“Art comes from life but goes beyond it.” This classic statement on the connection between art and life may be better put as “life sparks art and art infuses life” for Li Liao. In his works, from Art is a Vacuum (2013-2018), To Be a Better Man (2018), to The Wife Went to Start a Business (2022), Li Liao takes the audience through his journey of love, marriage and fatherhood, as well as all the joys and struggles that come along. It might remind us of those popular reality shows, but with a crucial difference: the artist blurs the lines between reality and imagination in art and life. Or rather his artworks are honestly based on the fact that life and art are inherently blended (if the artist says something is real, then it’s real, even if it’s not) The boundary in between becomes indistinguishable, at least in Li Liao’s works.The entrepreneurial and creative atmosphere in Shenzhen seems to have rubbed off on Li Liao’s wife, Yang Jun. After years of working at a local garment company, she’s finally decided to pursue her dream and launch her own fashion label. This would surely require the whole family to pitch in, putting in extra time, effort and money to make it a success. To help make ends meet, Li Liao decided to take on a job on the side. For a “midlife hipster” with no prior work experience or resume as others usually do, delivering food, as an effortless choice, became his last resort. And the goal is to earn enough money to cover one month of the family’s mortgage payment.Faced with this concrete challenge, labor, no matter what kind of labor, would remain a natural way out for Li Liao. As a reliable safety net, it will provide stability and tangible benefits, as well as simple satisfaction and joy. Thus, it could be said that working is the foundation and source of Li Liao’s livelihood and artistic pursuits, rather than just a means to an end for his art.Under the guidance of the food delivery system, Li Liao’s work is demanding and constantly on the move, with a routine that repeats every day. But at the same time, his range of mobility in Shenzhen has grown considerably, reaching into the many “crevices” of the city space. Notably, the path of his movement is never pre-planned, but filled with sudden “urban drifts” bringing unexpected encounters and information his way: sights, smells, sounds, temperatures, and even spur-of-the-moment thoughts and feelings. When he started to work, the whole city thus became his “studio”, fueling his creativity and adding to his life experiences. Li Liao discovered a new perspective that he never thought possible, as well as a sense of form and sensibility that could only be seen from the unique viewpoint as a delivery man: He felt the textures of different road surfaces beneath his e-bike, the vibrations of riding, the scrapes and scuffs on temporary traffic barriers, zebra crossings, or safety strips. He also experienced the struggle of breathing inside the suffocating helmet on rainy days or found himself slack off when running low on energy. However, the appeal of work started to blur the line between labor and creation for Li Liao. He has become completely dedicated into the cause, embracing the resilience and positivity of humans honing skills under the pressure of adversity.
Therefore, “The Wife Went to Start a Business” becomes a psycho-geographical “act” unique to Li Liao, taking advantage of the transformation in the artist’s family life and personal circumstances to explore and reflect on the changing world around him. Playing a “delivery man”, a mobile role that is highly relevant in today’s society, Li Liao observed and reflected on the shifting dynamics of families, the urban landscape, as well as the relation between public and private spaces, while delving into the interplay between “consumption, production and labor”, or between “individual, the collective and system”. The modernity of mobility was also discussed during his creation of art. More importantly, through his work, Li Liao enriched and reevaluated his external life, thus carrying out a profound exploration of his life experiences and gaining a greater sense of self-awareness. Just as depicted in his art, Li Liao finally ventured into the real world outside. Breaking free from the constraints of the “System”, he set out on his own journey toward the giant “windmill”, while basked in an ode to clouds.