Digital launch of Lee Mingwei: 禮 Li, Gifts and Rituals

Gropius Bau

Press release from 3 April 2020

The Gropius Bau announces the digital launch of 禮 Li, Gifts and Rituals, an exhibition by Lee Mingwei. Originally scheduled to open to the public at the Gropius Bau in Berlin on 27 March, in response to measures taken to protect our public in light of COVID-19, the exhibition is launching with a series of digital activations. The programme includes video introductions to the exhibition as well as virtual activations of selected artworks and two new works created for the digital realm. Installation views, catalogue excerpts and exhibition texts will also be available on the Gropius Bau website.

Lee Mingwei’s installations and performances often operate both within the logic of material exchange and outside its limits by offering immaterial gifts: “I see my works also in this way: sharing the gift of song, the gift of contemplation or the gift of exchange with a stranger”, Lee Mingwei notes. Rooted in the space of intimate experiences and encounters with others, a key aspect of Lee’s work is for participants to be in the same space, where two or more people can share moments together, from sleeping to dining, from mending clothes to conversing with each other. He has now worked together with the Gropius Bau team to create an intimate experience for participants despite being physically separated. To accompany the launch of the exhibition, the artist also shares a message of solidarity from his home in New York City.

As part of the accompanying digital programme, various works will become virtual encounters over the course of the exhibition:

Sonic Blossom and Invitation for Dawn

Sonic Blossom (2013/2020), which draws on Lee’s experience of hearing Franz Schubert’s Lieder with his mother as a child and subsequently experiencing comfort from the songs when later nursing her after a surgery, will become an intimate virtual encounter between a singer reciting a song to another person. A digital rendition will be broadcast by way of a livestream on the Gropius Bau Instagram account on Monday, 6 April 2020 at 15:00 CET, allowing you to watch the virtual gift of song.

Additionally, Sonic Blossom will be the starting point for a new work developed for the digital realm in light of the current situation. Entitled Invitation for Dawn (2020), members of the public are invited to apply to join this project via the Gropius Bau website. Participants are virtually brought together one to one with an opera singer who will give a gift of one song to their guest. Each singer has chosen a repertoire of three songs, which for them signal an “invitation for dawn”, forming a sign of hope in this current moment of global crisis. Applications to participate in this project are possible via email; available time slots will be published in the coming days on the Gropius Bau’s website.

Letter to Oneself
This new work, Letter to Oneself (2020), created in the face of the current crisis, takes The Letter Writing Project (1998/2020) as a starting point. Lee Mingwei invites the public to write letters to themselves, thinking about where they see themselves in four to five months and what the current situation is like for them. These letters can be sent to the Gropius Bau (Letter to Oneself, Gropius Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin, Germany) and will be presented when the exhibition opens to the public. Further information can be found here shortly.

Fabric of Memory and The Living Room
Lee launched three open calls in autumn 2019 to invite participants to take part in his projects. For the works Fabric of Memory (2006/2020) and The Living Room (2000/2020), the artist was looking for menders and conversationalists, fabric items with sentimental value and people with unique collections that they would like to share. In this way, the artist opens up his projects to the local community, hosting these volunteers, their stories and objects in his exhibition, and in turn, asking them to host those who visit the show.

Fabric of Memory reveals how personal histories can be archived in objects. Local community members were invited to submit personal clothing and fabric items that were made for them. These items will be displayed in wooden boxes as part of the installation, alongside a personal story that reveals the intimate relationship between the object’s receiver and maker. For the work’s digital activation, the two curators of the exhibition will open the boxes of treasured clothing sent to the Gropius Bau and then read the stories connected to the items. These intimate archival sessions will be filmed and can be accessed via the Gropius Bau website and social media channels over the course of the exhibition.

In The Living Room, the artist transforms a gallery space into a living room, allowing volunteers to act as hosts who share their own collections of objects that have personal or aesthetic significance, creating an exhibition within the exhibition. As part of the digital programme, a host will introduce their collection and these videos will be shared via the Gropius Bau’s website and social media platforms during the course of the exhibition.

Our Peaceable Kingdom
A video introduction will also accompany Our Peaceable Kingdom (2020), a new commission conceived by Lee Mingwei for the Gropius Bau. The work is connected to two central concepts: the artist's ongoing exploration of peace in contemporary times, as well as of the classical tradition – shared by both Western and Eastern canons – of learning to paint from a master. For the Gropius Bau, his point of departure for considering peace and painterly traditions is the iconic American folk painter Edward Hicks. During his lifetime, Hicks repeatedly returned to the motif of peace in his series of Peaceable Kingdom paintings (c.1820-1849), 62 versions of which are in public and private collections today. A devoted Quaker, Hicks’ work is inspired by Isaiah 11:6-8, and offers a vision of peace on earth with different species existing together in harmony. Working within this tradition of becoming a master through copying a teacher, Lee invited 11 painters to copy Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom (c.1833), and in turn these artists invited further painters to copy their own works, while incorporating their own visions of peace into the paintings.

Catalogue and Exhibition Texts

A catalogue, published by Silvana Editoriale and edited by Stephanie Rosenthal, accompanies the exhibition in both English and German editions, available mid-May. Excerpts from the catalogue will be available digitally via the Gropius Bau website.

The exhibition is curated by Stephanie Rosenthal, Director of the Gropius Bau, with Clare Molloy, Assistant Curator.

Gropius Bau exhibition programme

Due to the current situation, some of our exhibitions will be postponed: Otobong Nkanga’s exhibition will open as soon as possible and will run until January 2021. The exhibition The Cool and the Cold. Paintings from the USA and the USSR 1960–1990. Ludwig Collection will run from April to September 2021, Thea Djordjadze’s exhibition will be on view from April to August 2021. Exact dates will be announced soon.

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Annie-Claire Geisinger
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Gropius Bau

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