Sizhu Li is a Chinese-born multidisciplinary artist based in New York. Educated in two different continents, Li has developed a unique visual language of immersive kinetic installations to illustrate her understanding of the universe, society, and nature which was influenced by both Eastern wisdom and Western philosophy. In 2018, she graduated from MICA with the Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship, an annual national award granted to only ten students chosen from Top 10 art schools in the US. Li’s installation works have been exhibited at Spring/Break, Flux Factory, the Governors Island Art Fair and the Baltimore–Washington International Airport among other local and international group shows. Her upcoming shows include a two-person show at Maryland Howard County Center for the Arts (2020) and a solo show at Amerasia Bank Art Gallery (2020).
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am Sizhu Li, 李丝竹, a kinetic installation artist base on New York City, originally from China, Sichuan province. Looking backward, I realized that I have been learning art for most of my life. Starting with my little art career at Children palace, I spent most of my casual time on different after-school art tutorials. I was joking that in my life, I have on childhood but in a good way.
In 2006, I went to art high school affiliated with the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute where a door of contemporary art opened to me. In the 90s and 20s, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute was a fertile soil of Chinese contemporary art. In the graduating season, a ton of exhibitions was happening and the little flags with words” free July” flying over the campus. However, after having a slow path life for 2 years, I got bored. Following a senior student’s suggestion, I went to Beijing for some different and more challenging experience.
Then my story became familiar with most of the Chinese art students: I got into a pre-college training school, took classes without breaks for 9 months then I took tests for college applications. But the difference is that I failed twice and I got my offer from my dream school China Central academy of Fina Arts in the third year. In 2016, I received my BFA and came to Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for my MFA study. In 2018, after graduation, I moved to New York City until now.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice? Has it changed during the past few years?
I have been exploring many different ideas include visible energy (etc. electricity) and invisible energy(gravity), oriental and western philosophy, humor, and labor. Yes, my ideas changed more and less in the past few years since my life was changing. As a growing artist, I do believe I have to keep breaking the old box that I have built for my art no matter how other people say. When I start a new project, I always take it as my first project in my life and also the last. However, there is a recognizable temperament in my works, and it is getting strong and stronger. One of my close friends told me that the sense of my works looks more and more familiar with myself. I agree and I guess the reason is that no matter how the materials and ideas changed, my personality and characters always somehow embedded into the works.
Your projects include large-scale installations, videos, and small works. What is your process like? How do you keep yourself creative during the process?
In general, my art practice based on research and materials’ experiments. I usually do them both at the same time. But the initial idea usually came randomly. A daily object, a story, and a movement, they all may inspire me. When I got a rough idea, I try many different materials in different ways to explore, then I may find the idea is dead or find something else interesting to try. What I did is making sure what I am going to do is unique, interesting, and challenging, no matter how long it has taken and how long it is going to take. So, unfortunately, I am a super slow art maker, my thesis What is Watt took me a whole year to finished. Therefore, when I feel very stuck in those large-scale installations, making these small works is a way to release and comfort myself. Those little guys were the diary, quick 3D sketches also the inspiration collection.
What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?
For my experience and understanding, “community” means a group of people who understand each other also support each other. They are friends who have the same pursuit. Being an independent art profession, it is very important to keep hearing from others and get to know this world from different perspectives. I am participating in different communities, such as the residencies and programs that I have attended. Also, with the growth of my art career, I am building my community spontaneously. Putting people together makes a lot of fun and magic. I have been benefiting and supporting with different community, with gratitude, I would like to spread out the spirit to others.
You’ve been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far?
I was very excited about every single opportunity that I had. But there were two things that I want to thank in addition. The first one is the Toby Devan Louise Fellowship that I gained when I was graduating at MICA. It was the largest reward and the only academic cash reward selected from the whole graduation school. It was extremely competitive and everyone applied it. This fellowship gave me the confidence to trust myself, which is the most important foundation for an art career. Besides, it financially helped me move to NYC and cover the rent of my first studio and another studio expense for my first year out of school.
Another one is Spring/Break Art Show 2020 since the art fair had high exposure in NYC, it was a rare opportunity to show my work to so many art professions and the public at one time, I received a ton of valued feedback and got to know many interesting artists and curators as well.
What are you working on right now as moving forward?
I am working on multiple applications for early 2021 right now and luckily the residency I was supposed to go this May is reopening in a few days. It is called 4heads Art in Residency located at Governors’ Island and it ends on Nov 1. In the residency, I will be refining my new ping pong ball works, since I got bored with the current stage of this work. However, I have a strong feeling that it will be my next major work, it just needs to push further.
text & photo courtesy of Sizhu Li