Ad Mag

Qian Li : Digital Culture

In Art, Feature, Interview on May 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm


Born and raised in China, Qian Li is an artist who conjures surreal, liquid dreamscapes by employing a wealth of media.  She blends cultural heritage from her ancestry with contemporary anthropologies to create a “total art” that speaks to the urgency of the present.  Li works with traditional Chinese rice paper painting, digital video, multi-media installation and large-format digital printing.  And of her “Calm Before the Storm”  digital print series, she says “They depict the moments in my dreams before disasters happen; that split-second of peace, romance, beauty and desire, which will be replaced by endless chaos, violence, war and natural disaster.”

Li studied at the Academy of Art and Design at Tsinghua University in Beijing, later earning her MFA, at Umass Dartmouth.  And while much of her work is abstract, Li has also used her art and film-making skills in a variety of collaborations, which address harships associated with inner-city living.

Qian Li has been exhibited at MOCA Cleveland, the Boston Cyber Arts Festival, SIGGRAPH and other national and international venues.

Qian Li : Digital Culture

An Interview by Max Eternity

Max Eternity (ME): Hi Qian, welcome to AD Mag

Qian Li (QL): Hi Max, thank you for having me.

ME: There’s much to talk about, because you have created different types of artwork in many forms. But first let me ask, where are you living and working now and how long have you been an artist?

QL: I born and raised in China. I came to US in 1999 and currently living at Cleveland, OH. I start art training since junior high. But after graduating from art college, I worked as a graphic designer for many years. I started creating art in 2004.


ME: You work with many types of media, including a group of mixed-media paintings you created on rice paper, rendering them as large-format digital prints. The first piece I saw on your website is called “Storm.” Could you explain the process of creating the piece and why you decided to give it that name?

QL: The digital print “Storm” is from the series of print “The Calm before the Storm.” They depict the moments in my dreams before disasters happen; that split-second of peace, romance, beauty and desire, which will be replaced by endless chaos, violence, war and natural disaster. These large-scale prints were created by utilizing Chinese traditional paint on rice paper, digital photography, and digital manipulation. They were printed on large canvas or paper.

Quiet, ambient sounds will play in the background, creating a multi-sensory environment to elicit a strong sense of an unsettlingly peaceful moment.

ME: Another work you create with the same process is called Core. To me it looks like a small sun, or a burst of chi energy. How many pieces are in the Core series–tell me about #2 and #5.

QL: All those digital print are inspired by my dreams. I see dreams as a more truthful and vivid representation of reality; a study of the human psyche.

My childhood memories, including frequent trips to the hospital and growing up in China during a turbulent period, continue to influence my dreams. These dreams are often a desperate world, full of pain and anxiety. They are largely driven by the desire to love and be loved, and the desire for peace. “Core” is also part of series of “The Calm Before the Storm.” There is about 5 pieces named as Core.

“Core #1”

ME: So Qian, you were born in China, and now you live in the US. However you went to school in China before coming here. Could you talk about what it was like growing up in Asia—where did you learn about art as a child?

QL: I grew up in a beautiful city on China’s east coast called Tsingtao. I was fascinated by the natural beauty, and dreamed one day I’d become a painter or zoo worker. Luckily there is an art school located inside a mountain near where I grow up. It is a quite and unique place exclude from outside world. There, I studied traditional drawing and painting every afternoon through most of my middle and high school studies. After that I went to Beijing to study at The Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University, which used to be The Central Academy of Art and Design.

Because of the influence of Asian art, I have adopted the principle of “expressing the spirit through form”. In art college, I had a great interest in Chinese philosophy and Buddhist art. I have traveled to Dunhuang and Tibet to study their art, also attempting to understand their spirituality–visually and philosophically. All that has served as a foundation for my work.

“Core #2”

ME: What made you decided to move to the US? Was it for educational reasons?

QL: Yes, I was originally exposed to new art mediums through the internet, becoming interested in how Western artists used cutting edge technology in art creation. I came to the United States in 1999 to study at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for their Electronic Imaging Program.

ME: So, how many different types of media are you working with?

QL: Video, animation, installation, painting, photography, and digital print. Recently I start to use sculpture as part of my installation.

ME:  You stay close to your source—your foundation—in all the different types of media employed.  I’m looking now at a video you created, which has the painterly elements of your prints for its background.  It fluxes and flows gently—digital dots that dance around in a lullaby to the sound of Son Lux.  The piece is called “Epilogue.”

QL: Epilogue was inspired by a dream; it is the life story of two humanized dots discovering love, friendship, and sacrifice while pursuing a dream.  The piece intends to evoke personal memories that are emotionally tied to the viewer’s own experiences. The visuals are strongly influenced by traditional Chinese painting. You can see here the connection with my digital print STORM.

ME:  Yes, I do see that.  But you’ve also done some very tangible films about social concerns, like “The Bus Stops Here” speaking to the issue of urban renewal.  I sense both a physical story and a spiritual story?

QL: I live in the middle of a diverse neighborhood, and have gotten to meet lots of great neighbors since moving here. We all believe in this community and the future of the region, and want to be involved in making the transition to a better place to live. The bus stops featured in the short film, two of which are now at the center of the Gordon Square arts district, have become the first public visual art forms in the neighborhood, and symbolize not only the transformational power of art, but a turning point for this evolving area. I thought that through this documentary I could expose my local area to a greater audience.

ME:  So let’s look at an installation that you created called “Transformations.”   Earlier you mentioned that you were adding sculpture to your installations, is that what I see here, a combination of video and sculpture?

QL: Yes, it is a multi-sensory mixture of sculpture, video, 2-dimensional prints, and music.

ME:  In the installation “Dawn of Light”, you projected video on sheets of fabric to create a space of meditation.  Can you talk about that project?

QL:  I was raised in a Buddhist family, and upon traveling to a temple in Tibet to study their art I became fascinated by their mural paintings.  This experience continues to influence my art, even after studying digital media in the US.  I like to believe my work combines the best of what I’ve learned in western and eastern cultures.

ME:  If you were asked to describe yourself as a person—an artist—what would you say?

QL: I am an interdisciplinary artist with roots in both Eastern and Western art working in video, installation and painting. My work is inspired from my dreams – focusing on the human’s desire to love and to be loved, and for peace.

ME:  Qian, thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

QL: My pleasure.

“Air #19


Additional images of Qian Li’s artwork can be found in the AD MAG Artist Galleries, and a full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles and interviews can be found here.  Visit Qian Li’s website here.

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work!

    I takes exceptional creativity to combine the spirituality
    of Chinese brush painting with the magic of the technological
    medium and make it work!

    Your work is truly unique and stunning!

    Ursula Freer

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