Lily & Honglei
Chinese media artists
1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background
We are Lily Xiying Yang and Honglei Li, wife and husband, usually introduce ourselves as “Lily & Honglei.” We are new media artist collective from Beijing, China, currently based in New York City. Our artist career began at a relatively early age. When we were teenage, we were both accepted by the Art School Attached to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where fosters many Chinese contemporary artists playing important roles in today’s art scene. For a period of time, we worked as independent artists producing paintings and mixed media projects in our studio apartment in East District in urban Beijing. During these years, Beijing gradually grew as a centre of contemporary art that was attracting more and more international curators, collectors and art enthusiasts. In this atmosphere, our artworks were shown and somehow recognized by people, and opportunities of residency and exhibition abroad were offered. Honglei first came to America eight years ago, and Lily followed 3 years later. We both went to Master of Fine Arts program at University of Massachusetts – Lily majored in Digital Media, Honglei in Painting. Upon completion of MFA degrees, we settled down in New York City while still teaching part time in Boston, MA.
2. When, how and why started you filming?
Honglei always states that the art exhibitions in New York City during 2001 to 2004 were highly inspirational. He eagerly studied history of contemporary art and sent his notes and commentaries back to China, constantly and regularly discussed influential art trends and projects with Lily and his peers in US and China as well. Video artists in 60s to 70s, including many feminist artists have inspired us with their courageous, energetic and direct expressions; more recent artists such as William Kentridge, Henry Darger, Kara Walker, Paul Chen, Fudong Yang among others, also arouse resonance with their unique style of storytelling and reinterpretations of cultural traditions, particularly folkloric traditions. We were very much convinced that film, namely sequential images with duration and sound are capable to convey deep insight on socio-cultural issues, enable more “content delivery” and “transfer of emotion.” Around 2001 to 2003, our work transformed from single paintings to experimental digital videos.
3. What kind of subjects have your films?
Now, we combine traditional painting, digital animation and folk art to critique and interpret a series of contemporary issues of – east and west – in the global age. Meanwhile we also work in the field of virtual reality art, and create film based on our virtual installations and real-time interactions and performance in Online virtual world. The subjects we are particularly interested in include, traditional Chinese and western folk stories, legends indicating unorthodoxy yet widely prevailing beliefs, grass-roots wisdom and heroism, which deliver uncensored descriptions of sensitivity and sensibility in everyday life. In the past, the folklore tradition is a heritage passed down from generation to generation mainly through oral expressions, that reveals people’s spirit – pursuing personal freedom and happiness, which, in reality, usually yield to ruling class or national interests. On the other hand, current social, political and cultural issues of China and global society are focus of our work as well. In fact, we often juxtaposition or layer traditional themes and current events in a piece of work, to indicate the everlasting human nature that is enduring, suffering or dying in the ever changing social environments.
4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
We consider there are two development procedures for developing our films.
1) Animated Painting/Graphic. For this type of work, we first create oil paintings on paper or canvases or graphics, then scan, digitize the images. Using software such as Adobe Aftereffects, Flash or Final Cut, we assemble a storyline according to our initial synopsis. Montage, visual effects and sounds editing techniques will be applied. The storyline may be refined, reassembled several times, which is extremely time-consuming. Our animations take long time to develop, typically, the working cycle of a 5-minute short film is approximately 6 month. A sample is Forbidden City in CologneOff 5th. edition.
2) Another type of our work is machinima based on virtual environment created by ourselves. We use popular online virtual world such as Second Life to produce immersive spaces realizing the recreation of historical sites, surrealistic environments and multi-user-real-time-interaction. We film the virtual world happenings, edit many footages and finalize the storyline. It is a long working process taking up to a whole year to develop the virtual construction and video editing.
In some cases, the two working processes are combined to create new presentations.
5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
Forbidden City utilizes computer graphics, animation and digital sound. Several software have been involved to produce graphics and animation, including Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Aftereffect, Flash, Final Cut and Soundtrack Pro. Hardware include Mac Computer Work Station and Wacom Tablet. For presentation, ideally, Quicktime Player, computer, LCD projector, stereo sound system and a dark room measured 16ft by 23ft, are needed.
6. What are the chances of new media for the genre film/video in general and you personally?
It seems more and more film festivals have launched animation and new media programs in recent years. In our view, so far new media remains an emerging genre, if not maginal. We personally are very optimistic about new media’s future as new media are playing more significant role in contemporary life. Meanwhile we would like to point out that technology is never the core aspect of our new media creativity, instead, as artists, we simply adapt the useful technical tools helping us to reveal our insight upon social phonomena.
7. How do you finance your films?
Since we work in art school, usually the institutions insure our equipment sufficiency in the first place. The production of animated film is relatively low-cost besides the needs for hardware and software. Once complete, we submit our films to major new media and film festivals, exhibition opportunities at galleries and museum. The limited editions of our films have been collected by organizations and individuals internationally.
8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team? if you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
As video artists, we have been working as a team since 2003. We prefer this approach because we can share idea, insight and information, help each other technically to achieve better result.
9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?
Chinese folklore traditions including folk art, opera, legends and fairy tales have a long-lasting influence and always inspire our creativity. Those traditions consist of our childhood, accumulate creative energy and imagination, cultivate aesthetic taste, ultimately, it becomes both of subject matters and visual format of our films.
10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?
We will continue producing new projects conveying socio-cultural significance, and participate important exhibitions to receive feedback. As artists working in New York City, we will generate more interation with artist community here as well as in Asia and Europe. We wish to use our art to achieve better understandings of culture and humanity.
Can works of yours viewed online besides on VideoChannel? Where?
List some links & resources