The Idol Reveal (2021-ongoing) is an ambitious, interdisciplinary project drawing upon the artist's treatise "The Subject Exploration and Artistic Practice in Idol Worship." Within this research, Xi Li questions how cultures are arguably becoming more mythical within contemporary society because of the status and devotion to pop icons and celebrity figures. Li uses symbolism- the use of signs to represent something beyond literal meaning- to understand how we construct our sense of self in the digital and virtual landscape.
Li uses the term "idol worship" to encompass the practice of spiritual devotion as a means of understanding your own identity. Throughout the exhibition, idol worship serves as a frontier that crosses over onto our ideas of the "self" with our desire for spiritual belief to give meaning to our physical lives but often interfaces through a digital platform.
The installation comprises 11 posters which hang from the ceiling, encompassing the viewer in a circumambulation, framing the central video work on the gallery's back wall. Flowery, ornate, and detailed surfaces combine with figures seemingly unrelated to any pre-existing culture and are ambivalently all-encompassing. The mythological "idols" are towering and totem-like, presiding over a meditative, introspective, beautiful utopia. Li bridges classically depicted divine bodies with new figures of worship drawn from contemporary celebrity culture.
On the floor, two more projections use a circular diagram motif drawing upon French psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan's illustration of the "object petit a," defined as any object which sets desire in motion. Li frequently draws from the theoretical frameworks of Lacan, who became known for his ideas about linguistics and intersubjective relations. Alongside the video projections, three 3D-printed sculptures are raised on podiums – which could arguably be interpreted as altars. Together, they create an immersive spectacle that envelops and swallows the viewer into a world of "surreal dream utopia." The Idol Reveal is a digital visualisation of the artist's idea of "a critical process of self-inquiry on Idol worship," which is an externalisation of her "inner consciousness and inner strength."
Li deconstructs how we use symbols to create our world to escape what she calls the "symbolic order," meaning that we are making our realities through symbols and the imaginary rather than only being driven by the material real world.
Video work abstract
The Idol Reveal: From Infatuation to Mysterious is a set of spiritual field maps informed by ideas of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Lacan wrote extensively on the relationship between the "self" and the "imaginary" to deconstruct the boundaries between fantasy and reality.
The Idol Reveal: From Infatuation to the Mysterious consists of three scenes: "Absolute infatuation", "Relative infatuation", and "Mysterious order". These scenes are filled with revelatory mythological imagery, such as intricately rendered totems, poetic idols, majestic sculptures and otherworldly plants that symbolise energy.
Li has constructed a transcendent universe where the material is borrowed from the "real world" yet transcends far beyond it into a subconscious "id" – which psychoanalysts have described as the realm driven by desire and intuitive impulses.
Poems from The Idol Reveal
“The essence of nature came out of the sky and the earth, and there are daytime meteors in the eyes. That mighty beam of light is gathering and shining on the fighters who are daring to the other side. He kills and decides, and he is full of love. Facing the endless boulder valley and cliffs, he gave birth to a vigorous bonfire in pain, illuminating the entire abyss. Dear warrior, are you facing a common feast with me, can you join hands with me and rush to the new era without boundaries.”
“He is a fateful midsummer dream, a blurry night with immortal air. He sits on the mountains, rivers and seas, leaps over the plains and forests, and swims with silent waves. He can change shape with any container, sometimes vast Boundless, deep and boundless; sometimes flying and swaying. I stood on the lake where the still water was deep and the water was flowing, and the moist aroma came to my nostrils, watching another story where dreams and reality are mysteriously intertwined.”
“The sacred earth with a spirit inside, exudes a dazzling brilliance in the border area. You actually contain the sun, moon, stars, rivers, land, mountains and rivers, and the bridge of all things. Growing freely in your arms is adorned with soft spring light and eternity of life, there is such a soft and fluffy life force. Whether it is a hurricane or a dazzling star, I only wish to entrust that romantic spirit to you, but I find that you have already given me all your love.”
From Infatuation to the Mysterious