An artist with issues

By Li Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2013-8-5 18:23:01

Li Binyuan running naked on the street holding a huge cross early one morning in May on a street in Wangjing area in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Li  Binyuan

Li Binyuan running naked on the street holding a huge cross early one morning in May on a street in Wangjing area in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Li Binyuan

Those who live in Wangjing area in Beijing were stunned by some weird things that they witnessed from March to May this year: A naked man was running along the streets around 2 am. Even weirder, sometimes the man was running while holding an inflatable doll, and sometimes he was running or riding an electric scooter while holding a huge cross.

Images of the naked nighttime runner soon spread on social networks. People gave him the nickname "Streaking Brother." Meanwhile, curiosity about the true identity of the runner was aroused. Finally, Li Binyuan, an artist graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), admitted on Sina Weibo that he was the naked runner.

Since his identity was revealed, it was found that running naked wasn't the first "crazy" thing that Li had done in the name of art. Like a lot of other performance artists, most of his works are unique and controversial, such as walking a chicken as a pet during a bird flu epidemic, or shaving and brushing his teeth in a subway.

Why run in the buff?

After revealing himself, Li received a wave of attention from the public. He said the stunt was totally about venting his own emotions and pressures, and had nothing to do with artistic creation. "Like many youngsters my age, I suffer many pressures - financially, emotionally. We almost can't breathe under this social pressure, and running naked is the most natural way to express it," Li said in an interview with the Global Times.

His first streak happened on March 20, and he ran another nine times over the next two months. Li said that he didn't tell others before that breaking up with his girlfriend is actually the direct reason for the first run. He thought of it as a way to "fight against the cold of life." It was an accident that someone saw him, and he received this much attention.

Action artist

Running naked is just one example of his work. And people tend to hear about his work even if they have never heard of the artist.

A series of pictures of Li shaving and brushing his teeth in subway Line 1 in Beijing was published online in 2011. Images of him walking a chicken on a leash when there was an outbreak of bird flu caused quite a stir because most people were slaughtering and avoiding them. Other images show Li holding lit fireworks aloft and shooting them at abandoned buildings scheduled for demolition, to make it look like they are exploding.

Most of his works were activities done alone. He said, "I use my body as a tool in my works. My body is my work."

As people call him the performance artist, he expressed that he regards himself as an "action artist." To him, the definitions are different. "Being a performance artist involves performing, but I do actions that reflect my own problems and use many methods to record them."

Li's artistic impulse seems to come from the pressures of life. Just like many young people who live and work in Beijing, he doesn't live in a fancy place and must move often. He said, "Houses used to provide shelter and be the safest places for people, but that is no longer the case."

As for walking a chicken, he said, "It was to challenge the thing that people were most afraid of. People slaughter chickens and are afraid of chickens, but are chickens the real problem?"

As Li inserts himself into his world, passersby become his audience. "When I was shaving and brushing teeth on subway, some people looked at me funny, and some pretended that they didn't see anything, and some looked like they felt uncomfortable as if they were intruders in my bathroom."

Becoming creative

Li studied sculpture at CAFA from 2006 to 2011. Like many other students of arts, his understanding and creation were more theoretical in the first few years. However, a course about creation inspired him and helped to set the direction for his future works.

In the third year of his studies, the teacher of the creation course asked the students to finish a work within five minutes, without any topic. At first, he really struggled with how to be creative. Suddenly an idea occurred to him when he saw two rocks on the road. "I will break the stones," he said.

In the end, holding a stone in his hand and breaking the other became his work for that class. Moreover, he found excitement in using his body as a part of the work.

His tutor, Yu Fan, also the vice director of Sculpture Department at CAFA, told the Global Times that Li's works were always quite creative and unique when he was in school.

"I think the work with him holding fireworks is his representative work, I like that."

Yu gave a him a rather good assessment for his graduation project (a score of 95), but if Li wants to go further on his path, Yu gave this advice: "Maybe he should put aside the 'Streaking Brother' title and buckle down to creating."

New exhibition

Li's new exhibition called I Have Issues will be held from August 24 to September 22 in Gallery Yang at the 798 Art Zone in Beijing. During this exhibition, all his "action works" in the past few years will be presented in many forms, including videos and pictures.

The owner of Gallery Yang, Yang Min, who has been in this field for over 10 years, also expressed why she chose to exhibit Li's works this time: "When seeing his work of running naked, I didn't think of it as art. But after seeing his studio, I saw many interesting and artistic works. I meet countless artists every year, but his work reflects the youngsters, especially the thoughts of the post-80s generation."

With a picture of him running naked on the poster, and I Have Issues as the title, many find it rather interesting. "I Have Issues meets my state, and it's an attitude - admitting and facing up my own issues." Holding this exhibition, Li explained, is also a reflection of others who live in this confused society that may be suffering from issues mentally, not physically.

Posted in: ARTS

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