ArtSlant: The artist is the Genius of Suffering – Interview with Pei Li

The Artist is the Genius of Suffering

Interview with Pei Li

Interviewer: Edward Sanderson (ES)
Interviewee: Pei Li (PL)

The pursuit of beauty and the artist’s commitment to their practice are parallel concerns for Pei Li, whose solo show closed recently at Beijing’s Platform China space. This young artist holds these pursuits to a high degree of scrutiny and suspicion, regarding the beauty and fame as suspect notions that demand a certain cynicism. In a series of complex and sometimes audacious projects, she has grappled with the ideal of the artist and the relation that art has to the presentation of the body through representation, psychological projection, and performative acts. The following conversation was conducted via email and a face-to-face interview in Platform China’s galleries. UPDATE: Platform China have kindly translated this interview into Chinese.

Pei Li portrait

Edward Sanderson: You titled your show at Platform China “Generation P,” and the catalogue cover shows a text that has been roughly crossed out, leaving only the words beginning with the letter ‘P’ visible. Can you explain this and what is its significance?

Pei Li: At the very beginning I planned to call the exhibition “Generation Pain.” The sound of the word “pain” is close to my name “Pei” in Chinese, and I have a particular interest in pain. But then I felt that, for me, using the word “pain” was a little strange, because I always want to be fun. I like pain, but my character is cheerful and optimistic – and I think there is no conflict between the two!

I have a dual personality: sometimes I am cheerful and optimistic, and sometimes I fall into deep depressions. When I was a little girl I had infantile autism, apparently I would stand face-to-face in front of a wall, for the whole day, day after day. Actually, up until the age of 14 I don’t have much memory of my childhood, my family told me all about this.

When I was a teenager, I used to cut myself – not because of any bad experiences, just because of the pain itself. But I think pain on the body is really nothing. The real pain is the one you feel in your heart, a pain you cannot see.

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Chinese art market confidence

ArtTactic, Chinese Art Market Confidence Survey, Dec 2009

If anyone has a copy of this report, I would be very interested in taking a look (I might even cook you dinner). It would be fascinating to know what their criteria are for measuring “sentiment.” The report appears to look at a good range of artists1, so each one’s comparative results would be interesting to see. I’ve been hearing (mainly from auction results, so that’s pretty selective) that established names are recovering quickly, but the market for younger, less established artists is struggling (as one would expect). Most people I’ve talked to about this subject see these periodic downturns as, by and large, a “good” thing. I’m not denying the pain involved, but it’s a time in which everyone is forced to re-focus on their core strengths and if these aren’t sustainable then, perhaps, it’s time to move on.

The confidence in the Chinese Contemporary art market has strengthened significantly since February 2009, and is now back above the 50 level. The ArtTactic Confidence Indicator has increased from 16 in February 2009, to 57 in November 2009. The current level signals that there is more positive than negative sentiment in the art market. This is the first contemporary art market that ArtTactic has surveyed since the downturn, in which the Confidence Indicator has come in above the 50 level, which implies that the Chinese art market could be one of the quickest to recover.2

  1. Ai Weiwei, Cai Guoqiang, Cao Fei, Chen Wenbo, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Feng Zhengjie, Gu Dexin, Gu Wenda, He Duoling, He Yunchang, Hong Hao, Li Shan, Li Songsong, Liang Shaoji, Lin Tianmiao, Ling Jian, Liu Wei (B. 1972), Liu Xiaodong, Liu Ye, Lv Shenzhong, Mao Yan, Nie Mu, Qiu Zhijie, Shi Jinsong, Song Dong, Sui Jianguo, Tan Ping, Wang Gongxin, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jianwei, Wang Qingsong, Wang Wei, Wang Xingwei, Wu Shanzhuan, Xu Bing, Xu Zhen, Yang Fudong, Yang Shaobin, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhan Wang, Zhang Dali, Zhang Huan, Zhang Peili, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhong Biao, Zhou Tiehai, Zhou Xiaohu.
  2. ArtTactic (2009), Chinese Art Market Confidence Survey, Dec 2009. Retrieved from on 12 January 2010.