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He grew up in an isolated Village in southern china, and discovered drawing and painting at university. Then he fell in love with performance, and became one of the leading artists in the new Asian generation, now out to conquer Italy.The taxi driver can't find the street. They've been on the phone for ten minutes, but here in Beijing house are found by giving reference points, like "it's the house between the shoe mender's and the shop with the blue sign", and LiWei, an up and coming artist in the vast artistic panorama of this country, lives in anonymous grey tenement hidden amongst other grey, derelict building which together comprise Tong Xian, an area in the east of Beijing. In the end, in order to meet us, LiWei has to come out into the street and wave for us to see him. He is of small build, extremely thin and with a shaven head, and looks about ten years younger than his real age of 33. To get to his apartment, we go up four flights of stairs with bare walls. There are bunches of onions and leeks outside each door. The walls of the two rooms that he lives in bear only photos and reproductions of his works_, magazine covers that have been dedicated to him and leaflets form exhibitions he has taken part in. From June to September, his work is show at the Gam in Bologna as part of the "Officinal Asia"(Asia works_hop) exhibition organized by Renato Barilli.
We sit down, and before Beginning to tell us his story LiWei (Li is the surname, Wei the first name) offers us tea in plastic glasses, which melt from the heat after a few minutes. Beijing is his city of artistic adoption; his village, called Hubei, is an isolated place in the province of yunn in southern China: <It is so small that there is only one type of school, the scientific one. So when I finished secondary school I enrolled in a scientific university as I didn't even know you could study other subjects. I have to say that I discovered art entirely by chance. In fact, once I got to university I found out that they taught the scientific subjects on the second floor and drawing and painting on the second,,. For months, LiWei would get out of his lessons to go and spy on the art ones, and eventually managed to save up the money to buy himself an easel and a book on the basics of drawing d didn't have much time to practise. Lessons finished at nine in the evening and at 21.30 they switched the lights out. I continued thanks to my first teacher who encouraged me and convinced me to continue. But I only stayed at university for a year, just enough time to learn what I wanted, painting technique, and to open my mind to the art world. I wasn't interested in the rest. In China, they only teach traditional art, whilst I wanted to study more modern currents and contemporary artists>,.

In the early Nineties, he left university and decided to move to Beijing, to the house of a friend who lived in one of the two artist villages in the city. <There was Dong Cun, near the Cha6yang park, and Yuan Ming Yuan Cun. The first was nicknamed the performance village, because all the artists living there only created performance. The second was dedicated to traditional art. It was more disorganised, there were more artists and all kinds of work were done there. I lived near the Dong village, and that's why I started to abandon painting to concentrate on performance and installations.
But were you able to keep in touch with the western world? 4n those very years, a number of Chinese artists were beginning to exhibit abroad, and so catalogues and above all stories of what they had seen began to arrive. Then there were two possibilities: exhibitions of foreign artists that we were able to attend, or solo exhibitions, and the artists then might come into the villages alone. But in the second case, you could only meet if you were an "old artist" from the village, and then there was the language problem. Very few actually spoke or speak English, and it's still a problem today The only real way to have contact with the West in those years was a bock on western performance, written by a Taiwanese artist, which can be found in China.
Still sipping tea from his dripping cup, Li Wei tells dhow he was fascinated by the work of Warhol, Foucault's writing and the work of a German artist whose name he cannot pronounce, who spreads butter over himself, (Joseph Beuys). There is a painting amongst the photographs on the wall. <<Oh, that was at the start of my career, now I prefer performance because I can really express what I think. My performances are not real, but they occur in a real place. In my work, there's this opposition between the real and unreal In 2000, I started to use mirrors in a different way to observe and play with the world.
Some of his works_ appear to have a political basis¡­ Yes, like flying out of a window, for example, but the message is not strictly linked to China. I know you westerners immediately think of repression and the lack of freedom, the human rights violations. No, my message is more linked to the problems in the world of the 20(I century: the war in Iraq, the 11th of September, poverty. Westerners still have an old view of China: let's stop reflection on the relationship between the individual and collectiveness! China has opened up now. Before international news didn't reach us, or some arrived filtered by the state censure bodies. But for about a year now we have been receiving live news from all over the world. There still isn't complete freedom in the art world. Until the start of the Nineties, they could prevent you from doing performances, now it's much better although we're still not free to do what we want. But then are you westerners free to express any point of view? There are performances I would like to do but which probably couldn't even be presented abroad. Maybe art also means finding a way to do theme,.
For Li Wei, 2003 was a prolific year ,<<It was above all the first year that I managed to maintain myself as an artist, thanks to a number of exhibitions in Asia and the West, which increased the number of buyers~,. Before the last cup of tea melts, I point out that there is a kind of expectation in the art world of the West, an expectation that something new will happen and that the "new wave" will be from Asia, in particular China.<<I agree entirely that at the moment the art world is stationary, but not that the new wave will be Chinese. Westerners are not acquainted with eastern culture and perhaps that's why you expect all sorts from us. Then, when they look at our works_, even when they say they know ' China, if they don't see some "Chinese" element then they turn their noses up at theme>>.

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