Mar. 29, 2014-Apr. 27, 2014

Li Jin


Text/ Hsu Hui-chih

At the end of last year, Gallery 100 arranged a brief meeting with artist Li Jin at Tantsumien Seafood Restaurant in Taipei. For Li, such occasions are akin to “field research” and as the mullet roe was brought to the table I noticed how he watched the scene unfold around him like a hunter observing his prey, and appeared as if entwined in the embrace of a lover when tasting the food.

Food, drink and sex are the basic desires of life and Li Jin’s paintings are replete with “eating, drinking and physical pleasure.” His works are records of great banquets and the naked bodies of men and women. This combination of food and sex reflects genuine hedonism. Beyond the “spirituality” of civilization there is desire – including for food, drink and flesh – but this is criticized by Taoist philosophers as indecent or peripheral.

The compositions of Li Jin’s works include parodies of his own appearance and are replete with vulgarity and original desire, but they are also filled with wonderful bright colors. However, these images are simultaneously full of desire and seeming innocence, creating a conflict that is inciting and thought provoking. The caricature depictions in Li’s paintings also come with unusually large and irregular inscriptions that imbue the pieces with a sense of modernity, the spirit of the modern age standing in juxtaposition to the restraints of romanticism and classicism.

The parameters of civilization are to be found in fire, raw food and cooked food. In the works of Li Jin, most of the food is cooked, whereas physical desire is explicit and “raw.” This reminds the viewer that original desire is an ineluctable element of civilization and perhaps even its driving force.

Behind all refined beauty one finds the inescapable period of oral-stage fixation. We use our mouths to speak and eat, bound to pursue satisfaction but doomed to never be truly sated.

Is Li Jin strange? Surely Hsu Wei (Chinese Literati 1521-1593) who hit himself over the head with a brick is ever stranger. Is Li Jin different? What is different about a banquet of food and flesh?

When viewing the artist’s paintings one cannot but be drawn by Li’s “caricature” of himself which seems to hint at unspoken feelings of sadness. What follows the feast?

After the natural instincts of man comes sadness and sorrow, a sentiment that is similar to gazing at the moon and watching it disappear or flower petals fall into a river and drift away. An ancient Zen Buddhist mantra says: “The Way is to be found in everyday bodily functions”; Li Jin says: “The Way is to be found in the natural instincts of men and women.”

Viewers would perhaps like to ask him: “What Way?” and he might reply, “The Tao that can be told of is not the Absolute Tao.” The moment we are stirred by his lack of interest, we discover that the “beauty” or “morality” with which we are most familiar is in fact built on the hopes and expectations of others and contains little if anything of ourselves.

There is just one path to the artist’s “Tao” – to take the way untraveled by others, regardless of whether it leads to extremes or “lakes of wine and forests of meat” (debauchery and sumptuous entertainment). When we once again taste food or physical pleasure Plato’s Symposium has just begun and our lives and civilization blossoms from such primitive desires.

Li Jin records how even in civilization beauty is to be found in those things most related to oral-stage fixation, physical pleasure and lack of “spirituality.” For me, Li is a high priest of ink art, using the application of stunningly beautiful colors, to demonstrate how civilization begins with oral-stage fixation. In the literary classic Water Margin Lu Chih-Shen shouts “I need to taste something” and he wanders off with his staff to eat and drink his fill.

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