The Purpose of Disease
Dodd Galleries, University of Georgia
Feb 27 - March 27, 2020

The Purpose of Disease
Landline, Screened at Tusk, Chicago and Cicero IL
LANDLINE is an LED sign presenting thought-provoking texts made by contemporary artists, writers, and thinkers. The project is curated by artist Robert Chase Heishman. The sound was recorded with Lu Wang (dk) and debuted at May 15th, 2019. Sound files can be listened by calling +1 312 281 7366 during the month or online

Acupuncture, palm reading, cupping, psychogenics, antibiotics, herbal supplements, blood vessels, genetic testing, human versus animal, and the regeneration of limbs are just a few areas of concern in the new series of work by Amiko Li. In this exhibition he examines disease, very much in the literal sense considering how we might search to heal ourselves but also metaphorically, as an immigrant, a feeling or dis-ease that accompanies living in a country that is not yours.

First the science. In one image, a brightly lit monarch is studied under a microscope. To take the photograph, Li visited the Vision Science Labs in the Psychology department, a lab dedicated solely to studying visual systems. Li is preoccupied with tetrachromatic organisms or species of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and mammals who possess four color cones in their eyes effectively enabling a vast and radiant color spectrum that humans, having only three cones, can only imagine. “Our vision is flawed from the beginning,” explains Li. “What have we sacrificed due to evolution?” And while the photograph remains clinical--the white light, the cold apparatus (an enhanced way of seeing), a faded blue overlay--what finally emerges is both the possibility and limits of vision, the radiant lavender and the complex hues of yellows and browns that make up the butterfly’s wings.

Next the illness. Li first started this project after spending a week in the hospital having endured a mysterious rash. His affliction induced a consideration of the ways in which we demonstrate sickness, the familiar gestures associated with illness. “I’m interested in how an actor plays sick, how it manifests on the outside,” Li states. In the video Playing Sick, Li cast young actors and invited them to perform sickness however they imagined. What emerges are mannered re-performances of the common cold, heart attacks, and tummy aches. The spectacle of the young performing the work of the old and decrepit creates an eerie distancing, pointing to a marked gap between the well and the unwell.

Finally, disease and its purpose. Li grew up in Shanghai, China and came to the United States in 2011 to study art. In his time here he struggled to interpret a culture and language that is not his: “I feel insecure with writing English which echoes back to my visual work through nuances and misplaced words.” Li explains. “It all didn’t mean much until I embraced my position. I will never be American. I will never know this ideology, this idea of the free spirit.” And yet, Li is obsessed with the story of a kind of free spirit which inspired a text for a new performance made for this exhibition. It is the true story of a man who in 2018 stole a plane from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and flew it alone, joking with aircraft controllers on the ground, explaining he could easily fly due to his experience with video games. “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me,” the man reported through his headpiece and then later, “Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess.”  Li reads romance in this nihilistic story that ends in a plane that dipped, rolled, and soared in the sky before crashing and killing its lone passenger. According to The New York Times, “He said he hoped to have a ‘moment of serenity’ in the air but lamented that the sights ‘went by so fast.’”

Essay by Katie Geha
Director of the Galleries