Daniel Lee

MANIMALS

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Daniel Lee / ZOOM by Rosanna Checchi

- Contemporary China is experiencing a tremendous emigration trend.
Aren’t you tempted to go against the current and return to live in China?

Of course, I’ve been thinking of returning to China and to become involve in the modernization movement. Unfortunately, all members in my family, which include my parents are living 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 talk with art students and showed my work from time to times 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 instead of living in China.

- 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 student majored in fine art. Since then, I always realized that I have to fight very hard to continue my career in fine art. Therefore, I had been working in different jobs, as a waiter as a graduate student to digital artist.

Recently, I am very lucky that I have started to support myself economically through the sales of my artwork, which I won’t even dream about it before.

- - In your interviews, the answers about your subjects are very
rational. It 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’ Last Supper more like 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 pass the concept of the subject matters, and to go beyond my own culture background.

Later, my point-of-view became ironic, critical and skeptical, which confirm your intuition. It just happened naturally as I am getting 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 bring up 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 the science and spirituality would 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 exhibit 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 … 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
the computer.

It is very interesting. Recent technology has been opening up the limitation of creation for artist and photographer. But working with 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.

- Are you vegetarian? (It will help us to know this also for your
visit.)

No, I am not vegetarian, but I prefer to have more vegetable than meat. (I appreciate your kind concern about it.)

-- - 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 U.S. I was twenty-four years old. Yet, it could still be very easy for me to adapt the Western custom after I got my degree and found an art director position in New York City. But I decided to live in a mixed culture. It is very difficult to drop such a rich culture for me.

I would wear Chinese clothes only in a special occasion which including the important events or opening of my exhibition. I proud to be Chinese and I think I looked better in Chinese costume.

I never stopped from feeling homesick. Fortunately, I have enough connections from 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.

Base to my understanding, I think Confucius was saying that; after a man reaches the age at 50, he would accept the 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...

(For people, who study in Zen of Buddhist, would considerate that a super talent is hidden in each one of us, as so called the Root of Talent, also the Capacity of been Buddha. The hidden talent is liked a mirror covered with dust, which could be strived and to be developed under serious study or meditation.)