Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Philip Li

By Holly Willats

Camberwell graduate and This Is Why We Meet player Philip Li fuses disciplines, materials and genres, including performance, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, fashion and new media. Known for his graduate of ceramic works for which he sought to develop new images for the traditional medium, creating a surprising series of fashion cross architectural sculpted ceramic armour.

Your work combines photography, performance, fashion and ceramics. How does you work allow these different disciplines work well together?

As an artist, these disciplines are all methods of expression - and depending on the project, certain aspects get more prominence. I have a very holistic view of art and want to try everything – and I think that’s a very modern idea – the ability to crossover and put things together in a new way – the way I dress, the things I do, the things I make – are all about pushing those boundaries. For me, the excitement comes when you can build those bridges between disciplines - and play with their definitions and the perceptions of the audience. Especially with traditional ideas and materials - like ceramics.

What was it that first drew you to using ceramics?

The tactility – clay is such a responsive material and I’m a maker, so those qualities of clay really appealed to me. It can be transformed to any state – from liquid, to glass, to dust. The possibilities of manipulating it are endless. I also like the fact it's such a subversive material that not many people care or know about – but I do! A lot of people undervalue it – including education systems, which is a huge shame. I learnt a lot from that in-depth focus on one material, which has enabled me to become more questioning with everything else.

What is the concept behind your latest work, ‘The Statue’ and ‘The Commuter’ series?

It was really about developing new ways of seeing – and by placing ceramics into a photograph, I wanted to say that ceramics doesn’t necessarily have to be a pot that sits on a table. It can be an image, it can have a presence in a photograph and it can be used to describe ideas in other ways. Added to that is my passion for fashion images, and how sexuality and gender is represented and manipulated – and how it affects me. So all the ceramic body-sculptures and compositions in ‘The Statue’ and ‘The Commuter’ series are about the construction of masculine archetypes and my attempts at becoming them.

You arecently collaborated with Carl Guilhon, Chris King, and Joel Stephens in POP–ME–UP, a collaborative project as part of This Is Why We Meet – how did this collaboration first come about?

Joe and Jimmy (from Pat + Trevor) asked me to apply for the project, and it sounded such a great idea - so I did! We were friends before but had never worked on a project together – so this seemed a perfect opportunity. Together with Laura (from W+K) they also chose my fellow collaborators. In the back of their mind, I think they wanted to create a new boyband…

Did you find that you worked well with these other artists in this project?

I’m extremely flexible in my work and I’m lucky to have a broad range of media and disciplines – so finding something that could be applied to the project was quite easy – but having never worked with these guys before – you also had to consider what everyone else wanted to add – and then make a good choice from it all! Ceramics was too problematic to use in the short space of time – but we also had to create something altogether. In the end, this project utilizes each person’s strengths quite well – from the performance aspect, the graphics, the styling and the businessman mentality. The theme of masculinity definitely was in there. It allowed us to explore that side of creating a pseudo real-life, art installation – we were the exhibits.

POP–ME–UP relies on audience interaction and participation. Why is this important to the project?

Interaction was one of the key demands ‘This Is Why We Meet’ hence the ‘me’ in POP-ME-UP. We wanted people to engage with the space and us in a very direct, human way. In a way, we were re-appropriating the space and giving it back to the public by selling them sections of the window. It’s about building connections, getting people aware of what is surrounding them, and making them engaged and feel a part of the artwork. POP-ME-UP operates on so many levels, but ultimately it was important for me that there was something deeper for them to engage with – and this idea of finance and advertising was fundamental to this project – our survival as artists and as humans, in an increasingly financed and commercial world.

What has been the reaction to the project so far?

Everyone’s been extremely positive – we thought the W+K guys might think we were taking the piss out of them – but they didn’t thankfully! It is a site-sensitive piece and the public are interested in it. It’s human nature to read those ads – we’ve got lonely hearts ads, restaurateur posters, signed Gilbert & George flyers. Once that wall is filled, we’ll have a great document of everyone who’s participated in the project.

What will happen to the contributions for POP–ME–UP after this week?

They’ll all be popped up somewhere else! Hopefully they’ll be compiled together for a publication and for further viewing online or in an exhibition. They’re definitely not going to be thrown away. Hopefully some of the advertisers get some responses too!

Do you have any other projects or exhibitions coming up?

Yes - I’ll be showing at the British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke-On-Trent later on this year, and then I’m doing some work with LuckyPDF – we’re hopefully moving into our new studios soon so I can get going on some more work. I’m going to start some more collaborations too – that’s very much how I’d like to move my work forward! That’s pretty much the plan now – work, work, work!

See more of Philip's work here

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