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  • Writer's pictureLoy Luo

*Loy Luo's 100 persons' portraits Performance in pandemic New York(1)羅一:疫情纽约百人肖像行为方案与实施(上)

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Since I arrived to New York at January 2020 and soon was trapped into the vortex of COVID-19, I began to do a performance of 100 persons' portraits in the pandemic New York and almost had kept doing for 5 months . Now the performance have been shown at the same time in WhiteBox Art Center, New York and Funspace Gallery, Roma, Italy, which is individually named "The Other I"(The Me in Others) (curated by Kyoko Sato)and "Who is the Me?". (curated by wangyongxu) Here I will share the executive condition of the performance. (add: The art project proposal including artist statement)


A) One hundred persons' portraits


The picture is from New York WhiteBox Harlem Art Center


The picture is from Funspace Gallery, Roma, Italy


*Thinking happened in different phases


First phase-- No mask in NY,

until mid-March most New Yorker don't realize the importance of mask. No mask no coronavirus. In the phase, I focus on" Me, who is?" I thought much about in digital time human being's subject "I" lost into the countless fragmented and objective "me". In another word, I want to find back "I" through choosing the realer "me" in many photographs which are objective and fragmented, . These thinkings had be written into an artist statement for a group exhibition organized by New York University, as follows:



Me, who is?

“Who am I?” is an old philosophy proposition, while Me, who is? is my statement of today.

Today, taking quality photos has become so easy, so fast, so well composed that anyone can effectively create beautiful images. However, at the same time we dropped into a sea or pattern of transient moments in which it seems like we have lost the deepness and thickness of our souls.

Rembrandt was famous for expressing the depth of souls because he could extract the essence from superficial. The Post-Impressionism artists distorted form & shapes to achieve more reality. What should define what today 's artist do?

Recently, I saw an image posted by a friend on WeChat, and it inspired me to revisit drawing: a classical form of artistic expression.

When compared with photos, drawing has the characteristic of stability, time-consuming, use of the hand, etc. – in general, a far greater sense of permanence.

As I draw a subject, I get a strong sense of their humanity and their personality. And, this experience is far more interesting than the experience I get from photographs.

So, in essence, the aim of the Me, who is? project is to explore the varying nuances of today’s popular digital age’s means of documenting moments versus the oft forgotten traditional and, in my opinion – more significant means of documenting a moment through the art of drawing.









(A interview video about my working stations, edited by Joseph Latimore)


In that project proposal, I also mentioned the intervention and support of contemporary technical media for traditional painting art creation itself, including the generation and supply of creation demand.


Second phase--all mask in NY

It seems like only in one night, people felt and spread the panic. when people in the city all put on the masks, I rethought more about the relationship of the metaphor mask and real mask.

At a long term, I kept on thinking about people's spiritual mask which is a metaphor mask contrasts the real mask, the former is shield and exposed by the latter at the same time. It means I has been sensitive to people's spiritual masks just because I asked people to lay down their masks again and again. Some people refused to pay down their masks before the stranger, but some people who took off the physical masks could not put down their psychologic masks and even they don't know they always wear the masks which have been deeply fused in their faces.

For example, when I painted a young woman, firstly I looked through many her pictures which almost have an exaggerated and dramatic expressions. I felt that she has used to her self-protection mask. After much deliberation, I chosed a slightly smiling moment I shot for her. When the lady sas her own portrait, she immediately burst into tears. I said, “In fact you are naturally very beautiful.”.





Another interesting thing: some rich persons refused to take off their masks (because of privacy protection ideas or art cognition, some wealthy people had been brainwashed by some contemporary art education and thought portrait must no longer be good and pure art), but many of them agreed me to do portraits for their pets. I got a big surprise when I found dogs' facial expressions which are very natural and let I thought the dog’ face just like human being’s face especially my own face. The faces are characterized by joys, sorrows, greed, cunning, attack, lazy, vigilant....The finding also let me thought about the upgrade version of the project: who are "Me"s? (please pay attention: "me"s not "us") Through the depiction of the facial expressions of dogs, I realized that there is not only one so-called truer "Me", but have many different true “Me”s. It is be clearer when we look in dogs because they actually have some kind of humanness and never wear masks (in fact, dogs do not wear masks in epidemic). It also seems to imply that only by removing the mask can humanity achieve multiple truth.

另一个有趣的现象:一些富裕的人拒绝脱下面具(因为隐私保护的想法或艺术认知,一些富有的人受不全面的当代艺术思想的影响,认为肖像不再是高级的纯艺术),但他们中的许多人同意我做宠物的画像。当我发现狗的面部表情非常自然时,我感到很惊讶,狗的脸就像人类的脸,尤其是我自己的脸。这些脸的特征是快乐、悲伤、贪婪、狡猾、攻击、懒惰、警惕……这个发现也让我想到了项目的升级版本:谁是“我”s?(请注意:“我”s不是“我们”)! 通过对狗的面部表情的描绘,我意识到,真正的“我”不仅有一个,而是有很多不同的真的我。当我观察狗的时候,这一点就更清楚了,因为它们确有人性,且从不戴面具(事实上,狗在流行时是不戴口罩的)。这似乎也在暗示,只有摘下面具,人类才能获得多重真相。

Insert: some multilayered faces:


This is the artist Roland Gebhardt's portrait, in our dialogue he kept friendly smiling and laughing, but in my eyes he has another serious face without smiling. Every sharp deep thought person has a serious face. We talked about kinds of masks., maybe we can say, Roland focuses more on the relationship of mask and identity, while I focus on uncovering the real human nature.

这是艺术家Roland Gebhardt的肖像,在我们的对话中他一直保持着友好的微笑和大笑,但是在我的眼中他有另一张没有笑容的严肃冷峻的面孔。每一个思维敏锐深沉的人都有一张严肃的脸。我们讨论了各种各样的面具。或许可以说,罗兰更注重面具与身份的关系,而我更注重揭示真实的人性。

In that project proposal, I also mentioned the intervention and support of contemporary technical media for traditional painting art creation itself, including the generation and supply of creation demand.

This is Dancer Mabo's portrait. In this practice, we talked about the conflict of "real " and "expressing real" which let me got an idea: in fact, women have always been prisoners of gorgeous, even they really wanted to be wilder and freer.


However, through the reflection on the emotion concealment and non-concealment of characters, we also probe into an important topic of Chinese classical aesthetics "concealment and presentation", which lays a foundation for the reflection on re-wearing masks in the later stage of the project.


This is a writer and critic Anthony Haden-Guest's Portrait, before I did the portrait I hadn't seen himself, even I had no time to read his words, I began to draw him because there is something on the ethos in the photo which is my familiar kind, that is, the face and expression of a thinker who wants to explore deep truth through the appearance. Of course, because I didn’t meet the person before, the drawing process is in a state of some subtle not sure at first (photos can't give a completely information of the perception of a person) so I need to use my imagination, is about a real person's imagination, as if he is in front of me and I can touch the face. This helped me captured something lived and souled in the portrait.


Third phase: tired masking in NY

From applause to Marching only used one night which shocked me more than the pandemic itself. This phase I did some videos and found more ridiculous and funny deeds on the streets. I also did several portraits of psychotic homelessness who obviously seem like live in different world. In the video "Applause and marching" I tried to express the ridiculous of the reversal of the masses mood which is often stimulated by some emergencie. This phenomenon is also our digital time's important characteristic.

I often felt confusing about the world-wide antiracial action. I painted many black friends, as human being I don't think they are different, like any other races, some good some bad. Based some deeper thought, I thought the deep discrimination was hidden in the anti-discriminational slogans. Just like I've always thought that feminism in some sense implied discrimination against women. But this argument is more complex, the intellectual class should ponder over the problem.

In addition, I was deeply confused about the protests expressed by large demonstrations and gatherings during the epidemic. However, there seemed to be no intellectuals to demonstrate the social ethics issues, and people seemed to be overwhelmed by a kind of morality.





B) A large drawing based on a street photograph


The tragedy of the mask's absence

The amnesia is a remarkable symptom of our times. For example, some people who tired pandemic social management would rather trust many kinds of conspiracy theories and began to drop off masks and attend in crazy happy parties even the infection data is still rising.

I think there should be some person who help our times remember some things which are important for people to catch some lessons.

I always remember the night of  February 23, when I went around times square for the first time and met some painters drawing portraits for people and the next day I painted the first portrait in New York. Even today, I don't know what enlightenment was hidden behind this coincidence: at the same day, I captured a photo of a double-decker tour bus, on which many tourists were sitting facing toward the window. The tourists maybe wanted to avoid the eyes of the passers-by, their faces looked  like wearing the white mask on stage, but without wearing physical masks  to protect them from the virus. So impassive it seems like they were sitting in a parallel time-space and were transported toward void.




我一直记得2月23日的晚上,当我第一次在时代广场逛的时候,遇到了一些为人们画肖像画的画家,第二天我就画了在纽约的第一张肖像画。即使在今天,我也不知道这一巧合背后隐藏着什么启示:同一天,我在 时代广场抓拍了一辆双层旅游巴士的照片,许多游客正面对着窗户坐着,可能是想避开路人的目光,他们的脸看起来像舞台上演员们戴着的白色面具,却没有戴物理面具来保护他们免受病毒的伤害。他们看上去如此冷漠,就好像他们坐在平行的时空里,正被命运车轮传送到虚空。

C). Pixelated, dense colorful video contrast the black-white still New York Times at 24th May, on which 100,000 deaths' names were published .

C) 像素化、密集的彩色视频与黑白的5月24日发布的《纽约时报》形成鲜明对比,《纽约时报》刊登了10万名死者的名字。

New York Times at 24th May

Loy Luo 's iPhone photos' screen

His death is not my death, “Me” is not word and Number

On May 24, I received a friend's copy of the New York Times, which was full of 100,000 people's names who had died in pandemic.  My first reaction was Heidegger's "His death is not my death". Face such a major human disaster, it is not enough only think that "they are us". The "him" and "me" added with “s”don’t equal to “them” or”us" . “Me” can’t been synthesized to a class which haven't personality and characteristics. I believe, when we meet major human disasters, it is not too much to emphasize the existence of humble individuals, because it involves human's basic compassion. That is why in the midst of the epidemic, in the most severe difficulties ,I had been trying my best to depict every person with utmost patience. Some people said that the style of Luo is different from the academic school of superb skills, but a simple and sincere language. In fact, I believe that too much emphasis on craftsmanship would weaken the spiritual strength of art.



Life color lies in the relationships

I want to express that life is not cold and colorless figures and words in newspapers, ,life is colorful and full of love even some times we always feel confused with love. I did some group drawing in which people is not lonely, alert and sad, in fact they are more relax and soft with their lover’s company.



A birthday surprise gift from a wife

A father day's gift from a father's son both a son's father

In pandemic, father and daughter walk together in center park

D) Six videos


- Life in Pandemic


This video balances the sadness, pessimism and bad atmosphere with the positive moments of people's lives during the epidemic.这个视频用疫情中人们快乐积极的生活时刻去平衡当时悲伤悲观和恶劣的气氛。

- Meeting and Responding


Throughout the epidemic, I insisted on going out and finding someone to touch my elbow (PENGBI, Chinese), and a new etiquette replaced the handshake. Of course, many times people turned me down (PENGBI, Chinese), but in the end I exchanged friendship and understanding with New Yorkers


- Applause and Marching


- New York in Pandemic


In this video, I used some classical music to manifest the magnificence and splendor City civilization of New York, and interacted with many documentary images I took on the street to express the great sadness brought by this global disaster and the confidence that the great achievements of human civilization would not be defeated. Contrast emotions alternately, reinforcing each other.


- Art Discussion (continuing)


- Loy Luo in Pandemic (not finished)


E) archive diary:  WeChat, SMS, photo date, address etc. ( itinerary tracking)



Today, I often think back to how things happened and changed. Some of the addresses and times recorded by the iPhone gave people a sense of confusion, fun and stranded, but it also gave people a kind of fragmented story with too honest but incomplete information, which was obviously a good story.


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