Michelle Proksell: What is your relationship to the virtual world?  How do you view your actions online versus what you do in real life, everyday or as an artist?  Do you see a distinguishable difference, or are things more fluid in your mind, everything an extension or reflection of itself?

Weiyi Li: My standard personal statement is “Li Weiyi is an artist http://weiyi.li, designer http://weiyiandfriends.com, curator http://bigbadgallery.com, publisher http://re-publication.comand shop-owner http://currently-available.com. She lives and works, at the same time, in the five webpages linked above”. I have too much work, and life happens in a virtual world. Both online and offline, I’m the same person. But the current degree of technology of the contemporary virtual world, online world interaction leaves people more time for feedback: You can have more time to think how to reply to someone, using what kind appearance to face this virtual world. 

MP: What do you think directly influenced your current fascination with the virtual world in relationship to the physical world?  Do you think your upbringing in China may have influenced this in any way?  Or do you feel like your influence is much more universal to most people’s upbringings in the world?

WYL: This reminds me of a letter I wrote to my American friend Laurel. I had just got back to China, and I told her I wanted to set up the first Chinese online art gallery in the world: “I know that it sounds very stupid, and that Internet art isn’t supposed to be limited by location, but it’s also very strange, because in China you don’t really see people do or discuss this stuff.” In fact, of course the Internet is related to location. Location brings about linguistic constraints that create a fundamental barrier for information dissemination. Information is a form of resource, and in the course of its circulation it can undergo loss or increase, and given the existence of all kinds of “walls” on the Internet, this essentially increases the asymmetry of information. The Chinese GFW (Great Firewall) is probably the most famous of theaw walls. So this is the role of location on the Internet, and this is also what I’m interested in. What once was the most famous wall in the world, the Berlin Wall, has already been demolished, and a lot of people happily brought back home a piece of its debris as a souvenir. What if the GFW is demolished? Would this be even possible? What would be there to take away as a souvenir? Maybe just a screenshot to remember? 

MP: What is the first piece of technology you got your hands on?

WYL: The first one that I could hold in my hands? Definitely a Tamagotchi electronic pet egg.

MP: What is the first piece of technology you were truly addicted to or obsessed with?  How did you obsess about it?

WYL: When I was a kid I lived in Japan with my mom for a while, and at the time my mom bought me a Hello Kitty jewelry box; you used an electronic magic wand to control it, if you pressed the button on the magic wand the box would open automatically and play some music. For a ten year old kid, technology is just magic. This happened in the late nineties, the most thriving period for Japanese shōjo manga series about transformation and magic. The entire Japanese children toy market was flooded with all kinds of electronic magic wands making lights and sounds. When I grew up, I saw a Japanese artist (I forgot her name) using all kinds of magic wands she collected to make a sound art installation; at the time I thought that it was really cool, and that I should also use my Hello Kitty wand to make something.

MP: What are your first memories of accessing the Internet in China?

WYL: I started going online when I was in primary school. At that time, my parents were both working in the university, so I got my hands on computers and on the Internet quite early in the context of China. My first online ID was Pocahontas (I’ve been raised on Disney cartoons, and also from when I was in primary school Chinese children entertainment companies began to introduce original Disney cartoons), and I used this name to chat on a BBS, but no one there would believe I was an elementary school student. When I got to middle school, OICQ was slowly starting to become popular, and the business of Internet cafes started booming.

MP: What are your first memories of accessing the Internet outside of China, without the Great Firewall?

WYL: The memory that comes to my mind right now is about when I was in New Haven and I tried to open Youku to watch a video, I forgot which one, and the Youku website informed me that “Because you are outside China’s territory, due to matters of copyright you cannot watch this video”, so the only way I could think of was to find a proxy server to “cross the wall” back into China. When you are in China you have to cross the wall to go out, and when you are out you have to cross back in. When will these walls disappear? Or will they never disappear? As of today, I can only say that fortunately we still have the opportunity to cross the wall.

MP: When were you first introduced to the concept of “Internet Art” and what was your first impression of it as a genre and methodology for producing art?

WYL: Just like many other people, the first Internet artist I came across was Rafaël Rozendaal. He’s also what got me into net art in general. Like any other vulgar person at the time I only wanted to know if there was anyone preserving his websites.

MP: What is your background in art?  When did you start working with online network based artwork yourself?

WYL: I have done eight years of graphic design, and when I was doing my masters I attended some courses which were all closely related to the Internet, the earliest must have been in 2012; I attended a course by Daniel van der Velden, and the assignment was “create a kind of online currency”. Actually the stuff I made for this course had absolutely no relation with the topic, but it became the prototype for the TAOTFSO residency program I established a few years later.

MP: Who are your favourite artists producing works in China right now?  Why?

WYL: Wen Ling. I think that walking the narrative path towards callousness and wisdom is really difficult, and he is the one that can reach them. The Doublefly art center is just like Chinese society at the moment.

MP: So far, you are the first Chinese artist I have found (correct me if I’m wrong) curating online art in China, who is also demonstrating and investigating a collective approach to the network based medium the Internet can provide artists, by starting your online gallery, Bigbadgallery.com.  As a foreign artist, researcher and curator myself in China, I have been slightly surprised to see how artists here aren’t engaged more with the potential of the Internet as a place for collectively producing work and creating dialogue with each other.  For the most part, what I’ve seen produced online by Chinese artists here, is singularly, without a collective interest or mentality.  Thus far, there is no history of “online surf clubs”or the like, in Chinese Contemporary Art.  I have my own theories about why this is, but I would love to hear your own reflection, from artist/curator to artist/curator, on why there aren’t more collective dialogues, projects or galleries online amongst young Chinese artists, especially when the “virtual world” does play a large part in Chinese people’s every day lives here.  

WYL: Actually Chinese people have a very strong sense of herd-like nationalism. The many crazy things that happen in the online world inside the GFW are the proof of this, for example the extremely powerful renrou sousuo(online vigilantism, doxxing) spontaneously launched by Internet users. But regarding the question about why there hasn’t been a lot of collaboration between young Chinese artist, I can only guess that it is because Chinese artists have inherited another nationality’s tradition. The essence of this sort of tradition is going against collectivism. If you read some materials about Chinese artists in ancient times, intractable character and many other kinds of antisocial personality were often a way of describing them positively and praising them. There is also another reason and it’s because the number of people doing net art in China is still very small: if there was a large population base, then there would be more exchanges. But I think that in the last two years, this term is already very popular in China, when I had just came back and I was preparing to launch the Big Bad Gallery, basically I couldn’t find anyone discussing the term “hulianwang yishu” (Internet art, net art), all of my friends all thought I wanted to sell paintings online.

MP: With your online gallery, Bigbadgallery.com, you started an “online residency”to allow other artists to explore the extent of our virtual lives and how it can mimic our real lives.  What inspired you to give this project the title “TOTAL ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE SOCIAL ORDER”(TAOTFSO)?  What is the Future Social Order to you?

WYL: This “online residence” is still ongoing, but I’m not sure if everyone involved is uploading the blogs. I don’t check it regularly, this is not an enforced assignment, if it was enforced then it wouldn’t have a point anymore. If a person doesn’t upload anything for one year, it’s also an honest state of things. In fact, this project doesn’t emphasize if the participants are artists or not. “Total Artwork of the Future Social Order” comes from a sentence by Beuys. I can’t define the future of social order, but I can explain why I used it as a name for this project. Over these years of running the Big Bad Gallery, the research topic I am becoming increasingly interested in are the interpersonal social relationships generated by rapid information dissemination on the Internet, rather than whatever kind of visual phenomena emerging from the Internet.

MP: In 2013, you said you started playing the Nintendo video game, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which you mentioned was famous for gamers being able to collect virtual objects in the game.  You said you were especially fascinated by the way gamers would talk about the objects they collected and the kind of collections they were creating.   Can you tell me more about how the concept of the “virtual collection” influences the second show of your virtual gallery called Miao Miao Contemporary Set in the World of Animal Crossing: New Leaf?  What are your thoughts on the reasons why and the ways users in the game are so fascinated by collecting non-physical objects in the virtual world?  How do you see this as a reflection of our physical, non-virtual lives as well?

WYL: There are two reasons why I started project “Miao Miao Contemporary Set in the World of Animal Crossing: New Leaf” [CHECK ENGLISH NAME: In chinese is “Miao Miao Contemporary Art Project”): first of all it’s because I am really fascinated by Nintendo’s logic of object design; in this game, if you want to live in a tattered and leaky hut, you can’t pierce a hole in your own hut, but you can go buy a bucket, and put it inside your house, and small drops of water would appear dropping from the ceiling and falling in the bucket. No matter if it rains or if the sun shines, your hut will always be leaky. The logic and structure of objects in this world are the opposite of real life, it’s extremely interesting. The second reason, as you said, is that In this game there is a group of crazy collectors, for example there are some players that search everywhere for all the chairs that make the sound of farting when you sit on them. “Why do people collect” is a big question. No matter if it is collecting actual or virtual things, collecting can always bring order. The best example are the treasure cabinets that became popular in Europe in the sixteenth century: people would present their collected treasures arranged on little strips of cloth in a small closet – this was probably the prototype of the museum. But “virtual collector” and “virtual property” still have a strange poetic quality: it seems like you possess them, but in fact you don’t. You don’t get anything, but you exchanged money for bitcoins.

MP: How would you feel about the internet being directly attached to your brain some day?

WYL: This would mean that all people in the world would be able to connect to the Internet. At that point everyone would already have become a Buddha.

MP: How do you feel about the Chinese aesthetic often used and seen online inside the GFW?

WYL: This is a very interesting question, because the development of the Internet seems to have promoted a new kind of aesthetic. It’s really difficult to define what this aesthetic trend ultimately is about, and when we discuss it we often connect it to gaudy art (yansu yishu), animated GIFs, and pixel art. But inside the GFW, Taobao images and WeChat emoticons have become synonymous with this aesthetic. But again, actually this aesthetic is not new at all. If the pictures shot by Taobao shopkeepers were not put online, they would appear on the streets and alleys throughout China. Look at the pictures used on the signs of small restaurants. For example, take the topic I discussed today at lunch with my mom (she is an economist): Internet finance. This word is now extremely popular in China, and my mom’s opinion (if I understood it correctly), is that it’s actually not a new form of finance. Even if the Internet is a new tool, it hasn’t changed any of the rules and principles of operation of the financial sector. So, a lot of the discussions around the theme of Internet finance are useless. I think that this is quite similar to Internet aesthetics.

MP: What are the major differences between your generation in China and your parent’s generation in how technology and the Internet are used? 

WYL: I think that the difference is actually very small. The Internet arrived in China in the nineties, and until today it has had merely twenty years of history. Me and my parents came in contact with the Internet at the same time, don’t you think this is great? It’s very uncommon for my generation and my parents’ generation to begin knowing this world and approaching this knowledge at the same time. The moment you come in contact with something new, everybody is like a kid. And in terms of the use of technology and the Internet, the differences between my generation and my parents’ generation are very similar to the differences in other domains. When it comes to exploring all the possibilities of technology, young people are always a little bit stronger. And this is a good thing, if it weren’t so the world would be over.

MP: If you could create your own virtual world to live in permanently, what would it be like? Who would be there with you?  How would you see yourself spending your time in this kind of cyberspace permanently? 

WYL: This depends on how we define “virtual world”. If building a virtual world only means that we can avoid using bricks to build a house, or avoid using a stove and still be able to cook, then there is a “virtual world” that we build in the brain of each of us. As Hamlet says, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.” Perhaps in the Internet age quoting Shakespeare is not suitable, then I could cite Harry Potter. At the end of the story, Harry Potter asks: “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”, to which Dumbledore replies, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”. For me, this is a very Buddhist answer. Both “virtual” and “real” at the same time. The world of the Internet and the space opened by the thought and imagination in our brains, are both like this. If I had to give a more positive answer to this question: the “virtual world” I would build would be no different from the real world. I would live In it, and enter additional “virtual worlds” to pass the time.

This interview is from 2016.


李维伊: 我的标准个人陈述是“李维伊是一位艺术家http://weiyi.li、设计师http://weiyiandfriends.com、策展人http://bigbadgallery.com、出版人http://re-publication.com和杂货店主http://currently-available.com。她同时生活和工作在以上五个网页链接里。”我有太多工作和生活是在虚拟世界中完成的。在线与现实世界里的我都是同一人。但以目前虚拟世界的技术程度来说,在线世界中的交流留给人更多的反馈时间:你可以有更多时间去想怎么回复他人,以何种面貌面对这个虚拟的世界。


李维伊: 这让我想到几年前我给我的美国朋友Laurel写的信,我刚回国,我告诉她说我想做第一个中文世界里关注线上艺术的画廊,“我知道这听起来很蠢,网络艺术当然不会被地缘限制,但是很奇怪,在国内根本就看不到人做或者是谈及这件事。”但实质上,网络上也是有地缘关系的。地缘导致的语言限制就给信息传播造成了根本的阻碍。信息作为一种资源,在流通中本来就会有所损失或者增长,而网络中各种“墙”的存在,本质上加重了信息的不对称性。中国的GRW可能就是最著名的一堵墙。这就是网络之中的地缘,这也是我感兴趣的部分。曾经的世界上最著名的墙-柏林墙已经被拆除了,很多人开心地拿走墙的碎片回家做纪念。如果GFW被拆除了呢?可能吗?有什么可以拿走用作纪念?截图留念吗?


李维伊: 能拿在手里?应该是一个电子宠物蛋TAMAGOTCHI。


李维伊: 我小时候和妈妈在日本生活过一会儿,那时候我妈给我买了一个Hello Kitty的珠宝盒,用一根电子仙女棒控制,按仙女棒上的按钮,珠宝盒就会一边放音乐一边自动打开。对于一个十岁的小孩来说,科技就是魔法。那是九十年代后期,日本的变身系/魔法少女漫画最兴盛的时候。整个日本儿童玩具市场都充斥各种声电光的魔法棒。长大以后我见过一个日本女性艺术家(我忘记名字了)用收集来的各种魔法棒做声音艺术装置,当时觉得她太酷了,我也应该用我的Hello Kitty仙女棒做点什么。


李维伊: 在我小学的时候,我开始上网。我的父母当时都在大学里工作,所以我接触电脑和互联网都算国内比较早的。Pocahontas是我的第一个网络ID(我是被迪士尼卡通喂养长大的,也是从我小学的时候,国内的童趣公司开始引进正版迪士尼漫画),我用这个名字在一个BBS里面和人聊天,但没人相信我是一个小学生。到我中学的时候,OICQ就开始慢慢火起来了,同期各个网吧的生意开始红火。

媚潇: 你对于在国外,在没有GFW的情况下使用互联网的最早记忆是什么?

李维伊: 现在能够浮现在我脑海里的记忆片段是,在纽黑文的时候,我试图打开优酷看一个视频,具体是什么视频我不记得了,但是优酷网站提示“因为您在中国国境外,由于版权问题所以无法看该视频”,所以我只能想办法找中国的代理服务器翻墙回国内。在国内上网要翻墙出去,在国外要翻回来。什么时候这些墙都会消失?还是永远不会?现阶段,我只能说,幸好我们还有可以翻墙的机会。

媚潇: 你是在什么时候最初接触“网络艺术”这个概念,当时你对这种艺术媒介有什么感觉?

李维伊: 我知道的第一个网络艺术家,和很多人一样,是Rafaël Rozendaal。他也是我认识网络艺术的起点。同任何俗气的人一样,我当时只想知道到底有没有人收藏他的网站。

媚潇: 你的艺术背景是什么?你什么时候开始创作在线网络的作品?

李维伊: 我当做了八年的平面设计师,在我念研究生的时候,我参加的几门课程都与网络密切相关,最开始应该是在2012年,我在上Daniel van der Velden的课,作业是要求“创造一种在线的货币”。我在这门课上做的东西,其实和主题并没有什么联系,倒是成为了几年后TAOTFSO驻留计划的雏形。

媚潇: 你最喜欢的在国内实践的艺术家有谁?为什么?

李维伊: 温凌,我认为在叙事性的道路上走向冷酷和智性是很难的,他就是能够做到的人。双飞艺术中心,他们就是中国社会此刻的样子。

媚潇: 到目前为止,你是我遇见第一个策划中国网络艺术的国内艺术家(不正确的话请纠正我)。通过你自己的在线画廊——大坏画廊,呈现,同时考察一种网络给予艺术家的集体工作方式。身为一个驻地中国的外国艺术家,研究员及策展人,我对本地艺术家不更多的运用互联网的潜力去共同创作和进行深度交流,觉得有点惊讶。总括来说,我看过的国内艺术家所做的网络作品都是缺乏集体意识或兴趣的。目前为止在中国当代艺术的语境里没有“上网俱乐部”或类似的群体。关于这种现象,我有我的一套理论,但是在艺术家/策展人与艺术家/策展人之间,我更希望能听你对在国内年轻一代的艺术圈子里,为什么缺乏集体交流、项目或在线画廊的现象的一些想法和反思,尤其因为“虚拟世界”其实在中国人每天的生活中扮演着重要的角色。

李维伊: 实际上中国人有非常强的从众的民族性。在GFW的网络世界里发生那么多疯狂的事情就是证明,比如说非常强大的网友自发的人肉搜索。但为什么中国的年轻艺术家没有出现太多的集体行为,我只能猜测,中国的艺术家们继承着另外一种民族性的传统。这种传统实质就是与从众性背道而驰的。如果去读一些中国古代的艺术家资料,性格桀骜等等各种反社会的个性,往往是对他们正面和褒义的形容。还有一个原因是因为中国做互联网艺术的人基数还是很小,如果有一个大的人口基数,交流会更多。但我觉得这两年,这个词在国内已经很火了,我刚回国的时候,准备做大坏画廊之前,根本找不到人讨论“互联网艺术”这个词,所有朋友都以为我要在网上卖画。

媚潇: 你通过你的在线画廊——大坏画廊,开始了一个“网上驻留项目”让其他艺术家探索我们的虚拟生活,以及它如何模拟真实世界。这个项目标题:“未来社会秩序的完整艺术作品”(TAOTFSO)的来源是什么?未来的社会秩序对你来说又是什么?

李维伊: 这个“网上驻留项目”其实正在进行中,但我不确定是不是每个参与的人都在这些博客里面更新。我并没有定期检查,这不是一个强制执行的作业,如果它是强制执行的作业,那么就什么意义也没有了。一个人如果一年在博客上没有更新任何事情,也是一种诚实的状态。事实上,这个项目并不强调参与者是否是艺术家。“未来社会秩序的完整艺术作品”来源于博伊斯的一句话。我不能去定义未来的社会秩序,但我能解释为什么我以此来命名这个计划。在经营大坏画廊的这些年,我关注的研究对象愈发是关于网络的快速信息传递中产生的人际社会关系的,而非某种在网络中凸显的视觉现象。

媚潇: 你在2013年开始玩任天堂的电子游戏——《动物之森》,而玩家能在这个游戏中收集各种虚拟的物件。你说你觉得这些玩家如何描述他们收集的物件,以及他们所创造的收藏系列很有意思。那请你讲解一下“虚拟收藏”这个概念如何影响到大坏画廊的第二个有关《动物之森》的展览——《喵喵当代艺术计划》?你对玩家为什么,以及如何在虚拟世界里收集非实体物件有什么想法?你觉得这种现象如何同时反映到我们的真实、非虚拟生活?

李维伊: 开始《喵喵当代艺术计划》的原因有二,首先是因为我十分着迷任天堂公司设计虚拟物件的逻辑:如果你想在这个游戏里有一个破烂漏雨的小屋,你是无法把自己的屋子捅破一个洞的,但你却可以去买一个水桶,把这个水桶放在家里,就会有小水珠不停地从天花板上出现,掉落在水桶里。无论晴雨,你的屋子都会是漏雨的。这个游戏里构造物件的逻辑和现实生活中是相反的,十分有趣。第二个原因,就是像你说的,这个游戏里有一群疯狂的收藏家,比如会有玩家四处寻找到所有坐下的时候会发出放屁的声音的椅子。“人为何收藏”是个很大的问题。无论是真实收藏还是虚拟收藏,收藏都能带来秩序。最好的例子就是十六世纪在欧洲开始流行的珍宝橱:人本把收集来的宝物仅仅有条地布置入一个小柜子里,这应该是博物馆的雏形。但“虚拟收藏”和“虚拟财产”总归有一种奇特的诗意性:看起来你拿到了,其实又没有。你什么也没得到,但你的确通过比特币兑换到了钱。

媚潇: 如果有一天互联网能直接连接到你的脑你会觉得怎样?

李维伊: 那么这意味着全世界的人类脑部都能借由互联网联通。那个时候大家都应该已经成佛了。

媚潇: 你对在GFW内常见的审美有什么感觉?

李维伊: 这是一个很有趣的问题,互联网的发展好像推动了一种新的审美。很难去定义这种审美倾向到底是什么,大家讨论它的时候通常和俗艳艺术、gif动图、低像素挂钩。而在GFW内部,淘宝图片、微信表情成为了这种审美的代名词。而实际上,这种审美并不是新的。淘宝店主拍的图片如果不出现在互联网上,也会出现在中国的大街小巷里。看看国内街边小饭馆的招牌上的图片吧。如同今天午餐的时候,我和我的妈妈(她是一名经济学家)聊到的话题:互联网金融。这个词在中国现在非常热门,我妈妈的观点是(如果我没有理解错误的话),其实不存在一种新的金融的形式。互联网作为新的工具,没有改变任何金融领域运行的规律和原则。所以很多围绕互联网金融的讨论是无效的。我认为这个互联网审美非常相似。

媚潇: 在科技和互联网的运用上,你这一代与你父母那一代之间最大的区别是什么?

李维伊: 我認為這種差別其实很小。互聯網在中國是在九十年代出現的。到今天也才二十來年的歷史,我和我的父母是同时开始接触互联网的,你不认为这很棒吗?这是极少数的我和我的父母辈同时开始认识的世界,同时开始学习的知识。在刚开始接触新事物的时候,每个人都是孩子。而我这一代与父母辈那一代在科技和互联网的运用上的区别,其实和这两者对于任何其他领域的区别非常相似。在探索技术的各种可能性上,年轻人总是更强一些。这是一件好事情,否则这世界就完了。

媚潇: 如果你能创造属于你的虚拟世界,而永久地生活在里面,这个世界会是怎样的?谁会跟你一起在这个世界里生活?你会如何在这种网络空间里消耗时间?

李维伊: 這取決於我們是如何定義“虛擬世界”,假若建造一個虛擬世界僅僅只意味著我們可以不用磚塊去建造一座房子,不使用爐子就能夠得到熟食,那麼我們每個人的腦中早就已經存在着一個我們建造出來的“虛擬世界”。如同哈姆雷特講“假使把我關在胡桃之中,我也是無限世界的君主。”或許在網絡時代並不適合引用莎士比亞,那麼引用《哈利波特》吧。在故事的最後,哈利波特問到,“這是真的嗎?還是只發生於我的頭腦之中?”鄧佈利多回到到:“這當然是發生在你的頭腦之中的事,哈利,但是為甚麼這就不可能是真的呢?”對我來說,這是個十分佛教的回答。既“虛擬” ,又“真實”。網絡世界和我們頭腦中被思考和想像力所打開的那個空間,都是這樣。正面地回答這個問題的話,我所建造的“虛擬世界”,和真實的世界並無二致。我生活在其中,靠進入另外的“虛擬世界”打發時間。