Rongkai Li





Zen masters meditate the nature of reality, and before preaching to people, they isolate themselves from the commonplace for spiritual revelation. My work presents such prospect via artistic forms.

Rongkai Li was born in Daliang mountains, near Shangri-la. He took photography as a career and worked more than a decade in Shanghai. He is interested in primitive mysticism and has endeavoured to use a surrealist approach for telling Chinese stories.

Interview of Rongkai Li

Does your Zen series reveal anything about borders, such as class, race, gender and religion?

First of all, the Zen series is based on traditional Chinese Buddhist philosophy, and it blended the surrealist technique as the formalist approach. Regarding the border of ideas, Zen cares more about the realm of personal life, reflecting the time lapses and disappearing life, rather than class, race, and gender. Buddhists hope to understand life and death, with which one can escape pains and sorrows. Zen tries to understand how to harmonised the relationship between the world and the individual from an innermost way. I hope to fuse borders to achieve new ways of expression.


Even though Zen series initiated before the occurrence of the pandemic, perhaps you had already sensed the world was reshaping, does it affect you in art-making?

I think humans can benefit from scientific advancement, however, we cannot rely on science as the only way to understand this world. We need to return to the beginning and remain pure to refresh our cognition. Adjusting our subjective way of thinking, with adapted attitude to the new world, we can gain new revelations, and this is the fundamental cause that drives me creating Zen series. I meditate that time means much more to human life than to inorganic substance, and the pandemic makes us clearer about the fragility of life and self. We should respect the world and its living beings more. This kind of respect is the highest value of humans, and that is what Zen is about.


What are the possibilities in photography? Which area that you want to make a breakthrough?

Photography is still full of possibilities. At present, so-called fashion photography did not progress much compared with the ones in the past few decades. I wish to rethink about it from its origin. Photography is an art that is based on an objective world, then expressed through the subjective view of the photographer. Conversely, creativity is limited by the medium, and artists are required to comply with the rules and then release the potential. Therefore a good photographer needs to have good taste. I think it can be a breakthrough if the methods of expression are highly compatible with the subjective ideal. Methods require good practice and good thinking requires artists’ taste. If the two can blend well, then the artwork can be ineffable and everlasting.

After the second world war, Pop art made mass-produced images parallel with the high art, and photography has been challenged by multi-media, easel painting and sculpture. Now short videos have gain popularity, do you think there are some traits photography should insist and some aspects need to adapt?

Admittedly, Pop art contributed to promoting photography, and it overthrew the hegemony of painting, unlimited the ways of expressing, essentially it is synthetic. However, as for me, form matters little insofar as the balance is concerned. By balance I mean art should not just about the surface, I am after the balance of the visual, considering the reception of the audience, not just artists’ catharsis. Indeed short videos are popular because humans can be satisfied by direct and simple delight. Short videos can fill human desires at a rapid speed. But I think photography will not be affected by it that much, because photography extends beyond the surface, it should be more insightful.


How has the pandemic affected you? Any wishful thinking about future art-making and exhibition?

The most influential aspect of the pandemic to me is that it made me humbler and respect life more. Art-making is a way for artists to express their feelings, and it is sublimated by the talent and understanding the society. It becomes apparent that online exhibition will be very popular, because it can address some issues in exhibiting art, such as rent for the actual space and fees. However, it would undermine the sense of the presence of art. As for still photographs, maybe complimentary videos and documents can help. I think to sum up the 5 interview questions, art-making primarily needs to move artists themselves, then to seek empathy of the audience, therefore we need to show respect and understanding about the individual as well as the other.


请问在创作 禅•悟 摄影系列的时候,你对世界上各种边界,比如阶级、种族、性别、信仰、民族等有没有什么个人的看法?