“My work functions as a narrative experience deployed in the public arena.
I build visual stories from daily life that evoke an ordinary set of circumstances, both
rooted in reality and shared experience, but that don’t function as expected.
I like to develop projects that push the audience beyond the conceptual threshold and I enjoy working with a variety of media and modes of expression. My work includes installations, objects, sculptures, videos and even painting. I create structures that trigger images and ideas that, in turn, point towards new
realities. I like to consider these pieces as relational devices that inspire interaction and play amongst the viewers. I understand art as a medium for cultivating new approaches to understanding the world, physical, mental, political, symbolic.”
The artist builds a world in which everyday and familiar places, spaces and objects are deprived of their essence, dragging the observer into a visual contradiction.
Disconcertion and disorientation are the sensations generated in the viewers who, when faced with realities, common but unreal, experience the paradox of the unsettling simplicity of the trick which is however difficult to give an explanation to.
Buildings on which one appears to climb, houses uprooted and suspended in mid-air, lifts going nowhere, escalators tangled like threads in a ball of yarn, disorienting and surreal sculptures, and videos that subvert normality.
These are all elements telling us something ordinary in an extraordinary context, in which everything is different from what it seems, and where we lose our sense of reality and perception of space, in which the observers become active participants or an integral part of the work.
Erlich’s works are the result of a profound and conceptual artistic exploration that plays with the paradoxes of perception.
The artist takes us to a magical elsewhere, where the possible becomes impossible, but that astonishes and excites thanks to a great aesthetic sense and a highly intrinsic poetry. The result is explosive, fun, exciting, and unforgettable.
His work explores the perceptual bases of reality and our ability to question these same bases through a visual framework. The architecture of everyday life is a recurring theme in Erlich’s art, which aims to create a dialogue between what we believe and what we see, just as it seeks to bridge the gap between museum space and everyday experience.
“I like to introduce myself as a conceptual artist working in the realm of reality and perception. My subject is reality, symbols and the potential for meaning. I strive to create a body of work – especially in the public sphere – that is open to the imagination, subverts normality, rethinks representation, and proposes actions that construct and deconstruct situations to disrupt reality.”
Erlich’s installations, exhibited in museums around the world, have revealed layered and complex levels of interpretation. The language of interactivity, along with the reach of the social media, allows his artistic action to expand far beyond the walls of institutions. Erlich presents explicit images of a current condition, thus exhorting visitors to recognize their own imbalance, exclusion, and self- fascination.
The exhibition itinerary already starts to surprise the visitor in Palazzo Reale’s courtyard, where the monumental site-specific installation Bâtiment, created in 2004 for Nuit Blanche in Paris, is set up. Since then, it has been presented worldwide, adapting to the characteristics of the local architecture. The exhibition mechanism, however, is always the same: the reproduction of a building façade, with balconies, niches, decorations, and awnings, is positioned horizontally on the ground. Visitors virtually ‘hang’ from the decorations, while a large mirror, tilted at a 45° angle, reflects the ground image onto a vertical plane, giving the illusion of a real façade and the sensation that the law of gravity no longer exists.
Each work by Leandro Erlich opens a window onto the sensitive world, but instead of deceiving the eye it reveals the visual deceptions to which the mind can be subjected, opening new horizons and questions.
When dealing with social behaviour, the artist becomes an out-and-out agent of disturbance At first reaction, his works elicit a sense of familiarity with respect to everyday life but then, by carefully observing them, the viewers begin to doubt what they perceive, as they are confronted with an inexplicable phenomenon. Stirring up questions, doubts, and emotions in the public interacting with his works is Erlich’s primary thought, and it is the viewer’s participation that makes his works complete.
It’s difficult to explain Erlich in words, you have to experience it to understand.
Erlich’s creations – as the exhibition’s curator Francesco Stocchi explains – are architectural structures that function as optic machines questioning the world’s sensory data. With the exhibition at Palazzo Reale in Milan, Erlich selected Italy as his chosen place to present the ambitious project that, through the staging of spaces for new perception, stimulates reflection and contemplation.
The fascination that a large public, beyond art world professionals, has for his work lies in his need to address the viewers directly, raising questions for them, actively involving them, and even universally exposing them.
after all, in fact, reality is not as it appears to us.
Inspired by ordinary, everyday objects, the artist reproduces them in a very realistic way but, at the same time, he equips them with some devices that are capable of overturning perceptions and it is exactly this aspect that surprises and amazes the viewer; his talent lies in transforming, we’d say in a surrealistic manner, what is apparently obvious in a totally ‘other’ experience.
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MR. WANG, WE WERE LITERALLY DAZZLED BY YOUR MASTERPIECES, THEY APPEAR DELICATE, REFINED, A SENSE OF PARTICULAR NOSTALGIA SHINES THROUGH THEM, BUT THEY HAVE SUCH EXPRESSIVE STRENGTH! WHO ARE THE CHARACTERS YOU DEPICT ON THE CANVAS, WHAT DO THEY REPRESENT?
Thank you so much. There are some characters that I created and for some of them I used my close friends as models. I guess they represent some of my states of mind through different times. Also the attitude and the struggles with my circle of friends maybe (I’m not sure), part of our generation of Chinese artists.
YOU LIVED IN BEIJING FOR PART OF YOUR LIFE, THEN YOUR PATH TOOK YOU ELSEWHERE: TO FLORENCE, FRANCE, NEW YORK AND TODAY YOU LIVE IN CANADA, BUT THE CONTEXT OF THE STORIES YOU TELL THROUGH YOUR WORKS IS LINKED TO CHINESE CULTURE, TO YOUR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, WHY?
Perhaps because of my age, I seem to naturally realize that the period of adolescence in China has played an increasingly important role in my life and almost shaped my identity. China in the 1990s was also in a very interesting period. Maybe it is the age, I’m always recalling the past.
I BELIEVE THAT ONE OF THE DISORIENTING ASPECTS OF YOUR PAINTINGS ARE THE TEMPORAL INCONSISTENCIES. WE FIND OURSELVES SUSPENDED IN AN INDEFINITE TIME IN WHICH PRESENT, PAST, FUTURE MIX AND OVERLAP TO ULTIMATELY BECOME A FACT THAT IS PART OF NORMAL. WHY THIS CHOICE AND WHAT VALUE DOES TIME HAVE FOR YOU?
From 2010 to 2016, I returned to live in Beijing for a few years. I stayed in the apartment I lived in when I was a child. I often passed by my elementary and middle school. I sorted out my memories and imagined the history of the city where I grew up, such as the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Tungus people outside the Yongding Gate, the rebels plotting in the Taoranting Park, the old people dancing in the park now, the elementary school students happily boating in Beihai Park in the 1960s, the Tibetan Tantra Buddhist statue in the White Stupa in the Beihai Park, the 2008 Olympic Games, the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party, and the workers who rode their bicycles in the wind to work… These images point to the primary stage of socialism and the emperor national power, the spiritual world of Tantra Buddhism Mandala, someone‘s romance of the youth time and other unsympathetic situations… Some situations have existed here but have never disappeared. I feel that they are competing with each other and tearing out a kind of tension, which may lead to something poetic. There is this kind of tension around me, an entangled and vague sense of history. I feel that I have to deal with it in painting.
THIS HUMANITY THAT YOU NARRATE TRANSMITS DIFFERENT STATES OF MIND BUT SOMETIMES IT APPEARS ‘LOST’ IN SOMETHING. OFTEN THE GAZE IS ABSENT. HOW MUCH OF YOUR EMOTIONS, OF YOUR INNER WORLD, IS REFLECTED IN YOUR WORKS?
I’m not sure how much emotions are reflected in my works. For me, some emotions are not meant to be reflected in art, some emotions need to not only reflect but also to transform into art.
YOU SAID THAT YOUR WORK IS A RESPONSE TO THE IMBALANCE BETWEEN YOUR INNER FEELINGS AND THE WORLD OUTSIDE. CAN YOU HELP US BETTER UNDERSTAND THIS CONCEPT?
As an artist, I always feel there’s a distance from the mainstream society, but after all I’m still living in it, I need to transform my inner feeling into art, in some ways it creates another world where I can find peace of mind.
WHAT ARE YOUR ARTISTIC AND CULTURAL REFERENCES THAT INSPIRED YOU THE MOST?
I grew up in China, 80s-90s Chinese literature, film, art and rock music inspired me a lot, also my friends in China, their attitude, taste in contemporary art inspired me.
IS THERE ANY SOCIAL CRITICISM IN YOUR WORKS? WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU WANT TO CONVEY TO THE OBSERVER?
Direct social criticism may not be the important element in my works, but our feelings and reactions are tied to social issues. At the same time it’s somewhat more complicated than just about social criticism, social criticism to me is seeking for a solution and the answers, but I’m not.
YOU PAINT STORIES OF DAILY CHINESE LIFE, EVERYTHING APPEARS COMPOSED, PEACEFUL, EVEN IN THE CHROMATIC CHOICES. BUT THEN YOU INSERT THE GROTESQUE, DISTURBING, SURREAL, IMPROBABLE ELEMENT. WHY DO YOU FEEL THIS NEED, WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TAKE US?
I don’t know if there’s the daily Chinese life in my paintings, other than a few close friends and family. I don’t know what kind of life Chinese people are experiencing daily, but I can sense the absurdity in today’s Chinese culture through my own visual experience, I don’t really know where I want to take the viewers. Just like I said, I found this absurdity and tension could lead to something that’s poetic.
EAST AND WEST; WE CAN SAY THAT YOU HAVE FULLY EXPERIENCED THE TWO DIMENSIONS. WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES YOU FOUND? WHAT IS THERE OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE IN BOTH OF THEM? AND, ABOVE ALL, WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD SHARE?
In fact, I don’t think I’ve fully experienced either East or West, I’m still struggling with English and if I go back to China I will not be able to fit into today’s Chinese society.
I also don’t think China and North America can be fully representative of East and West. Yes, there are differences between the different cultures, but I can only speak about my own experiences. I’m very sorry, this is a big question and I don’t think I’m in a position to answer.
I BELIEVE THAT A WORK FULFILS ITS TASK WHEN IT MANAGES TO PRODUCE A REACTION, CONSCIOUS OR UNCONSCIOUS, IN THE VIEWER, WHEN IT LEAVES A MARK, A GROOVE, WHEN IT MOVES SOMETHING IN OUR SOUL. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Yes, I agree.
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WE FIND YOUR WORKS AMAZING. THE WORLD THEY TELL IS SURPRISING AND IT IS AS IF THEY INVITED US TO LOOK FOR SOMETHING MORE THAN WHAT WE SEE. YOU OFTEN FIND THE UNEXPECTED, UNCANNY ELEMENT, BUT PERFECTLY INTEGRATED IN YOUR NARRATION. WHERE DO YOU WANT TO LEAD US, DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE AND A PRECISE INTENT?
First of all, thank you! And, in answer to your question, I don’t think there is a clear reply to that. I think that as an artist you are constantly looking for that, or at least I am. And what I want to tell I often only know after I have completed a photography series. And that also changes per series and per life phase in which I find myself. Ultimately, of course, the answer can be found in the work itself, for me a lot of text is often not necessary. I think good art (by other makers) is often good because it touches me right away, without explanations.
I am mainly looking for a harmonious game between landscape and man, the blending of the body in the landscape is what I am often seeking.
I choose that intuitively at first. So, do I want to work in a dry vast graphic landscape or in a lush environment with wild flowers and organic shapes? Then I investigate where I can find these landscapes that I have in my head, and then I am mainly surprised on the spot with what I encounter by doing road trips.
YOUR PROCESS OF SIMPLIFICATION/SYNTHESIZING OF THE COMPOSITION SEEMS TO BE A FUNDAMENTAL PHASE OF YOUR WORKS. HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
I’m not sure if I understand your question correctly, but I do often like to find a kind of simplicity/abstractness, regardless of my use of bright colors or poses with energy.
IN EACH OF YOUR WORKS THE POWERFULLY PRESENT ELEMENT IS COLOR, ITS STRENGTH, THE BOLD WAY IN WHICH YOU USE IT. DO YOU GIVE COLORS A SEMANTIC VALUE LIKE IN KANDINSKY’S TREATISES (ABOUT THE SPIRITUALITY OF COLOUR) OR IS THE FUNCTION SIMPLY AIMED AT MAKING THE ELEMENTS SURREAL?
It is mainly aimed at creating my own realities, landscapes and moment. I don’t like to be distracted by the way things are (such as the grass is green, a rock is grey) but rather see the world as a black and white coloring page and then color it according to how I feel about it. I feel that moment. I make all these choices intuitively and by feeling.
WHAT IS THE INCIPIT, THE INITIAL IDEA THAT KICKS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS OFF?
That actually differs per series! Sometimes I make a series based on 1 idea, sometimes on sketches that I make for months and sometimes I work on a series without having come up with an idea beforehand. Then I come up with everything on the spot, on the location.
OFTEN THE ARTIST IS PRESENT WITHIN HIS OWN WORK. IN YOUR CASE DOES THIS HAPPEN SPONTANEOUSLY OR IS IT DUE TO YOUR INNER NEED?
You mean I do self-portraits? I do that because I feel that my work is the most sincere. That’s how I started shooting when I was 14/15, and continued like that after years of trying different things during my photography studies at art school.
A LOT OF VISUAL, STYLISTIC AND COMPOSITIONAL RESEARCH EMERGES IN YOUR WORKS. A STUDY BASED ON EXTENSIVE EXPERIMENTATION IN COLOR AND MATERIAL COMBINATIONS: WHAT IS THE BASIC CONCEPT OF YOUR WORK FOR YOU? DO YOU INTEND TO CONVEY AN ETHICAL/MORAL MESSAGE?
I am not trying to give a moral or ethical message. At first I make it because it comes from deep within, an urge to create. And so I make it for myself in the first place. And then you can see it more as a form of escapism, for myself and the viewer, than that I’m busy showing things from the ‘real’ world. I actually like to get people and myself out of there, that’s how I designed my last exhibition. It was an object in a room, where you walked in and out through 1 entrance and 1 exit. As a result, people were completely isolated from the space around them and walked through my landscapes and works like a kind of maze. It was very special that the idea of my photography aroused so well in exhibition form. I have received many positive reactions and reviews from visitors about it!
WHAT ARE YOUR STYLISTIC, AESTHETIC AND CONCEPTUAL REFERENCES?… YOUR READINGS, YOUR FILMS, YOUR DIRECTORS, YOUR ARTISTS.
I am crazy about naive artists, artists who have had no training. And therefore working very intuitively, which has something crazy in it. Who makes art out of a kind of tradition (think of folklore art) or out of a kind of inner urge. And then mainly painters. But also embroidery artists. Or people who make folklore dresses. I really like the manual.
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR NEED FOR ALIENATION COMES FROM? ARE THERE ANY ELEMENTS RELATED TO REALITY THAT YOU PREFER TO DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM/ESCAPE FROM?
I couldn’t name specific elements, but I like to create a world that doesn’t exist that feels nice, warm and colorful, and to disappear into it.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE PHOTOGRAPHY AS YOUR ‘FIRST’ MEANS OF EXPRESSION?
I honestly think this was very much for a practical reason. That I soon discovered that I could express myself well through photography, that it worked better visually (so the medium of photography) than by drawing or painting, for example.
YOU HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO COLLABORATE WITH ARTISTS ORIENTED TOWARDS OTHER MEANS OF EXPRESSION, SUCH AS MUSIC OR AUDIO-VISUALS. DO YOU THINK THAT COLLABORATIONS OF THIS TYPE CAN BE, IRRESPECTIVELY, AN ADDED VALUE OR IS IT SIMPLY A WAY TO EXPERIMENT WITH NEW MEANS OF COMMUNICATING?
I really enjoy working with artists, for example, because they are also people who create, who understand how that process works. That is very different to me than photographing someone who is not busy creating. And often artists are also flamboyant in a way and sometimes a bit outcast too, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but more in a way that they are people who look at the world in different creative ways. And often they are also open to experimentation. So that’s why I often do these assignments on the side, besides making my own personal work.
THE THEME OF THIS ISSUE OF LYF REVOLVES AROUND THE SENSE OF WONDER (AWE), OF ASTONISHMENT, WHAT CAN YOU TELL US IN THIS REGARD, WHAT IS IT THAT CAUSES YOU THIS FEELING?
I think that is if someone can show me something, or feel it, which is a new experience for me. That someone makes you look at something, or think or feel diff erently.
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