Lee Mingwei

Lee Mingwei, The Mending Project, 2009. Photograph by Thierry Bal

Lee Mingwei, Fabric of Memory, 2006


Lee Mingwei, The Mending Project, 2009. Photograph by Thierry Bal

Lee Mingwei (b.1964, Taiwan) describes his artistic orientation as ‘social conceptualism’. In his participatory works, he invites strangers to join together in simple everyday rituals, such as eating, sleeping, writing letters and engaging in conversation. By staging these highly intimate, personal encounters, the artist creates the potential to build moments of sociability, understanding and trust.

In The Mending Project (2010), Lee used the activity of sewing as a means to draw strangers together in communal encounters. Visitors were asked to bring items of clothing that need mending and sit with the artist while he darned these at their side. Rather than restoring or hiding the tear in the cloth – as a tailor usually would – he celebrated it with a vivid rainbow-like embroidery stitched from brightly coloured threads. In this way, he offered a counterpoint to the throwaway mentality of the modern world.

Rather than mere commodities to be discarded when no longer needed, clothes are here reinstated as objects invested with great personal value, their fabrics interwoven with memories of the past. During the course of the exhibition, the mended garments accumulated, the material remnants of a series of fleeting conversations, stories, memories and thoughts.

Hemmed in by tailor’s curtains to create an atmosphere of intimacy and calm, The Mending Project (2010) created a welcome respite from the humdrum noise of the street and the loneliness experienced by many people living in modern cities. At the heart of this work is the desire to re-instigate moments of closeness and shared understanding between strangers. In life, these moments sometimes occur when people waiting in a queue, or standing at the bus stop, catch each other’s eye, unexpectedly smile at one another, or strike up a conversation. They are the moments of recognition and connection between individuals that can make life meaningful, but that are frequently lost in the impersonal transactions that take place in supermarkets, malls and other large-scale shopping venues. Lee was on site for the first two weeks of Touched, after which time he passed the role on to other menders who would carry out the work for the duration of the exhibition.

Lee Mingwei at Liverpool Biennial 2010 

The Mending Project, 2009
Interactive installation, one 3-metre table, 2 wooden chairs, 400 cones of thread
Exhibited at 52 Renshaw Street

Many of Lee Mingwei’s (b. 1964, Taiwan) works exist as situations in which participants explore issues of trust, intimacy and self-awareness. So when the artist discovered a rare tendency in the people of Liverpool to initiate conversations with strangers such as himself, and confess all, he felt quite at home.

Mingwei’s work for International 06 entitled Fabric of Memory (2006) tapped into this tendency and revealed how personal histories can be captured by objects. Lee invited local residents to lend handmade textiles, typically items of clothing made by and received from a family member during childhood. Both maker and receiver were asked to provide a history of the item, exploring their memories of giving or wearing it and the feelings it now evokes.

Placed in its own box, each object was accompanied by its two documented histories. The viewer was invited to open each box, share in its memories and recall their own.

Tactile, scented and kept for years, handmade textiles have the potential, perhaps more so than any other objects, to hold highly emotive, personal narratives and to embody something of the people who made them. Lee himself recalled an anxious first day at kindergarten and the comfort he got from wearing a jacket made by his mother.

Lee Mingwei at Liverpool Biennial 2006

Fabric of Memory, 2006
Mixed media installation
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2006
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool