Our new site-specific installation and performance ‘Portrait of America’ will take part of Jamaica Flux 2010: Workspaces & Windows. This year’s theme is ‘Art as Action.’

Given space limit, we have adjusted our initial plan of video installation ‘Portrait of America’ and will present them in separate spaces: installation and performance – in front of Jamaica Center for Art and Learning, Jamaica Avenue; video – Performing Arts theatre, which will be part of Video Slam. The event opening is taking place on April 10, 11Am – 6PM, ending with a reception 6PM – 9PM. A follow-up article covering work details and event impressions will be posted in the near future. Many thanks to JCAL and curator Heng-Gil Han for the generous support making the realization of the artwork possible! More information at:  press release – Jamaica Flux10

Portrait of America

Artist: Lily & Honglei

Producing Year: 2004 –2009
Medium: Site-specific Installation and Performances on Jamaica Avenue, Queens, NY

As a result of five-year investigation on Chinese immigrant artists’ lives in America, this project creates a ‘live sculpture’ signifying individual’s dilemmatic situation in our global society, which is intended to discover meanings of social behaviors within the contexts of collisions of ideology and culture. Applying the ‘social realistic’ approach that integrates installation, performance, environment and interaction with audience, ‘Portrait of America’ produces an opportunity pondering everyday activities such as running a typical celebrity portrait business with Chinese immigrant artists who themselves can be considered the signifiers of clashes between beliefs and reality.

Many intricate implications might be overlooked in everyday life: the immigrant artists from China are individuals obtaining outstanding drawing and painting skills that were intended to glorify socialist ideal and communist party. Like others in China, their beliefs were shaken and finally collapsed when western culture and lifestyles were introduced to the country as part of open-door policy of China during the 80’s. Pop culture from west, especially from U. S., greatly inspired several generations of Chinese people including artists to rethink individuality and human nature, to practice ‘free thinking.’ In fact public figures and celebrity culture from U.S. once functioned to subvert autocratic control. Under those influences and ‘enlightenments,’ many Chinese artists decided to come to America for pursuing freedom of expressions or live experiences, where they immediately realized that they were trapped between financial difficulties and cultural isolations. To survive, many Chinese immigrant artists started running celebrity portrait business by making drawings of popular figures. With impressive artistic skills, they have managed to make living or even thrive. Inevitably, during this process, the value shifts have taken place: now, their artistic skills serve consumerist society instead of communist ideal, and the western cultural figures that once influenced them spiritually become no more than profitable resources.

For Jamaica Flux, by using physical surrounding of Jamaica Avenue, a business area, generating interactions with audience/passerby through commercial activities such as selling and bargaining, as well as doing performance of making celebrity portrait on street, ‘Portrait of America’ produces a scene extracted from real life, which is then displaced and reexamined within the context of contemporary art, and challenges people to uncover underlying meanings of social phenomena that may be invisible as part of everyday live, but in fact indicate radical cultural and political changes on a global scale. 

The work is produced, in part, by generous support of Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning, NY.

Video Slam

The Butterfly Lovers 梁祝

Direct and Animation by: Lily & Honglei

Year of Completion: 2009

Running Time: 5minutes 30seconds

Media: Digital film, oil paintings, soundtrack

Film Synopsis

The Butterfly Lovers is an animated film combining fine arts and video languages to reinterpret a Chinese folktale metaphorically reflecting on cultural displacement.

As one of the most popular love stories in China, the original storyline of The Butterfly Lovers depicts how a young couple broke through social conventions, sacrificed their lives to pursue ideal and love. In the film, dressed in traditional Chinese opera costume, the couple roams around in Manhattan’s night. With the dreamlike dislocation, the heart of the characters is dominated by loneliness and isolation. The situation of becoming spiritually homeless leaves them struggling with their dignity and identity.

As Chinese artist living in selfexile for years, on one hand, we have experienced the reality of Chinese diaspora in America, which raises concerns about the westernization’s impact on both the culture and individual, on the other hand, we have witnessed that the spirit of the thousand-year-old Butterfly Lovers remains alive in everyday Chinese people’s heart, although being distorted and misplaced.

To develop new artistic expressions with aesthetic traditions and new media, a series of large-scale oil paintings are produced, then digital animation and sound techniques are deployed to create the five-minute video.