The past month has seen the Visual Collections Team rummaging through the unclassified archive of artist Li Yuan Chia searching for images for an exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan scheduled for March 2014.
The Imaging Department were asked to supply digital copies of 48 photographs, which Li had taken, and we were tasked with finding them. It was a cold and rather daunting project as the archive is housed in the stacks and stretches through numerous boxes, which contained not just photographs, but photographic negatives, contact sheets, notebooks, letters and articles. “Contained in a few boxes of brown cardboard lie the elaborate pre-histories of his practices as an artist in all its diversity amid the residue of the life he lived.” [S. Halkyard, PN Review 185, PP. 8-11].
Li Yuan Chia (1929-94) was a poet-artist-calligrapher-photographer, founder and curator of the LYC Museum. He lived in China, Taiwan, Italy and Britain and spent the last twenty-eight years of his life at Banks, Cumbria, in a house next to Hadrian’s Wall where he created the LYC Museum.
Li had a unique vision, a kind of spiritual vision of space, which represented a fusion of 20th century Western abstract
art with the Chinese tradition of summing up all phenomena in a system of simple signs. Words were among these signs; Li incorporated words in his visual art, and also wrote poems. He evolved what he called the ‘cosmic point’, a visual element, sometimes as small as a tiny dot, which defines or stimulates the void. After working in painting, sculpture and installation modes, Li developed photography in a highly personal way.
The images we were looking for related mainly to his activities at the LYC Museum. These portrayed the physically changing buildings and seasonal changes were reflected in photographs of the landscape and animals in the garden. Other photographs show Li’s numerous artistic endeavours and many of the people/visitors enjoying the activities that took place at the LYC Museum. Over a ten year period Li put all his energy into building, equipping and running the gallery and printing press; organising events and readings, establishing a children’ s art room, a library, a kitchen where visitors could make tea, a sculpture garden and a small theatre. Despite its remote location the LYC attracted 30, 000 visitors a year and Li offered exhibitions to more than 300 artists. Admission was free and the Museum was open every day of the year.
The photographic archive is a testament to his
vision and his achievements. It is a
privilege to be allowed access to such a personal legacy. The images show him
aging; show his interests and the preoccupations of his life. As well as such a
rich and varied photographic collection my favourite find were these tremendous
glasses, which were hidden in an old brown envelope.