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by Eleonora Battiston

A small meteorite unexpectedly fallen to earth, but certainly not one destined to burn out quickly because he has everything required to continue to shine within the firmament of contemporary art. This is how the young Li Wei, "fallen" to Italy from his distant homeland of China, made his appearance to the public, first in Milan and then in Como where on 13 November 2004 he inaugurated his first personal show with a performance at the Marella Project Space.
He seems shy and reserved, but his art is the bearer of tremendous emotion. Even though the language barrier made verbal communication impossible, he succeeded in surprising the numerous members of the public who came to see him in a performance in which, hanging by a thin metal wire attached to the balconies in the courtyard outside the gallery, he remained with his head buried underground for twenty minutes while his assistant took the photos that would become the actual work of art. During that time, which seemed never-ending, one sensed a mixture of admiration and preoccupation for this small giant of a man who succeeded in holding all of us with baited breath.
But what lies behind Li Wei's spectacular performances? I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days with him and get to know him better after we had met a couple of times in Peking, and to discover how much depth and sense there can be in a message that to some might seem superficial, the dare of a crazy man or a circus act.
His photos always immortalize him at the very limits of the absurd and are stupendous for their originality that, at times, borders on madness. Reworking at the computer is generally minimal if not totally non-existent. What he uses are mirrors, transparent wires, scaffolding and, above all, tremendous physical stamina that allow him to create his extravagant performances.
His form of artistic experimentation is a metaphor for a restless existential state that puts stress on our physical condition by putting it to the test and going beyond the limits of human resistance. There seems to be no plot or story-line behind his works_, what emerges is only the emotional aspect and behind this, a predominantly philosophical concept and his aesthetic approach.
Even if he speaks another language that brings with it symbols and stories from a culture distant from our own, what he transmits in a very direct manner is the will to have his own sense of self explode, to demonstrate to everyone that each of us, if equipped with will power, can succeed and even defeat the laws of nature and gravity.
He makes existential contradictions, instincts and feelings physically manifest, entrusting himself to his own strengths and controlling both body and mind. And it seems that through this transcendental act, he succeeds in stepping outside himself in search of something else.
A constant thread runs through his works_: the real and figurative separation of mind and body. In his "Li Wei falls to ..." he "falls" head-first, implanting himself in a car windshield, into the pavement, in a lake, into ice ... like an ostrich that isn't interested in knowing anything about what happens around it. Plastic, rigorous poses that seem comic scenes from disastrous dives into empty swimming pools.
In his "Love Like Dream" series, however, he utilizes illusion and reflection created by a mirror with a round hole into which he sticks his head. Here, his head seems cut off, to float in air and bounce around like a ball with which a young girl has fun playing. This creates a double vision: the statement that love is a wholly mental sentiment and therefore detached from any corporeal sense, but at the same time that this floating with your head in the clouds leaves you increasingly without your feet on the ground. The head can travel, trace hyperboles and perform painstaking work, break through bounds and preconception and distance itself only to return. We can move while remaining still if we have the ability to open our minds and look around us, thus freeing ourselves of that diving suit of our body to become butterflies. We are not totally bound by physical limits because we are Thought. It's highly unlikely that this artist knows Latin, but his message may very well be summed up in the phrase: "Cogito ergo sum".
In his surrealistic self-portraits, reality and the absurd mix freely through the illusion of the image thanks to his mirror that allows them to be both here and elsewhere simultaneously. For this reason, he asked me to take him to the Milan cathedral on whose walls he wanted to fly. When the police stopped us, with his usual calm, he just smiled and said to me, "Don't worry, in Tienanmen Square this happens a lot and we artists just run off. Anyway, this could also be seen as a performance."
Athlete, acrobat and magician-when I ask him about the tricks he uses to create the optical illusions in his photos, he answers, "it's a secret, it's magic." And that's just fine with me because sometimes it's nice not having an explanation to leave an aura of mystery and give free reign to the imagination.
It also seems that Li Wei has almost succeeded in his "wanting to fly". In his series "Freedegree over 29th History", he enters and exits from windows in a Peking skyscraper, suspended over the void and ready to travel over our heads like an ironic Superman or modern-day Icarus.
He is a creative artist who has the strength to give shape to archetypes and ideas that live in his imagination, waiting to become reality. Thanks to this, he succeeds in having us get beyond appearances to thrill us and make us reflect.
The philosophy that emerges from his work shows the independence of the spiritual values of Chinese artists and the internal peace of a culture which, thanks to its wisdom and serenity, is able to treat fundamental issues and questions with apparent lightness. The embarrassing image of a cadaver with erect penis covered by a sheet thus becomes the ironic symbol of a sublime thought and profound religious concept according to which "when we die, if we haven't accomplished our goals, something stops us at the threshold".
There is no question but that Li Wei accomplishes his goals. In fact, he goes beyond them, leading us to hope, like children, for the thrill of some additional bit of magic.

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