|ZOOM Magazine: Portfolio/ April 2007 by Rosanna Checchi|
Zoom: Contemporary China is experiencing a tremendous emigration trend. Aren't you tempted to go against the current and return to live in China?
Daniel Lee: Of course, I've been thinking of returning to China and becoming involved in the modernization movement. Unfortunately, my entire family, including my parents, live in the U.S. Besides, I'm used to the way of living and working in New York more than anywhere else.
Since the mid '80s, I have visited China fourteen times. I have spoken with art students and showed my work from time to time in Beijing and Shanghai. Recently, there is more attention paid to digital art in China; I was invited to the recent Shanghai Biennale this past September. For now, I am looking for more opportunities to visit China, but not living there.
Can you support yourself economically only through the sales of your works?
Behind your emigrating from China to go to live/study in New York, did you already have the idea of living through your art?
I should say I admire you. In 1992, the idea of working with digital art and living on digital art was a pioneering move. I can still remember the first time we published and showed your works in Milan. The result was hypnotic. People were immediately interested in your work.
I appreciate your compliments very much. I was a Fine Arts major, and I have always realized that I have to fight very hard to continue my career in fine art. To do this I worked a number of different jobs, as a waiter during graduate school to digital artist. I am very lucky that recently I have started to support myself economically through the sales of my artwork, which I couldn't even have dreamed about before.
In your interviews, the answers about your subjects are very rational. It is as if in choosing, it is not important if it is a sign of the zodiac or the Last Supper. You use it as inspiration. It could be a painting by Caravaggio and not Da Vinci's Last Supper.
I guess it has something to do with how I approach my artwork. Usually, I would start with a clear and rational concept first. Yet, I also believe that I should be totally free. Free from what other people think and artists did in the past. I also believe that as a modern artist I should move beyond the limitations of traditional burdens.
Therefore, I took the Chinese Zodiac or Da Vinci's Last Supper more as a subject element for inspiration.
However, having to analyze the composition, I have the feeling that you are interested in spirituality and its icons. You have an ironic, (not spiritual) critical and skeptical point-of-view is my intuition about this correct?
Yes, I think you are right about the way I analyze the composition in my early works. I was interested in spirituality and its icons, especially in my "Judgment" and "108 Windows" series. But, I tried not to narrow my development. I wished to move past the concept of the subject matter, and to go beyond my own cultural background.
Later, my point-of-view became ironic, critical and skeptical, which confirm your intuition. It just happens naturally as I get older, I think.
Correct me if I?m wrong, but I find your approach to be Confucian. Confucius said, "You don't yet know how to serve the living, how can you know how to serve the spirits of the dead?" Just as Confucius avoided the question of the supernatural but yet delved into the mysteries of the universe, it seems to me that you do the same. Do you think so?
The philosophy of Confucius has been leading the way of Chinese thinking for thousands of years, which is part of my cultural heritage.
I tried not to preach or make a statement through my work, and I am also not giving out any answers about our past, the future, or the universe. But I think an artist is in a good position to raise these questions to stimulate discussion by others.
There are both photographic and scientific studies that confirm both in terms of behavior and appearance that we are part of the animal kingdom. Darwin is one of the scientific proponents of this. Do you think that, at their extremes, science and spirituality actually meet?
Yes, I agree with your point that science and spirituality actually meet at their extremes. As a result, not only do I believe in Darwin's theory of evolution, I would also suggest that our behavior still exhibits many animal instincts.
In his "Three Fears" Confucius said that we must fear Heaven, God and the word of the Sage. What is it that you fear most in life, sickness, madness, uncertainty about the future of death?
I think most people including me do fear about our uncertain future, especially death. I realize that the day of death gets closer and closer, since we're getting older. But I rather take it as a sequence of nature, and that I should accept it instead of fearing it.
When you dedicate yourself to creating your works/portraits and you are working with the computer, do you become so concentrated that you enter into meditational states? I ask you because some photographers have told me that they go into long periods of isolation when working at the computer.
It is very interesting. Recent technology has been opening up the limitation of creation for artist and photographer. But working with a computer takes a lot of concentration, energy and time.
It is truly isolating work and more than that it is similar to meditation in my experience as well. Further in my case, while the characters I'm creating were from my imagination, I feel sometimes that I am communicating with spirits from the other world. It could be a bit scary.
What did you bring to the US from China? The elegant custom of eating with chopsticks, or are there aspects of Chinese culture that govern your life? From the photographs I have of you, I note that you still wear typically Chinese clothes. Have you been able to preserve your personal identity? If you have, how have you been able to live in the US so long without becoming homesick and without being influenced by the US?
I was raised under Chinese culture until I came to US when I was twenty-four years old. Yet, it could have been very easy for me to adopt Western customs after I got my degree and found an art director position in New York City. But I decided to live in a mixed culture. I find it is very difficult to drop such a rich culture. I tend to wear Chinese clothes only on special occasions which include important events or openings of my exhibition. I am proud to be Chinese and I think I look better in Chinese costume.
I have never stopped feeling homesick. Fortunately, I have enough connections in both China and Taiwan today.
What do you think of the statement: "You can only begin to comprehend Heaven starting at age 50." For Confucius, the essence of man is "virtue". Not virtue imposed from the outside, but rather internal virtue, that which is hidden in each of us and which we must strive to develop.
Based on my understanding, I think Confucius was saying that after a man reaches the age at 50, he could accept virtue from heaven. But I think we could be much more aggressive today, trying to achieve our ideal life, even at the age of 60, 70 or 80...
Scholars of Zen Buddhism would consider that each of us has a hidden super talent, called the Root of Talent or the Capacity of being Buddha. The hidden talent is like a mirror covered with dust which may be strived for and developed through serious study or meditation.
Krzysztof Pietrasik /
Hisaka Kojima /
Digital Image Creation, US
Helen Ferry / HYBRID
Ars Electronica 2005
/ Nichido Contemporary Art, Tokyo. 3 5501-3203 / East Gallery, Taipei. (02) 2711 9502