About the Photographer
Chinese, b. 1974 Jiangsu Province
Li Mu is an interdisciplinary artist working with photography, video, installation and performance art. Inspired by everyday life and personal experience, Mu’s work creates a conversation between the artist, the environment, and the general public. Merging art-making with acts from every day life, Mu transcends the roles of artist and viewer, engaging a larger community in his practice.
With his series of photographs Blued Books (2008-2009), Li Mu explores the lives of teenagers serving sentences at the Shanghai Juvenile Reformatory. As a way of connecting with these youth while they are in confinement, Li arranged to have a library of his personal art book collection, as well as books purchased or borrowed for the project, installed in a communal space at the reformatory so that inmates can study the texts and meet with the artist for weekly discussions. The youth were eager to communicate with, learn, and earn trust from the outside world, and the loaned books served as their bridge. Li created a series of portraits during the yearlong collaboration, of which ten are in the FarEastFarWest collection. In accordance with Chinese law, Li placed black bars over the eyes of the youth, which conceals their identity and limits our ability to connect with them as individuals. According to the artist, the color blue represents the sky and the ocean and also the aspirations of freedom, purity, and peace that he wants his imprisoned readers to realize. The blue of the teenagers' uniforms underscores conflicting ideas of confinement and escape that these teens wrestle with during their time at the reformatory.
In Inverted Photographs (2007), Li Mu photographs his subjects upside down. In an effort to disguise the inversion, he adjusts their hair and clothing to make it appear as if they are standing upright before he makes the final exposure, which he then inverts again. Though his subjects appear upright in the final presentation, their body position and facial expressions are inconsistent with traditional portraits, creating a sense of unease. Mu is interested in the tension between the gravity pulling on his subjects and their attempt to control their expressions to appear normal. His photographs contain elements of unease, worry, panic, patience, and persistence, while alluding to the complexity of human emotion and experience.
In My Dreams in Vilnius (2009), a series of eight photographic diptychs, Mu engaged with his surroundings in a way that was both highly personal and culturally motivated. Mu had strange dreams every night while visiting Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. He wrote his dreams in Chinese throughout the city in places that moved him, adding his own experience and culture to the public sphere. He painted these dreams on hills, churches, castles, rivers, and alleys, knowing they would fade in time from the elements of rain and sun, just as the dreams faded from his memory. The only evidence of the paintings that remains is in his photographs, each of which depicts a close-up view of his writing as well as a contextual image of the location where the dream was written.
Li Mu graduated from the Suzhou School of Art and Design, Suzhou in 1995 and the Academy of Art of Tsinghua University, Beijing in 2001. Mu’s work has been exhibited internationally at museums and galleries, including at the Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, The Cultural Centre of the Netherlands, the Osage Gallery in Shanghai, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. He lives and works in Shanghai