Li Tingwei:Could Donuts Save Us from Drowning

By Han Liya, translated by Fiona He, Image Conrtesy of Surplus Space

Li Tingwei: Could Donuts Save Us from Drowning 

Surplus Space / Wuhan

10 March - 10 May 2108

Li Tingwei’s solo exhibition Could Donuts Save Us from Drowning presents the artist’s three recent series. Inspired by an experience on a sea cruise, the artist continues her practice that stems from researching on the systems of consumer culture, at the same time pointing out people’s loneliness while and restlessness while trapped in the dilemma of consumption. The exhibition Could Donuts Save Us from Drowning is held at Surplus Space in Wuhan.

Art Frontire: The poster for this exhibition is interesting. there are two kinds of rings: the life-buoy and the donut on it, what is the intention of juxtaposing them next to each other?

LiTingwei: The visual subject for this exhibition took the life-buoy as its point of departure, because it’s something that is often found near any kind of water, for instance on the shore. I saw an exhibition by David Hockney last September, and the iconography of the life-buoy appeared in many of his paintings, and the work Rubber Ring in a Swimming Pool was literally only about the rubber ring and a swimming pool. Suddenly I realized that the life buoy could be the subject of an image, because it represents a kind of life. The donut is an icon derived from this line of thought, it’s a food item invented due to the fast consumption, and it serves as an analogy for consumer culture. When I was building the model, I realized that the back of the life buoy and the donut are the same, their surfaces are both quite glossy and smooth, although no matter how similar the models are to the real objects, they nevertheless exist in a virtual dimension. I put them on the poster as a small joke: Could donuts save us from drowning? It can replenish the body with energy in the most efficient way, while the life buoy also projects our desire to survive.

Art Frontire: Then, is the desire for survival the embedded subject for this exhibition?

LiTingwei: To be more accurate, it’s a sense of security. The creative impetus for Moby Dick, Life Buoy (2018) and Moby Dick, Waves(2018) come from one of my traveling experiences. Since I have been previously influenced by novels and films about sea travel, before boarding, I had a number of uncanny fragments in my mind, the origin of the sea, its infinite life, the fear and vision its existence provides for human beings. The reality on the contrary is filled with tour groups and children from around the world, a kind of cruise ship that does not make you feel like you are traveling in the ocean, but reminded by this realistic view of the ocean, a physical reality that embodies a strong sense of life has thereby become a safe consumed view. There are swimming pools, surfing stations and other entertainment facilities, where the guests can entertain safely as they feel conquered, reinvent and enjoy the ocean. When I was on the cruise, I filmed surfing coaches and learners practicing repetitiously, those who played in the artificial seawater, and noticed they were all quite funny. Everyone feigned intimacy with nature in these man- made scenes, while in contrast to the vast ocean, they seemed insignificant and isolated.

Art Frontire: With the filming and production of these subjects for this exhibition, are you trying to capture the sense of vanity and loneliness in our self-entertaining consumer life?

LiTingwei: At the site of the exhibition, you’d realize that let it be cruising, on the ocean, artificial surfing, 3D life buoy or safety screens, all seemed verisimilar, when in fact they are all fake. The condition of today’s consumption is described in Lacarte et le Territoire that marketing has become fascism in disguise, the producer for the capitalist cycle that has in fact reinvented the life of the consumer chasing their desires tirelessly and desperately. This desperate chase is like that of the fishermen to Moby Dick, day after day. This is the cruel reality that we are confronted with right now, and the happy consumer relation are gone. I traverse among these false pretenses as an observer, representing and deride them through my art practice, as an optimistic capital critic.

Art Frontire: The iron window and screen in this exhibition embody a sense of time, while they correspond to the virtual image of 3D model life buoy, this kind of temporal contradiction is quite interesting.

LiTingwei: The three animation installations are in fact the scenes I have imagined once we return to the shore, which in a way, are a response to the fishermen’s three failed chase in Moby Dick, while The Space Occupied in the Life-Buoy visualizes the rescue in my imagination. The three sets of works are extensions from my previous approach to moving-images such as, The Space Occupied in the Life-Buoy (2018) expands on the studies of body parts such as nails, ears etc., and for Moby Dick, Day One, Day Two, Day Three (2017) I’ve also adopted the approach I applied previously, and used older version monitors to play the 3D modeling images, meanwhile using safety net and screens to hinder spectators’ view, and I hope to create a sort of tension through visual contrast.


Moby Dick, lifebelt, single channel video, 4K, 4’57” 2018


Moby Dick, the Chase, first day, second day, third day, video installation, burglar mesh, chiffon curtain, animatio

n each 15”. 2017


 Exhibition view of "Li Tingwei: Could Donuts Save Us from Drowning" at Surplus Space Wuhan

image.png Exhibition view of "Li Tingwei: Could Donuts Save Us from Drowning" at Surplus Space Wuhan