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Li Yilei

Li Yilei

Meet sound artist from London and Shanghai, Li Yilei.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a Chinese sound artist coming from a fine art background.

My works span performance, text, sculpture and multi-media installation. 

I am also a Buddhist practitioner, gender activist and founder of an art collective called NON DUAL Collective 無二行動.  

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

London has all the features that the majority of ‘big cities’ have. Fast-paced, diverse but sometimes cruel. 

 

London has all the features that the majority of ‘big cities’ have. Fast-paced, diverse but sometimes cruel. 

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

I do not enjoy the polarity of ‘best’ and ‘worst’, and the connotations they come with. So, the better thing about London is that it is always full of surprises. The not-so-good thing would be the downfalls of capitalism that leave many behind.

 

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Othered, challenging, rewarding

 

How did you start your career in art?

I was born into a family full of artists. My paternal family are painters, and my maternal side were writers and designers. Growing up in such an environment, my pursuit in the arts happened very organically.

However, my interest in sound comes from my sensory issues due to my Asperger’s syndrome and synaesthesia. I started to collect sound events and broken sounds, sounds that were so commonplace and unnoticed to the neuro-typical person but would drive me crazy and lead to a meltdown. Currently, I am exploring and attempting to create a way of non-hierarchical social listening – an ode to the unheard and inaudible.

 

I was born into a family full of artists. My paternal family are painters, and my maternal side were writers and designers. Growing up in such an environment, my pursuit in the arts happened very organically.

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

Yes

 

What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

I’d like to contribute more in my field and my community as a non-binary Asian artist who presents as a female. Also, to unabashedly break down white supremacy and toxic patriarchy through my activities, work, and events organised.

 

I’d like to contribute more in my field and my community as a non-binary Asian artist who presents as a female. Also, to unabashedly break down white supremacy and toxic patriarchy through my activities, work, and events organised.

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

Junko from Hijokaidan, Valie Export and Laurie Spiegel

 

How would you describe the women around you?

 Assertive, wise, sharp-minded warriors 

 

 Assertive, wise, sharp-minded warriors 

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

My mother and grandmother. 

My mom was a single mom, raised me since I was 1. She divorced many times because she could not stand the structure of conventional marriage. She would chase whatever dreams that she had, without considering the social conventions and roles especially in the tense political situation of China in the 80/90s. Now an ordained Buddhist nun traveling all around the world for retreats and spiritual practices, she is full of wisdom and compassion, not afraid of asking hard questions and breaking rules.

My grandmother was the very first Chinese female painter who went to the South Pole in the 80s. She didn’t know any English, yet she carried 7 pieces of luggage (full of art supplies) and traveled all the way from China to Chile and finally to the South Pole.

On another occasion, she followed in her father’s footsteps, tracing his route through the deadly Lop Desert where he had discovered the Yardang landforms. When he passed, she took it upon herself to finish his undone work and experienced multiple near-death experiences in the harsh environment of the then untouched desert. She is a strong woman of action that I always look up to. 

 

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?

Yes, and it is the bane of my existence! The experimental music industry and the art industry, are all pretty much white male-dominated industries. Being perceived as a young Asian woman here is definitely challenging, and I often find it hard to gain the respect that a male counterpart would so easily and naturally receive without much effort. The fact that there’s still ‘female artist’/‘female dj’/‘female musician’ shows how little representation there is. At the same time, it is very rewarding when you can see how many unheard issues and voices are being heard through your presence. There was this one time performing at a music festival being the only Asian female performer, makes me truly conscious of my representations for the very first time, and makes me realise that there is so much yet to be done. Even within Asia, the same issues persist.

 

Be brave, courageous, incisive and loving (to both yourself and others).  

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

Don’t be scared to be assertive, 

don’t be scared to be strong in opinion, 

don’t be scared of being called bossy, 

don’t be scared to be yourself. 

Be brave, courageous, incisive and loving (to both yourself and others).  

 

 

Photos courtesy of Li Yilei.

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