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Yi Ling Lai


18th August 2023

1. Please share your thoughts on the ways in which your Taiwanese background has influenced your artistic practice while living and working in London.

A: I believe that growing up in Tainan, a city rich in historical landmarks and strong traditions, combined with my education in traditional ink painting and Chinese calligraphy, has given me a diverse advantage in my creative thinking and critical perspective. These Taiwanese experience and background have led me down distinct paths of thought and critical viewpoints, prompting me to assess whether I possess the ability to reflect on and integrate these traditions and cultures into my art while bringing them to London.

Living here has also driven me to delve deeper into my cultural roots and the materials I often employ which I contemplate whether the chosen materials and techniques truly align with the context I aim to convey through art. This introspection propels me to consider how to evolve and enhance my artistic practice over time. Throughout my art process, I strive to remain faithful to my cultural background while fostering inclusive ideas that transcend cultural barriers, aiming to create a language that bridges divisions.

Moreover, interacting with various individuals in this environment, I've gradually realized that my background is not merely a reminder but a catalyst, propelling me to independently ponder the relationship between traditional thinking and innovation. 

2. Could you describe the specific impact of collaborating with renowned brands like the British Museum, Prada, and Ffern on your approach to promoting Chinese calligraphy in the UK?

A: Firstly, I am grateful for the various collaboration opportunities that have come my way. These partnerships with different brands have opened up a broader avenue for me to connect with a diverse audience here in the UK. People from various backgrounds and age groups now have the chance to experience the art of calligraphy firsthand. This has been instrumental in breaking down any perceived barriers or intimidation associated with calligraphy, making it more accessible and relatable. Achieving this accessibility and approachability has always been a central goal of my efforts in promoting Chinese calligraphy in the UK.

To me, calligraphy is not merely about understanding the meaning of each Chinese character; it's a true artistic form. Especially nowadays, we can delve beyond the surface of the characters and incorporate their historical significance, drawing inspiration from their roots. By embracing the historical context of calligraphy, we are better equipped to truly appreciate this unique art form, and through that, we gain a profound sense of connection and inspiration.

3. In your artistic evolution, how have avant-garde movements like the Bokujinkai Japanese calligraphy group, Inoue Yuichi, and Morita Shiryū shaped your creative path? What distinctions have they highlighted between the 'painterly line' and the 'calligraphic line' in your work?

A: As I delved deeper into the exploration of my own art practice and sought to break away from the confines of traditional calligraphy, I encountered fresh concepts through my research into Bokujinkai. These concepts reshaped my perspective and compelled me to reconsider the ways in which I aimed to convey my artistic ideas.

Bokujinkai places a strong emphasis on free expression and the uniqueness of brushwork, which proved to be transformative for me. They fearlessly challenge the limitations of traditional calligraphy, embracing an art form that is uninhibited, dynamic, and profoundly personal. They encourage artists to transcend the established boundaries of calligraphic lines, those that follow certain rules and conventions, and instead, to discover new avenues of expression. This includes infusing abstract elements and the emotional essence of calligraphy into their works, embodied as the 'painterly line'.

The impact of Bokujinkai has led me to perceive calligraphy as breaking free from its traditional forms. Gradually, it sheds its historical constraints, evolving into a distinctive form of calligraphic line. This transformation signifies that calligraphy is no longer confined to conveying mere text; rather, it takes on the fluidity of painting strokes, imbued with emotions and spirits that forge a profound connection with the audience. Consequently, my artistic practice has evolved into an open language, inspired by this novel interpretation of calligraphy.

Studio wall with ling's practice

4. "LDN 1" appears to merge traditional and contemporary elements. Could you explain how you accomplished this and the message you intended to convey through this piece?

A: "LDN1" marks a significant advancement in my artistic voyage as I navigate the realm of " Bokujinkai " and contemplate the delicate equilibrium between traditional calligraphy and my individual painting style. Through a series of experiments, as evident in the piece, I embarked on the endeavor of presenting dual paintings concurrently. On one plane, I directly engaged with the wall surface to craft a background wall painting, while concurrently positioning a small acrylic painting in the foreground. These two surfaces harmonize to birth a singular creation, collectively mapping the trajectory of my emotional journey during my early days in London. With this artwork, my intention was to establish a deeper connection with the audience, transcending the conventional notion of reading content to discern meaning. Instead, the artwork seamlessly melds space and time in its presentation. The outcome is an open conversation with viewers, inviting them to engage in the journey, recreating and immersing themselves in it.

For the wall painting, I harnessed a calligraphic approach where brushstrokes flow continuously, reminiscent of the fluidity seen in calligraphy writing. Concurrently, I endeavored to maintain an uninterrupted flow of qi and spirit as I moved from top to bottom, akin to the downward motion intrinsic to traditional calligraphy. In stark contrast, the lines in the foreground painting have been emancipated from the constraints often associated with conventional calligraphy. This emancipation grants them a newfound freedom of expression. While I remain engaged in calligraphic writing, I'm simultaneously exploring how to convey content in a more painterly manner. This methodology detaches from linguistic considerations, allowing the residual lines to metamorphose into a conduit for deeper insights into the layers of calligraphy's significance. This approach concurrently showcases two distinct yet harmonious styles. Through this experiment, I've confronted the boundaries of traditional art, exploring the synergy of diverse mediums and styles. This journey also marked my preliminary exploration into the linguistic essence of calligraphy, significantly impacting the trajectory of my subsequent practice.

5. "Relationship I and Relationship II" delve into power dynamics within relationships. How do these works reflect the complexities of human connections, and what emotions or narratives do they convey?

A: Actually, "Relationship I" and "Relationship II" are based on my personal experiences, aiming to portray the chain reactions that occur within unequal relationship. This emotional journey begins with the initial passion and relatively smooth phase of a relationship, during which both parties engage in two-way communication, and the relationship develops gradually. However, as time goes on, an atmosphere of cold war gradually envelops the relationship, eventually evolving into a series of separations and reconciliations, leading the relationship into an unstable state.

Through two of them, I vividly depict the emotional ups and downs. Visually, the artworks concretize the changes in emotions, aiming to showcase the complexity inherent in relationships through the medium of art. In healthy relationships, a balance of power is crucial, while unequal relationships can easily lead to ineffective communication, ultimately damaging the quality of the relationship.

When one party holds the power exclusively within the relationship, the balance is disrupted. Through the use of lines, blocks, and empty spaces in these two artworks, I hope to highlight the trajectory of emotional changes and create a resonant emotional narrative through the states of emotions from relationship I to relationship II for the lovers.

Overall, I attempt to raise awareness of emotional issues through these two artworks. Through my paintings, I hope the audience can deeply contemplate the impact of unequal relationships and initiate a more profound exploration of emotional dynamics.

Relationship I & II, 2020, Ink on Paper, 20 x 54.5cm each

6. What is the significance of sharing, cooperation, and negotiation in your exploration of relationships through art? How do you balance individual needs and compromise within your work?

A: In the process of creating "Relationship I" and "Relationship II", I gained a profound understanding of the significance of sharing, cooperation, and negotiation in healthy relationships. These elements not only form the foundation of the longevity and stability I aim to convey in "Relationship I", but also through brushstrokes, portray the intimacy and closeness within a relationship. I perceive painting as a form of diary, using the brush to express and record the subtle emotions and the space of consciousness.

I intentionally chose to avoid overly cluttered elements within the composition, instead focusing on conveying my emotions clearly. With a clear understanding of the underlying abundant emotions, I am willing to make compromises within the composition. I utilized subtractive techniques to present the overall image in a more abstract and minimalistic manner, while tactfully preserving empty spaces within the composition and erasing the developing movements of lines. This method more profoundly conveys the emotions I intend to express. These two artworks are not only my creations, but also reflections of my emotions. Through these visual elements, I hope the audience can resonate with the subtle emotional changes within relationships.

7. Please provide an in-depth critique of your own work in "Sequala." How did you intentionally break away from conventional calligraphy rules, and what impact did this have on the piece?

A: In the process of creating "Sequala," I found myself particularly curious about conveying the various facets of human emotions and resonating with them. Similar to keeping a diary, I infused my own emotions into my artwork, using repetitive lines instead of the textual forms and readability of traditional calligraphy. This continuous action of brushwork became the most direct means of projecting emotions. In the creative process, I aimed to minimize the influence of "rationality" and "knowledge," allowing my body and hands to directly interact with the paper in a primitive and organic way, breaking free from the rules of traditional calligraphy and simplifying the work to its core of repetitive movement and ideology.

This creative process focuses on the repetition of bodily movements and the properties of ink on paper. With the absence of textual cues from traditional calligraphy, the narrative presented is no longer straightforward and direct in aiding the audience's understanding. Instead, through the continuous repetition of lines, a sense of tranquility and calm follows the viewers, leading them into a state of focused meditation and an implicit narrative expression. In this form of wordless expression, viewers can interpret and comprehend the conveyed emotions within the artwork based on their own feelings and emotions.

This manner of expression, devoid of words, offers viewers a more liberated and open reading experience, enabling them to delve deeper into the emotions and meanings behind the work. This approach allows each viewer to interpret and interpret the emotional world within your artwork from their unique perspective.

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