, even though it cost him his marriage. I cannot help but say that his success was not all about his genius but also luck, Les Paul might not have gained fame and success without luck. Paul was born at a time when the explosion of technology occurred – it is to say that we presently are fully developed, but we are no longer surprised by the development. Of course everything turning digital is a big step, which also results “questionable” art and questions of what makes an artist. Post-modernism would have happened anyway. Without Marcel Duchamp’s fountain, the movement would have continued.

I keep wondering what role Mary Ford was playing in Les Paul’s life. Was she his wife first while being his collaborator or was she his collaborator, but also being his wife? I checked out four CDs of Les Paul after the screening and there was an episode of Les Paul Show in which he made her promise many times that she would not touch HIS stuff. It made me sad that the only thing he needed from her was her voice, not her companionship.

Reflection to Fat Possum

I’ve been to several underground bands’ concerts and 80% of them were better than what we usually hear. The Hill Country Bluesmen in Mississippi were certainly one of those. Most of them had never left the small town which kept the originality of their music. They have their own unique style of music and they never think about changing. There was no outside influence by other musicians, again, because they never left the town. They enjoy their time and are content with a simple life. Many in the town were getting old and sick, they live in shacks, they smoke, they use guns to fight, and they are proud to be like that.

Money seems like it would be an issue but they never think so. Life is good enough with just a guitar. They are proud to not have toured and they’d rather believe their music is an entertainment to themselves than other people.