Amiko Li: The Purpose of Disease
Acupuncture, palm reading, cupping, psychogenics, antibiotics, herbal supplements, blood vessels, genetic testing, human versus animal, and the regeneration of limbs are just a few areas of concern in the new series of work by Dodd MFA Fellow in photography, Amiko Li. In this exhibition he examines disease, very much in the literal sense considering how we might search to heal ourselves but also metaphorically, as an immigrant, a feeling or dis-ease that accompanies living in a country that is not yours.
First the science. In one image, a brightly lit monarch is studied under a microscope. To take the photograph, Li visited the Vision Science Labs in the psychology department at the University of Georgia, a lab dedicated solely to studying visual systems. Li is preoccupied with tetrachromatic organisms or species of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and mammals who possess four color cones in their eyes effectively enabling a vast and radiant color spectrum that humans, having only three cones, can only imagine. “Our vision is flawed from the beginning,” explains Li. “What have we sacrificed due to evolution?” And while the photograph remains clinical--the white light, the cold apparatus (an enhanced way of seeing), a faded blue overlay--what finally emerges is both the possibility and limits of vision, the radiant lavender and the complex hues of yellows and browns that make up the butterfly’s wings.
Next the illness. Li first started this project after spending a week in the hospital having endured a mysterious rash. His affliction induced a consideration of the ways in which we demonstrate sickness, the familiar gestures associated with illness. “I’m interested in how an actor plays sick, how it manifests on the outside,” Li states. In the video Playing Sick, Li cast young actors and invited them to perform sickness however they imagined. What emerges are mannered re-performances of the common cold, heart attacks, and tummy aches. The spectacle of the young performing the work of the old and decrepit creates an eerie distancing, pointing to a marked gap between the well and the unwell.
Finally, disease and its purpose. Li grew up in Shanghai, China and came to the United States in 2011 to study art. In his time here he struggled to interpret a culture and language that is not his: “I feel insecure with writing English which echoes back to my visual work through nuances and misplaced words.” Li explains. “It all didn’t mean much until I embraced my position. I will never be American. I will never know this ideology, this idea of the free spirit.” And yet, Li is obsessed with the story of a kind of free spirit which inspired a text for a new performance made for this exhibition. It is the true story of a man who in 2018 stole a plane from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and flew it alone, joking with aircraft controllers on the ground, explaining he could easily fly due to his experience with video games. “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me,” the man reported through his headpiece and then later, “Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.” Li reads romance in this nihilistic story that ends in a plane that dipped, rolled, and soared in the sky before crashing and killing its lone passenger. According to The New York Times, “He said he hoped to have a ‘moment of serenity’ in the air but lamented that the sights ‘went by so fast.'"
- Katie Geha, Director of the Galleries
Amiko Li (b. 1993, Shanghai) is a visual artist working in photography, text and video. His works explore the paradox of intimacy and distance. He is the recipient of the PDN The Curator Award, Center Project Launch Award, and Royal Ulster Academy Portrait Prize. Exhibition include Abrons Arts Center, New York; LeRoy Neiman Gallery at Columbia University, New York; Ulster Museum, Ireland; Thorvald Meyers 51, Norway; Beijing World Art Museum, China; and Belfast Photo Festival, Ireland. Screenings include Anthology Film Archive, New York; Landline, Chicago; Flat Earth Film Festival, Iceland. Publications include Adbusters; American Chordata; Esquire Russia; Juxtapoz; and New Yorker Photo. He was recently awarded residencies and fellowships at Triangle Arts Association, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, and Künstlerhaus Stuttgart.
Playing Sick on Vimeo