Defying Gravity: The impossible art of Li Wei

In many of his pieces, the artist is often featured falling, half-submerged or careening sideways through walls, windows, and even car windshields.

January 25, 2011 17:14
3 minute read.
Li Wei

Li Wei. (photo credit:


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He’s a defier of gravity. A master of illusion. A seemingly superhuman acrobat who can bend the laws of physics at will. If you guessed Houdini, you would be close... Chinese Artist Li Wei is a daredevil DaVinci of sorts, a connoisseur of danger who effortlessly blends the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

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As the artist stated in a recent interview with, “My works represent a radical change of urban life.” Radical? Certainly. With his fearless approach to art, Li Wei knows no limits when it comes to performance and action photography. His creations have been known to elicit gasps of disbelief from captivated viewers, and he has often been lauded as a barrier-breaker - literally.

Live at the high place

“I was a performance artist before turning to photography. Now I merge performance elements into photographs,” Li says. “I think my ideas and my expression in the photos make the works seem like the live performance.”

This couldn’t be any clearer when looking at his innovative creations: In many of his pieces, the artist is often featured falling, half-submerged or careening sideways through walls, windows, and even car windshields.

But it’s not just for amusement - or shock value - that Wei is after. His works are disconcerting reminders that we are often helpless bystanders within a social framework. “Suspension means the dangerous and unstable aspects of society,” Wei says. In a 2002 piece titled Li Wei Falls from the Earth, the artist is shown with his head and chest embedded in the asphalt of a nearby road. His body - half swallowed up by blacktop - resembles a rocket that has plummeted to earth.

The work was both a commentary on China’s rapidly changing society as well as an illustration of the individual's personal struggle in life. “If you picture someone falling to earth from another planet, there would really be no soft landing, whether the landing were in China or in another part of the world,” the artist said in a previous interview. “This feeling of having fallen headfirst into the unknown and of having nothing firm under one's feet is familiar to everyone. One doesn't have to actually fall from another planet to feel that way."


So how does he do it? As a former performance artist, Li Wei is physically present before, during, and after the creation of his art. "Action is my personal experience, which is very important, because all of my works are shot from real sites,” he explains. With the help of a technical crew utilizing a system of pulleys, cables and even cranes, Li Wei is hoisted in the air or held erect by scaffolding. He “performs” in a variety of sites and positions while a photographer captures the scene on film. Post-production, the artist uses photoshop to remove any cables or wires. In this way, Li Wei brings his impossible daredevil imaginings to life. With his body as a medium, Li illustrates the dynamic between these converging dichotomies. His work simultaneously tackles issues such as globalization and urban expansion, while also addressing the personal trials of love, kinship, and disappointment.

The artist continues to blur the boundaries between the real and the imaginary, with exhibitions planned in Europe later this year. In his own words, Li Wei says he hopes to continue “breaking through gravity” and of course, do what he does best: “Make the impossible....possible!” is a personalized art information service covering thousands of sources across the web.

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