For decades Beijing based artist Li Wei has taken photography to a new level. His new series Flying Freely shows no exception. It aims to challenge viewer’s perspectives, while also encouraging them to find new ways of personal growth. With subjects suspended high above the ground, it appears seemingly impossible to comprehend how he crafted this new masterpiece.
I am fascinated with your new series Flying Freely. Can you talk about your new work and how you were able to finish this behind the scenes?
Fly Freely is my spiritual yearning. I want to turn the fantasy of freedom into reality. I want to exist freely in the middle layer of heaven and earth. Flying expresses that mankind has always broken through all forces to achieve free imagination and reality. To complete this work, I need to prepare a crane and a rack that can be disassembled, so that I could be lifted in the air to finish my flying.
You do a wonderful job of using the outdoors in Flying Freely. What does the significance of the natural world mean to you, and in what ways do you try to incorporate this into your latest series?
The natural world means more open[ness in the] world, more freedom and unlimited energy, and it can make flying become true. The world is flying, everything is flying, and human environmental systems are flying.
In what ways does Flying Freely force people to rethink their perspective? What pictures do you think show this the most, and what is the biggest message you want viewers to take away from these beautiful pictures?
Does Flying Freely make us think about what freedom humans will pursue in the future? What can each of us provide to society? What is left to solve? Human beings have been looking for the freedom to soar into the sky and the universe, but human civilisation has been struggling with selfishness, greed, consuming too much energy and [unbalanced spiritual] energy. We should start in a common energy field to speed up the freedom of civilisation, so that we can get closer to the freedom of the sky, the universe and the spirit. The photo 20210723_0002822, NanDaihe, China, reflects particularly on this. I hope that the audience can find their most original dreams after seeing these pictures, and they will [momentarily] not be affected by reality.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced while creating Flying Freely, and what would you say is the biggest thing you've learned about yourself?
The biggest challenge is psychological fear. When the challenge is over, psychological fear comes with the pleasure of freedom. The biggest thing I learned is: to challenge yourself is to uphold and stick to your cultural beliefs.
You use such bright and vibrant colours in Flying Freely. What was the reasoning behind this, and what impact do you think this has on the story you are trying to convey?
People need a purer future. Vibrant colours represent a clear world and pure freedom.
Can you talk a little about your creative process, especially for Flying Freely, and how you find inspiration for such captivating pieces?
When I have some ideas, I will draw sketches. After a period of time, I will refine these ideas. I will start to prepare props, venues, crane equipment, personnel, etc. When I am in the air, I must adjust my body's state and posture to relax my body. An expressive body, imagine flying like a bird, flying freely in the wind like a feather, or swiftly across the sky like a meteorite, or exploring mystery in space like an astronaut. Everything I perceive may be the inspiration for my work.
A lot of your work frequently portrays almost gravity-defying scenarios and images. Can you speak on this and the reasoning for why you like to use this methodology?
When I was young, I envied free flying birds and liked to climb trees. When I was in elementary school, I used to stand on the shoulders of older classmates, and flipped from the 2-3 meters high haystack to the ground. This is what I used to play when I was young. I like to see the world from a height. Maybe it started playing against gravity at that time.
What is the significance of using mirrors to create your masterpieces? Is there any symbolism behind this, or is it simply the best way to capture what you envision in your mind?
In Mirror, I cut a hole (19cm x 17cm) in the middle of the mirror (110cm x 100cm). I stretched my head out of the mirror, so that my real head and the people, objects, scenery, and street scenes that entered the mirror from the other side became one. My head forms a surreal relationship with the surrounding world. In this relationship, my head becomes a spiritual symbol, floating, or isolated, confronting the surrounding reality. The relationship between the individual and the world is in our heart. There is often a kind of weirdness that is not clear in each heart. The essence of Chinese culture is a combination of reality and illusion. Many traditional Chinese cultures such as myths and stories, Taoist culture and history have this characteristic. The unreal combination of spirit.
You started off your artistic career as a performance artist. What made you decide to switch over to photography, and what would you say is the biggest difference between these two forms of artistic expression?
When I started to do flying performances, the recordings of on the scene contained the ropes. I wanted to remove the ropes, so that I felt closer to the feeling of flying. Photography slows down my performance, but my art is performance-photography, they are not separate. Watching live performing arts is the most important to me, and photography art is the expression of [that performance in] image vision.
Can you talk about your humble beginnings as a child as well as growing up alongside the Yangtze River and how this impacted wanting to pursue a career as an artist?
When I was young, I lived in the countryside and grew up along the Yangtze River. In summer, I often swim in the Yangtze River and fish in the lake. At the age of 12, I went to a junior high school and high school in a scientific research institute in Yichang. It is also on the Yangtze River. There is an experimental submarine and helicopter parked at the Yangtze River Wharf of the scientific research institute. Scientific researchers often take us to visit and explain. Many teachers are also scientific researchers. Therefore, the content they teach is completely different from the outside. At the same time, we began to learn a lot of the latest popular culture in Europe and America. The post-70s generation is actually the freest generation. The period of our growth coincided with the reform and opening up of New China. An unconstrained brain and a free body are necessary conditions for leading my art path in the future.
What are some of the things you do to stay mentally and inspirationally aligned with your work?
I was injured when I was working in France in 2012. I understand that the art of flying freely is my future life, and all the elements in life can be my art of flying freely.
Are there any other forms of art outside of photography that you want to start incorporating into your work in the future?
I hope to incorporate intelligence into my work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in photography but doesn't have the traditional resources necessary to break into such a competitive field?
To find your own heart.
What does the future look like for Li Wei? Are there any new projects you are currently working on waiting to be released? Any other big things you want to start pursuing?
Now and in the future, I have been constructing a cultural and artistic system of "the world is flying", which will reflect the cultural characteristics of the era of intelligent civilisation after industrial civilisation! The era of intelligence has arrived! I think "the world is flying" is an important cultural feature of the intelligence age! The world is in an era of intelligent flight, and the human spirit is flying in an era of great explosions. Maybe in the future, there will be no need for roads or railways. All people and things have the intelligence to fly, and they exist freely in the intelligent era of space.