Artist's mission: impossible

Artist's mission: impossible

Li Wei enjoys pushing himself to the limit to take incredible, gravity-defying images - without using trick photography


Li Wei's gravity-defying images are real - without using trick photography or the cut and paste of computers.
Li Wei's gravity-defying images are real - without using trick photography or the cut and paste of computers.
Photo: Li Wei
Words such as 'shocking", "exhilarating", 'astonishing" - impossible even - come to mind when describing the seemingly gravity-defying work of Chinese artist Li Wei.

The 41-year-old from Hubei, who combines photography and performance art, really is hanging this high from the building in this photograph.

Contrary to what you may think, his images - which seemingly defy the laws of gravity - are not created using "cut" and "paste" commands on a computer; what you see is real. "I strive to make the impossible possible," Li says. "I enjoy pushing the boundaries of reality."

"When people see my work, I would like them to think about the volatile nature of our current living situation. I break through the laws of gravity to exhibit the feeling of danger. Everything in my work is unstable - just like the environment that surrounds us."

"The whole shooting process is real," Li adds. "So the places featured in my images are all real places - not digitally created. Photoshop is used only in the post-production, for things like removing traces of the wire at my back that I used to hang high on the side of the building."

Li works with a team of staff, who help carry out the technical aspects of producing his images, such as photographing each of the scenes.

Most of his images show only Li, although some examples feature other people. "I sometimes use models and friends of mine, and also my daughter. My favourite ones are with her," he says.

In addition to the serious nature of his images, often Li tries to add a lighter note to his work. One example of this is in a photo of a Buddhist monk balancing on a surfboard in Switzerland, or a man spinning upside down from a skipping rope held by two women. "The main elements of my work all revolve around the themes of gravity and humour," he says.

Li developed his eye-catching talents in the early 1990s while visiting Beijing East Village, where many like-minded street performers and artists had set up residence. He was inspired by watching Zhang Huan, a prominent mainland performance artist, and other experimental performers as they collaborated and exchanged ideas.

He says large cities are his favourite backdrops for his images. "I like the fast pace of modern society," he says. No surprise, then, that Hong Kong has featured in some of his work, including one image showing him plunging headfirst into Victoria Harbour. It is aptly titled Li Wei falls to Hong Kong. And there may be more to come. "I'd love to do more pieces in Hong Kong. I will definitely shoot something next time when I have an exhibition."

Yet we'll have to wait a while for this to happen; Li is now travelling the world with his solo exhibition. His work will be on show in Paris, France, in March.

His advice for aspiring artists is short and sweet: "be imaginative".



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