Singer, songwriter, director, and actor, Jay Chou has many titles. But before all that, the “King of Mandopop” was the son of an art teacher. For his first Instagram post, Chou shared a picture of him and his mother in front of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting. Art has always been a part of the Asian megastar’s life, and it has always been his source of inspiration.
Chou is versed in mixing genres, as he is known for adding traditional Chinese elements into his music. He has crafted pop tunes with themes ranging from Chinese martial arts to traditional porcelain craftsmanship. He has even paid tribute to classical musicians by re-composing famous tunes by Chopin, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. But the “Green Hornet” star has a special place in his heart for art and has placed artworks by master artists like Gerhard Richter and Frank Stella in his music videos. His Instagram account features images of artworks by world-renowned artists such as KAWS and Keith Haring.
All of that led up to Chou’s most recent collaboration with the conceptual artist Xu Bing, a world-renowned Chinese artist known for his printmaking and installations that utilize language, words, and text. His latest work, titled “Dishu” (Book from the Ground), is a book composed entirely of universally understood symbols and icons.
The project was launched in 2019, and with the help of its local Chinese exhibition partner, CASHART, it will be exhibited in a show titled “Space to Space.” The show will consist of the two-dimensional symbols from “Dishu” made into three-dimensional form. Xu Bing and Jay Chou will examine the linguistic and emotional significance of Chou’s musical from a “Dishu” perspective, seeking to thaw the ice between culture and fine art.
Jay Chou and Xu Bing were connected by Enviseam — a brand founded by Jazz Li, who is Chou’s long-time collaborator and close friend. Li has consistently been interested in how art, culture, and mass media can better interact. Jing Daily spoke to Jay Chou and Jazz Li about their takes on how art can disseminate values and inspire change.
Jing Daily: Tell us a bit about your collaboration with Xu Bing.
Jay Chou: This project has inspired me to dig deeper into the relationship between music and linguistics. As we all know, songs are comprised of words and music. Words by themselves, on paper, can lack the emotional impact. By combining with music, however, words can take on a different form and can touch people emotionally. Conversely, the symbolism of music — figuratively and literally — brings about another dimension of communication, which is something I love about Xu Bing’s work. His concept and development of a “universal writing system” is a serious ideal, something I feel deeply about with regards to the art of communication. And in this era of rapid consumption — of “picture-reading” — the written word no longer seems to command the importance of its traditional role in communication. Instead, if we were to just use symbols or images to communicate, language barriers would not exist.
Why did you want to be a part of this project?
Collaborating with Xu Bing on this project was something I believe in — that art can bring us closer together and take us to places where music has yet to reach. I like the idea of using art to express love and empathy. Recently, I’ve been very candid and open on social media, and I hope that my fans can live vicariously through me when it comes to art (@jaychou on Instagram). Besides my fans, I would also like to encourage my celebrity and influencer friends to step in and get more involved with the arts and cultural scene. Live it yourself. It’s a beautiful life, made better by appreciating the art in each and every aspect of our humanity. Let’s share this with the world.
What is it that draws you to art?
I believe in the power of art and would like to participate in more creative projects in the realm of fine arts. I don’t want to be defined by any boundaries or limitations with regard to the values my identity represents. However, I hope that the ideas I set forth embody their own insights, which are dynamic and progressive, for the fast-paced cultural developments happening in our world. The question is how to engage people and address the ideas and values that will matter to them.
You’ve also become quite an art collector. Tell us about your collection.
Being a “collector” isn’t a demographic label, and it’s more than the characterization of a person who accumulates objects. For me, the act of collecting works of art isn’t simply for the sake of building a collection. It’s really an opportunity for self-reflection and reassessing ideas. Through collecting contemporary artworks — despite not being able to experience many significant cultural moments in-person right now — I hope that together with various contemporary artists, we can create more impactful moments for a multicultural global audience. Collecting is more than simply being someone who collects. On the contrary, it signifies inclusivity and acceptance. It brings about a sense of wanting to inspire and motivate others.
What kind of art moves you?
Deep in my heart lies an old soul. There’s a profound sense of nostalgia in everything I do, whether it’s shooting movies, music videos, or even an advertisement. This is probably due to my inclination towards sentimentality, which also results in my interest in vintage stuff or concepts from the past. Besides paintings and sculptures, however, I also enjoy collecting antiques, classic cars, and vintage furniture. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have been born in ancient times. By collecting these artworks and antiques, I get epiphanies of the past — fantasies and realities. These precious artifacts not only chronicle the inflection points in our history but also have the ability to instill the ambiance of the past into my time and space.
The man behind the scenes that brought both Jay Chou and Xu Bing together is Jazz Li, the founder of Enviseam, a new company that builds professional brand development and in cross-industry fields. Here, we talk with Jazz Li about Enviseam, art, and working with his close friend, Jay Chou.
Tell us about Enviseam.
Jazz Li: Enviseam, the vision, the dream, is a concept, it’s a blueprint. Enviseam is aspirational and deviates from generic consumer brands by really trying to go deeper, trying to be more impactful, trying to raise the status quo. I’m continuing to refine my proficiency at bringing art to the masses and it makes perfect sense for Enviseam to be the global platform, for artists and KOLs, through various disciplines and industries, developing more consequential content.
We believe that Enviseam and its projects/experiments can influence cultural consumers in a way that can result in a sea change in Asian lifestyles. The challenge is to critically influence and add value to the social consciousness of a large audience. We are the catalyst, creating actors (the collective consciousness of artists together with KOLs) for cultural advancement in the region. Our vision could very well impact society and its consumerist ecosystem for decades to come. Moving forward, Enviseam will launch a series of large-scale art exhibitions across Asia, including an Asian tour of the London-based Chinese artist Jacky Tsai’s retrospective.
What are your expectations and aspirations for fine art?
I tend to experience art from the perspective of an engineer — scrutinizing, testing, reverse engineering — and through a methodical comprehensive analysis, understand the art ecosystem. I am absolutely convinced that the growth of interest in the arts will usher in a whole new world. This will be a better, more empathetic and altruistic world, and art will pervade not just the art world as it is today but every other sector. The reinvention of the modus operandi of various industries has already begun.
Is there any artist’s work that both you and Jay appreciate?
Notwithstanding the fact that we both like being very different from everyone else, we share quite a bit of common interest in our preference for contemporary art. A good proportion of the artworks Jay fancies, I also have an appreciation for, such as the abstract works of Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s powerful street art. What I truly love about art is its honesty and its significance. This is where Jay’s sentiments and my position converge.
Over the years, Jay and I were also really fortunate to become pals with various prominent artists such as KAWS, Futura, Stash, José Parlá, Crash, among others. The many conversations we’ve had and the interchange of ideas and cultures have made our friendship blossom. Getting personally acquainted with world-renowned Chinese artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang and Xu Bing came about from serendipity. Tapping their minds and philosophies has sparked excitement, given me a deeper understanding of Chinese culture, and highlighted the significance of Chinese contemporary art in this world and age. There’s so much Chinese culture has to offer, from breadth to depth.
Jay has been getting increased recognition as a collector. Do you give him any advice?
Jay started quietly collecting quite a few years ago. Once he began immersing himself in the world of contemporary fine arts, he realized he needed a confidant to share findings and ideas with, in absolute secrecy. The new hobby started with buying a few simple pieces of contemporary art and then quickly escalated to self-immersion. The world of museums, art galleries, artist studios, and art fairs soon became de rigueur for us.
My love for dissecting ideas and provocative concepts, while being very candid about them, somehow makes me a little more bearable to North American and European artistic personalities. This has in many serendipitous ways forged bridges between Jay and quite a few influential international personalities, where art and culture have been the lingua franca.
Jay is keenly self-aware of his preferences and interests. He is never ambivalent about anything — he either likes it or he doesn’t. Mostly over the telephone, every day or two, Jay and I talk art. Due to our hectic travel schedules, we try to meet up in person at least once a month, and that’s when the talk translates into living. Even though I would very much like to influence Asia’s megastar and the king of pop (chuckle), the end result has been the converse. Inadvertently, I am instead, more inspired, more enlightened, and more motivated as a result of his influence on me. It’s that nuanced thinking, that keen intuition, and the aptitude to not blindly follow ephemeral trends.