The Sweetness That Leads To Death - About the beauty of tragedy in Li Zi’s works

Chen You

If I tell you that death is a sweet thing, would you believe it? It's like you are facing an enormously massive black hole, from which comes forth a faint melody. The intoxicating music penetrates into your body through your eardrum, which is miraculously enough for you to conquer the inner fear and insist on forging ahead without hesitation even though you perceive with a dim sense that this alluring fascination may lead you to the unknown danger. However, you just couldn't suspend the desire for wanting to march forward. If you believe in the scene I have described, then you will fall into the illusions Li Zi has created with her amazing painting brush. Actually every piece of artistic work creates an illusory world, endeavoring to drag us from the trifling of our daily toil into a more meaningful state of life. The illusory world Li Zi created for us not only blurs our general perceiving of things but also offers us a new way of appreciating paintings. Before this, our enjoying of a painting begins from the visual digesting and ends up with a shivering in our heart. The whole process scarcely involves the participation of other sensory organs.   In her works, Li Zi adopted the rhetoric of synaesthesia, which was described with great importance in The Flower of Evil written by the French poet Baudelaire. You could almost feel the breath of the mysterious forest exuded from her painting. The breath has a cold charm like the scent of an ancient withered trunk, mingled with the dampness before the close of the daylight. You will soon be enveloped by the moist and cold breath and then feel a subtle shiver physically. Moreover, these works are infused with a life-threatening yet enchanting roar. Surprisingly the most striking roar is expressed through the deathly stillness. Based on the audible effects discharged from the paintings, this series is amiably named "160 decibels" by its author, Li Zi.   160 decibels is not only the limit of volumes human eardrum can endure, but also the peak point of the noise released by the F1 engine when it's starting with full speed. However, Li Zi has a sweet appearance which is far away from this dangerously critical point. It's difficult to imagine the scene in which this sweet and charming girl is driving a rented racing car on a Germany track at the speed of 210 miles per hour on a summer day. She excitedly related to me how wonderful she felt back then: It was like the uncontrollable speed and the nearly escaping from gravity are about to tear her whole person into pieces. People all like mysterious and controversial things. I have always wanted to penetrate through her sweet looks and dive deep into her toxic personality beneath. It's the same feeling as I feel towards her painting, a desire to explore deep into the evils and secrets within the dark forest. Before we dive deep into Li Zi's paintings, there is an important clue to follow for a better understanding--space. Space she created includes the multiple ones which were built through the use of different distances in the "lost" series, the virtual spaces shaped by the radiant lines in the Fifth Kind of Forest and the ever more concrete solid spaces in her newest work "160 decibels". The scale of the space has also diminished from the originally open and extensive land to an increasingly narrow and closed region. Whereas with the shrinking of the space, the emotion it carries begins to attract more resonance among the viewers. When viewing the new series "160 decibels", you feel a cougar-shaped animal is approaching towards you from a concrete four-dimensional space. The difference with the traditional three-dimensional space lies in that it's obviously filled with the flowing time, which is a crucial element in these paintings and with one second's lack of attention, you might end up in the stomach of the animal. This extreme tension makes space into a dynamic concept. Now the animal in the painting has strode across the safety region saved for the proper appreciation. The animal is standing so close that you could almost hear its slow yet heavy breath floating up and down around your ears. This breath now becomes a terrifying noise that defines the chance between life and death. Thus an emotional fear is instinctively aroused because of our physical uneasiness. If you are convinced by what you witness in front of you, then you have dropped into the visual illusions Li Zi created with her magnificent hands. It appears that Li Zi has depicted a picture of beasts, but in fact she is just driving you into a dead corner with the increasingly narrow space until you are forced to look into a real mirror. Have you ever considered that maybe what you see in the mirror is just a reflection of your own spiritual world and the attractive atrocious beast in the mirror actually lives within your own body? Perhaps you are just not willing to admit that the most dangerous enemy of us is ourselves. Baudelaire divides reality into two aspects. The natural and presentative aspect and the inwardly spiritual aspect, among which the latter is the origin of the whole universe. It is with her illusory painting that Li Zi opens for us a gate leading to the spiritual universe. To my mind, 160 decibels she uses in her painting is not only the limit of the noise human eardrum can tolerate but also concerns the authentic yet obscure inner voice of humanity. Li Zi's works, especially her previous ones, are deeply influenced by western classical literature and Baroque arts. In the wonderland of the arcane forest are scattered the sexually obscured figures and wrecked sculptures which for the most part originated from western classic masterpieces and are broken again and reused by Li Zi. In her previous series "Lost", Li Zi adopted a microscopic angle mingled with exquisite personal emotions rather than the vastness of descriptions from the grand angle. The doomed helplessness of human spirits is expressed in her works with the effect of distinguished souls being abandoned and those sexually obscured human figures being left alone. Isn't it true that the hollowness, helplessness, perplexity and exhaustion released from her works are the most exact demonstration of the theme "lost"? When it comes to the Fifth Kind of Forest, the use of light becomes an important distinction of this period. the endless array of light with no traceable source is the only warm-toned color in her paintings. We all have an innate desire for bright things, thus when appreciating Li Zi's paintings, we will be involuntarily attracted by the curious light and then step into a totally different space constituted by the lines. Because the forest buries with it killings and sins and it's also the hotbed of secrets. Even fortunately endowed with vigorous steps and extraordinary experiences, you could not possibly take on the whole forest. It's the same with that you can never truly understand a person. Thus forest in her paintings has become a metaphor of our inner world, which attracts you with its luring wonders and then hide the truth with its vitality of robust plants. Being placed in such a scene, everyone has the opportunity of constantly encountering a different self. In Li Zi's philosophy, there is not a distinct dividing line between good and evil. This concept is also reflected in her works which contain no detailed explanations of historical background or personalities of characters, even the boundaries of sex and the sexual orientations are intentionally omitted. This lenient attitude of hers strengthens her awareness and genial forgiveness of the distress of any vulnerable group, may they be homosexuals, indifferent urban dwellers suffering from each other's coldness or ignorant barbarians without beliefs or religious convictions. The tragic description, mingled with Li Zi's typical grave selection of colors, is deadly but hard to resist. In this contradictory state of mind you could even detect a slight sense of self-pity, which originates from the artist's sensitive observation of the common human experiences. My acquaintance with Li Zi began at the beginning of this year when we were together on a sketching trip. I was fortunate enough to hear her fair singing in the beautiful Jin Chuan surrounded by blossomed pear flowers. Her striking vocal resemblance with that of Teresa Teng expressed her lingering affection, which sent an electric shock to all the present male artists. Li Zi's voice reminded me of the intoxicating melody of Siren floating over the sea. Jin Chuan in its March afforded people a fabulous world of snow-like pear blossoms. While other artists were busy painting those bright-colored creatures, Li Zi was sketching the mute walnut-trees with her usual gloomy style, which greatly separated her from the brilliant scenary and casted a thorough contrast with her passionate personality. As an author following and recording the creative process of those painters, I grew an exceptionally keen interest in Li Zi. That night when we were sharing a room together, she informed me with a mysterious air that she could connect to the spirits and she had apparently felt that there was something ominous in the eighth floor because of the mistakenly halt of the elevator. Her serious manner convinced me that she was not fooling around. However, it was not until she called me in this July did I start to believe that she might really have the sixth sense which enables her to feel things that normal people do not. Since we were not on a regular basis of calling each other, I was quite surprised when she called me from Beijing the other day. There was no exchange of small talks. She cut to the topic instantly and told me that she was having a rather bad headache and a serious earthquake might be on the way in southwestern China. After we hung up, I waited in half disbelief for something to confirm her suspicions. Shockingly the following evening news broadcasted the earthquake in Gansu rated 6.6. The earthquake took place in less than 10 minutes after her call.   I am not a total atheist, thus I choose to believe the world Li Zi conceives in her imagination and the way she does it. Another thing that impressed deeply is her night swim in the Adriatic sea in this August during the preparation for her solo exhibition in Italy. The sea at night intimidates even some of the native dwellers. For when the endless darkness joins with the skyline, one is easily to be swallowed by the ghastly gloom. However, Li Zi jumped into the sea without any hesitation. She dived deep into the extensive sea and was pushed forward into middle of the water by the turbulent waves. Li Zi said that being surrounded by the freezing sea water is like being embraced tightly by a man. You will feel the vitality of the sea. There are ghosts in the sea that try to drag you into the center. That feeling is so attractive and overwhelming that you feel almost addicted to it, but I alway know that I will and am capable of swimming back to the ground.       This is Li Zi, a woman who always spurs excitement in our souls with her romantic and polished impulses. Now if I tell you that death is a sweet thing, would you believe it?

August 31st 2013
In Pu Dong District, Shanghai