Thursday, April 09, 2015

One is the Loneliest Number

“I feel like I have won a prize, being able to have a second child.”
Li Tianbing

The Chinese born, Paris based artist; Li Tianbing grew up under China’s one child rule. As he told The Guardian Newspaper’s Jon Henley “"My generation is unique, in China and in the world. We were the first not to fully know the meaning of the words 'brother' and 'sister'."

In fact it was this solitary existence that led Li to become an artist. As he explained to Japan Cinema, “In my childhood memories, I was always alone, because my parents must go to work. Thus, drawing became an important pastime…At that time, my parents had no money to buy pencils and paper for me. Therefore, I picked up a piece of fossil and drew on the ground, streets and toilet doors nearby… Neighbors told my mother “You don’t have to worry about looking for your son. So long as there are drawings all over the ground, he must be close at hand…I’m aware all the time that my state today is still the same as thirty years ago. I never need an assistant and I like staying alone. There is no difference except that I draw on canvas now rather than on the ground of public area [like] before. I still draw from morning to night.”

In 1997, after spending four years at Beijing’s Institute of International Relations, Li was accepted as student at Ecole supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris. Graduating in 2022 Li recalls, [I was] "a bit lost. I didn't really have a direction. I tried lots of different styles…When my solo exhibitions were held in this period, viewers normally mistook them as group exhibitions of several artists.”

Then in 2006 Li started work on a series of self portraits from when he was growing up in China. Using the only five photographs from his childhood, Li has over time added fictitious brothers and sisters and imagining friends into the rural backgrounds. Using poignant selected memories Li is able to discuss not only the loneliness of the personal but the societal implications inherent in this harshly enforced government policy.

His latest series of works has expanded to include macaque monkeys that are a common sight in rural China. In the press release for his latest exhibition Li recalls “that when he was around 4 years old, his uncle captured a monkey as a companion for him. The monkey was constantly tied up in the balcony, forcibly separated from her pack and family, and eventually died pining and lonely.”

As he has said "My work is perhaps less, now, about the one-child policy. But it will always be there. An artist must, after all, speak of his own experience."  

Li’s current solo exhibition Journey of the Lone Monkey is on show at Singapore’s Pearl Lam Gallery until the 17th of May.

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