Living in the city, the distance between nature and us has become vague. People leading a city life go primarily from point-to-point, that makes them oblivious to the true essence of walking and life in a bigger context. It is especially noticeable in a confined space with a fast-paced lifestyle. “I blend together the forms of plants and architecture to create my artwork, which in turn helps to strengthen the relationship between humans and plants. Incorporating the structure of plants into various space can create a window in the cityscape where people can stop and relax. It is ultimately a realm where people can be imaginative.” Lee Chi, the botanical installation artist from Taiwan, is known for his compact and bizarre artworks. They exude a wabi-sabi (the Japanese aesthetics that celebrates transience and imperfection) vibe that is far from being boring but utterly possesses an unexplainable beauty.
Such new form of botanical art, different from the rather cold and distant painting or sculpture, is an art form that is eager to be part of the community and interact with space and people’s actual life. “The current collaboration with Camper titled Walk Artistry has meticulously reproduced the experience of taking a troll in nature through an exquisite botanical installation.” Lee is not only a botanical installation artist but also a runner in extreme environments. He once ran over 100 kilometers from Tengri Tagh in Xinjiang to inner Mongolia. His extraordinary adventures have easily become spices to his art. “This collaboration is themed around Taipei, Tengri Tagh and Cambodia. Drawers are also part of my inspiration, the work is like opening a drawer of one’s heart so that the room for imagination is not limited to actual physical space,” explained Lee. Space is extremely limited in Hong Kong, at the designing phase, he had to decide whether to build the work in Hong Kong or ship the finished work from Taiwan. Considering how small the exhibition space is, he extended the botanical installation, or the drawers of imagination as he called it, to the ceiling. Making use of every possible corner to project imagination is perhaps Lee’s response to Hong Kong.
“The new form of botanical art utilizes space to demonstrate the power of nature. Living in a humid city like Taipei, all types of plants rely on water to live; this can as well be associated with the undetermined and spontaneous personality as seen among people in Taipei. The whiteness of Tengri Tagh is ornamented with metal and wood board, this is because there are still human activities in the vast space that looks seemingly empty. The small huts and other structures are part of the natural landscape. The final touch of this work is inspired by the loess in Cambodia, as well as the sculpture and architecture that serve a religious purpose there. I used some golden brown materials to build the mountain, afterward, I added details like lingzhi mushroom and other Chinese herbal medicines to the artwork, so as to facilitate a dialogue with the culture spouted from the place,” Lee Chi continued to explain his artwork by saying each installation is paired with a headset that plays the sound of wind whooshing in the mountains or the noise as heard in a busy metropolis. With the sound, the audience can better immerse themselves into the realm that the illustrations are portraying.
Lee said, the first step to make a botanical installation is to thoroughly understand the plants; you have to know their demeanor well enough before you know how to put the plants together. Lee does not limit his work to all natural materials, the decision is based on to whom and in where will the work be shown. “I always take the physical environment of the exhibition space into consideration. I would also think about what kind of audience will it reach, and whether the work is a response to a certain topic or idea. Some may find my botanical installation unconventional as I use materials like beehives, lingzhi mushroom, lunchbox, packing material and so on. I would also use dyed or processed plants in my work. To me, artificial processes and items are also part of nature. I want my audience to view the work from multiple angles. You can always have a different experience depending on the hour of the day, your location, or simply your mood. There are a lot of possibilities waiting for us to explore.”
Starting from last year, Lee has been making botanical installations for a restaurant in Taipei called RAW. The restaurant owner has a strong passion for expressing the identity of Taiwan through food. “While working on my design, I would spend a lot of time on researching, so as to understand the history and culture of Taiwan, the dishes offered in the restaurant and the ingredients they use. Afterward, I would incorporate these abstract ideas into my botanical installation. The artwork stays temporarily in the restaurant for only three months before I replace it with a new one. This is an exciting experience for me.”