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Stories from Artists in Residence

Li Tingwei: Painting the Cloud during Lockdown

Li Tingwei

Based in Shanghai and Berlin. The awardee of 2020 Pro Helvetia Residency.
Due to Covid-19, her residency has been postponed and took place from Dec.8, 2020-Feb.28, 2021 at Atelier Mondial, Basel.

More about the artist

Working with objects, images, and videos, Li Tingwei is interested in the phenomenon and core values in contemporary life. Her residency was postponed due to the pandemic, and therefore, she has decided to adapt her original proposal to an exhibition in China before she realizes her trip to Basel. Despite the difficulties posed by the lockdown, what encounters has she made in Switzerland and how have they informed her new creations?

What would you like to say about this residency?

I arrived in December 2020 as the museums and galleries were not closed until ten days after. I waited for three days for the Swiss Museum Pass and then started my ten-day museum crawl.

One thing that amazed me was the Regionale 21 exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel and Kunsthaus Baselland. Regionale 21 featured artists of my age or even younger. The curators were artists, too. The exhibition at Baselland had to be closed after only three weeks due to temporary lockdown measures and I was the last visitor on its last open day. I was impressed by those artists educated in Switzerland, whose subjects are so relaxed and whose observation on everyday life is so subtle. Maybe because their metaphysics is slightly different from that of Germans and they haven’t endured sufferings and or had as many reflections, they have more feedback on emotions, collective memories and experiences in nature.

Young artists under 30 are very casual when using everyday materials and scenarios, which indicates that they don’t seek formal innovation or try to impress with unique expressions, but instead focus on things that interest them and give it full play in one piece of work.

Then there came the two months of lockdown, during which no museum was open to the public. But I was lucky enough to visit six independent spaces located in Zurich and Basel. In Basel, there are many spaces and projects organized by young artists. They share the rent, making good use of the Internet and social media for promotion. More importantly, they take curation and visits seriously. They often have opportunities to sell as well. Two of them, one of whom works at Liste Art Fair Basel and the other in a famous gallery, curate or work on project spaces in their spare time. These well-established independent spaces would also collaborate with organizations with residencies and invite artists from all over the world for specific projects. I feel Basel is an art base with extremely rich resources.

I saw a landscape painting in the Kunstmuseum Basel, which featured snowy mountains, the sun at dawn and a lake. I noted down the location and went to the place near Lucerne to see it for myself. Walking in the snow made me easily exhausted, but the beautiful view of the lake and mountains was breathtaking. Switzerland in winter didn’t seem constrained by the bitter cold.

One day during the Christmas holiday I bought the Swiss Travel Pass and visited the famous Interlaken, Lake Brienz and Jungfrau. I didn’t really walk much and was on the train all the time, but I gave myself a good reason to eat chocolate. It was very hard to ski all by myself. When I saw the contrast between the sunny and the shadowy sides of a mountain under the sun, I realized romantic paintings didn’t lie. But my actual body was by the lake at the foot of the mountain, watching the snowcaps. They say on the day after a snowy night, the air is so clean and refreshing that it purifies your soul – it’s true.

In what way will your work from this residency be presented?

I had to carry on my proposed plan disrupted by COVID-19 and produce my works in China. They were displayed at the Points Center for Contemporary Art in November, 2020. But in my last month in Switzerland, the lockdown made me start thinking and observing for my next project. And I had opportunities to chat with graduate students from the FHNW Academy of Art and Design, which is near my residency, and my local curator and artist friends. Radio X and over 30 other organizations will jointly host “Summe” project this year on air and I was invited to contribute a piece of sound art around mid-March.

Outside my studio was a square and the vast sky. I could imagine how lively it had been before the outbreak of COVID-19. Watching the clouds became the greatest fun during the residency. I started to paint clouds as part of my daily practice. As a massive, abstract, intangible matter, the cloud evokes in me a need for cognitive closure. In the digital era, it has become a new normal for people to store data in the cloud – a massive data processing center. In fact, we do feel that above our heads, there is an “eye of the god” watching us, which stores all our actions and can track and access our data at any time. It is invisible, enormous, and even magnificent.

The boulder and cloud: The former is a heavy flexible matter on a surface, opposite to the latter in terms of the form in the space and the sense of weight. Suppose a conversation between a cloud and a giant stone, each acting as the projection of the other, and we’ll come to the following topics:

What data of ours has been stored? Now that the modern world has become one “in the cloud”, the digital waste we leave behind will become a giant heap of rubbish in the cloud. There seems to be a cloud hanging over the modern city dwellers, a sense of boredom and a powerless feeling that they are controlled by big data although they cannot see it. Thus it causes all kinds of strange phobias, such as Megalophobia, Thalassophobia and Nephophobia, like they are living in a nightmare. People often have phobias because they are afraid they cannot escape from the current situation. We, therefore, study the weather and present indexes that point to a “happening”. I’d like to take this topic further to the connection between meteorology and psychology. And since my work “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”, I’ve been concerned about the impact of the outside world on one’s mental status.

Having rachlette with Salt’s co-founder Benedikt Wyss and friends.
Your advice to future applicants in one sentence?

Learn some basic rules about pairing cheese and wine so that you can enjoy better all the quality cheese from Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. And go out by bike as the locals do.

(Banner image: Li Tingwei reading portraits and introductions of artists-in-residence at Atelier Mondial. Photo by Grandee Dorji.)


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