ONE MAN AT A LONELY ISLAND
Tt’s is an ongoing online writing project, the ISLAND is everywhere, sometimes in one’s heart, sometimes it’s a location, I use the form of haiku or poem. This is always a collaboration project between Li Zhenhua (writer) and other artists, Dong Shi is the first artist who has made nostalgia and thoughtful drawings, since the beginning of the project, Li Zhenhua, and Dong Shi have collaborated for 3 different exhibitions for galleries, non-profit space and museum in Hangzhou, Shanghai, Xiamen. ONE MAN ON A LONELY ISLAND may introduce you to another world of imagination, you can bring your family, kids try to read and help to spread the story.
Li Zhenhua | 李振华
In his show entitled ONE MAN AT A LONELY ISLAND, an ongoing, online writing project that began last October, Li Zhenhua presents a series of poems written by himself and illustrated by Dong Shi and invites the public to a world of imagination where everyone, even children are welcome.
The project developed organically from a restricted art group on WeChat, a social media and messaging platform known as China's “app for everything”, where Li began posting his haikus on a regular basis using an inbuilt feature called “Moments”, similar to Instagram’s “Stories” which limits the visibility of a post to just three days. Although he initially had no object in mind when he began posting the poems (of which he has now amassed over a thousand in number), they instigated a dialogue within the community and he started to receive messages from readers, some in praise, some providing constructive criticism and some from people he didn’t even know. When his writings eventually reached the eyes of Dong Shi, an illustrator from Shanghai, he was moved to the point where he was compelled to bring them to life in bespoke drawings, all on a voluntary basis. Li, in turn, was touched by the candid approach and the thoughtful drawings he was receiving and the two eventually began working more closely together, albeit without ever meeting in person. In fact, although the collaboration has already contributed to three separate shows in Hangzhou, Shanghai and Xiamen, the two only met in propria persona shortly before the opening of this exhibition in Berlin.
Li likens the images which cover the walls of the gallery to prehistoric cave drawings and it is very much in this spirit of simplicity and purity that the exhibition was elaborated. In many ways, this modest, personal slant is a digression from his usual artistic practice and his ambassadorial role in the production, dissemination and critical discussions pertaining to the new media art forms, which sees him taking part in symposiums, talks and presentations at leading galleries and museum-spaces worldwide. This is a show on a human scale.
As the viewer enters the gallery and crosses the “immersive room” where their eyes flit across the lovingly detailed paintings that pepper
the walls, they are drawn by a spotlight to a discretely placed chair with a retractable writing desk, the likes of which are usually found in study environments and auditoriums. On the desktop is
placed a thick tome containing several hundred more of Dong Shi’s hand-painted illustrations which one is invited to “study”. A pair of white gloves and the uncluttered walls of the niche in which it
is placed further encourage the viewer to sit in calm contemplation.
By the time one reaches the second “interactive room”, the walls have grown completely blank, and in the center of the space is a second study chair, identical to the first except that this one is conspicuously placed, and the book that more closely resembles a diary is joined by a pen. On opening it, one finds pages as blank as the walls and is invited to cover them with figments of their imagination.
Although atypical of his work, therefore, ONE MAN AT A LONELY ISLAND touches upon Zhenhua’s native interest in the sharing and of knowledge through interaction. Indeed, as only a handful of the poems written in Chinese are translated into German, the non-Chinese speaking viewers present on the evening of the opening will have to seek out Zhenhua’s friend, artist and interpreter for the night, Ang Weissenbrunner in order to understand them, while a handheld megaphone is passed around for people to record themselves reading the poems and to share their thoughts. The oral element is yet another example of Zhenhua’s effort to include his audience and bring about an exchange of sorts between the parties present.
In his own words, curating is about “communication and listening, it’s about embracing others, it’s about a certain curiosity in understanding people.” This empathetic touch is rooted in a sort of existentialism that characterizes his works and that fuels his inquiry into the modern condition and the digital future that lies before us. He believes that in this day and age, we lead our lives based on a decision, quoting Jean-Paul Sartre’s “We are our choices.”. Zhenhua extends that statement, asserting that one can choose to inhabit one’s own, imaginary world. “The island”, he states “is everywhere. Sometimes it is in one’s heart, sometimes it’s a location.”.
- Louis Karasinski-Stanley
About the artists:
Li Zhenhua 李振华, born in 1975 in Beijing, China is an artist and independent curator. He lives and works in Berlin, Zurich and Beijing.
Dong Shi 董师, born in 1989 in Shanghai, China studied at China Academy of Art, lives and works in Hangzhou and Shanghai.