Mingna Li; Renowned New Media Artist Opens Up About Connection, Using Various Artistic Mediums, and the Value of Working with Other Artists

Jenny Poole
8 min readMay 23, 2023

I had the opportunity to discuss Mingna Li’s career as a new media artist, as well as learn more about her personal influences and lessons that she’s accumulated throughout her professional journey. Mingna brings with her an esteemed resume of credits, ranging from her own performance art pieces, to her work as a gallery registrar where she works with other well-known artists and exhibits works at world-recognized art fairs. We talked about her passion for what she does, her ability to be versatile as a mixed media artist, as well as what she’s learned from her own work over the years.

Bringing with her an immense amount of experience, Mingna previously worked with significant venues and spaces including Chambers Fine Art, bitforms gallery and The American Museum of Natural History. In addition, she has showcased her work at highly regarded organizations such as The Paper Box in New York, NYC Media Lab, as well as MANA Contemporary, and the Experimental Media Performance Lab to name a few. Touching on her time at prestigious artist residency programs, such as the Center at West Park and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Governor’s Island Artist Residency as well as some of her personal inspirations behind her meaningful bodies of work, this interview offers a closer look into the world of Mingna Li, and the art she brings to life.

I’m so intrigued by your work with light and how it’s one of the consistent themes I see emerge in your art. Do you remember your first instinct to work with light, and how that inspired you to create something around that theme?

I developed “In a Box” during my stay at the artist residency program at the Center at West Park, and it was the first of my own performances that used lamps. I set out to make a performance with custom-made musical instruments, and I decided to use lamps as the inspiration for my musical instrument.

My inspiration for using lamps as a musical instrument comes from the nighttime scenery in New York. I used to stay up very late, and from my own window, I could observe the lit windows of the apartment buildings across the street. Over time, I began to notice a few specific windows that often had their light on late at night too, as I did. My imagination ran wild as I began to weave stories about the persons behind these windows, what they do, and why they stay up late.

Mingna Li working with one of her signature mediums, lamps.

Then, I realized these imaginative stories are reflections of my perception of the world because I don’t actually know the people behind these windows. All I see is their silhouette and different shades of lamps. It makes me feel as if everyone lives in a small box, and each box has its own unique story inside. To me, lamps in this performance have become a subject that embodies stories and connects people, so I decided to use lamps as my musical instrument for In a Box, and I continued to expand this concept in my later works.

In a Box was showcased at the Center at West Park and exhibitions such as the 7th International Conference of Movement and Computing (MOCO’20) at MANA Contemporary, an interdisciplinary conference that explores the use of computational technology to support and understand human movement practice.

As a new media artist, how do you navigate using different mediums and tools throughout your work, such as the elements of dance, and music that you’ve previously implemented into your pieces?

When I make works that involve multiple artistic disciplines, tools, or technology, I tend to rehearse each part separately because the processes for making music, dance, and code are different. I usually choose to simulate some elements in rehearsal.

For example, when I made You’re Not the Only Particle in Universe, I planned two rehearsals to explore the movement that activates the sound of the lamp instruments. I would choreograph movements based on a short demo composed during our rehearsal. Then, I developed the choreography along the music track pretending we’re activating sound and light with music.

The lamps were not actually wired or connected to any sensors, but this method helped me decide on the interactive gesture that best suits the music note and helped me choose what sensors fit best later. If it’s bowing on the lamp, maybe a pressure sensor works. If it’s tapping on the lamp, would an infrared sensor make more sense? Then I would spend more time after rehearsal to prototype the physical computing part.

I’d love to know more about a few of your recent projects, starting with ‘Playing in the City.’ Can you talk a bit more about what steps it took to craft that finished product and the reception of the project?

I developed Playing in the City during my artist residencies at The Center at West Park and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council by engaging in prototyping and iteration while creating the work.

The installation includes boxes positioned at a corner of two walls, so I had to test if the projector would work with this angle. I used paper to build some simple cubes and stuck them to the wall, and I used still images from my 3D animated mockup to map the projection. This is all very easy to set up, so I could test my idea in a short amount of time.

Once the projection mapping was complete, I proceeded to prototype animation. I first created animation content for one box, and when I was satisfied with the content and tested it on the wall with projection, I moved on to develop content for the rest of the boxes. For me, I always try to build small, test, refine, and then scale up. I find this approach the most effective.

Playing in the City” was featured in several publications and showcased at well-regarded exhibitions such as the Center at West Park in New York as well as the Times Art Museum in Chengdu, China, a hub for top artists worldwide to present a new perspective of contemporary art. ‘”Playing in the City” was showcased in an exhibition called “From Checkers to Complex Systems,” featuring the work of renowned Chinese and foreign artists, including audio-visual productions, games, performance art, art installations and more.

For your work on ‘In a Box’ you describe this sensation of being alone versus experiencing loneliness, can you talk about that a bit more in depth?

When I was working on In a Box, the work evolved around a line of text I wrote: alone but not lonely. I think being alone doesn’t necessarily mean we’re lonely; in the meantime, being around a crowd doesn’t necessarily mean we’re less lonely.

I see In a Box as a reflective journey of how we exist as individuals but are also very connected to the world around us. It reveals a journey of one’s personal world, the distance from self to others, and how we seek connections with others from our own realm.

Each individual is unique in their own box. I used lamps as a metaphor for sending one’s expression, thoughts, and feelings to the outside of our personal box, and the performance also illustrates how our inside world is being translated, perceived, and interpreted from the outside.

I noticed that you have worked at the American Museum of Natural History before. Could you tell us more about the use of creative technology in developing interactive experiences for exhibitions?

I worked at AMNH on the exhibition, Nature of Color. The exhibition is about the science behind colors and how color was perceived. We hoped to create interactive experiences that translate complex scientific knowledge about colors into more playful learning experiences, so it’s easy for museum visitors to learn and enjoy.

One of the prototypes I worked on involved using Philips hue light to create an interactive color-mixing experience. For instance, if you light a subject with only green and blue light, the subject will have a cyan shadow, and mixing red and green lights would create a yellow shadow.

I coded a customized interface that allowed me to control light changes and create different combinations of RGB color mixing with light. When a person stands in front of these lights, they would see their own shadows cast in colors that are different from the light sources.

The Nature of Color was exhibited for nearly two years at the AMNH and was viewed by millions of museum patrons. The work received much critical acclaim in the press since it was a groundbreaking display of color and its effect on how humans experience the world.

You have also worked as a gallery registrar at Chambers Fine Art and bitforms gallery. Could you tell us more about your experience at these galleries and how that contributes to your practice as a new media artist?

My roles as a gallery registrar are quite versatile and comprehensive, allowing me to have a hand in all aspects of the galleries’ activities. It’s truly an honor to work integrally with such respected galleries . In my day-to-day work, I coordinate artwork shipping and manage art collections, and I also help with research, development of exhibitions, and sales amongst a number of other duties. It’s exhilarating to work with internationally regarded artists and assist in showcasing their work at art fairs all over the world.

Throughout my tenure as a Gallery Registrar at Chambers Fine Art, I played a vital role in the gallery’s day to day operations, and was an essential participant in the development of exhibitions at renowned art fairs such as Intersect Aspen, Art Basel HK, Expo Chicago, and the Armory Show. I also worked with artists on their solo exhibitions, including Levity and Gravity by Zheng Chongbin, Cosmos by Björn Schülke, and countless others.

At bitforms gallery, I have been able to use my expertise in creation, preservation, and installation of New Media Art when developing the gallery’s successful productions. With my knowledge of New Media Art, I have been able to continuously support the gallery’s curation and execution of exhibitions, art fairs, acquisitions, and loans. I have also developed expertise with emerging artforms, including NFTs. These roles and projects have allowed me to have a more comprehensive view of the inner workings of the art world.

It was great to work alongside artists that work in a variety of mediums through my job, to be exposed from traditional mediums like painting and sculpture to new media art using AI and VR. My experience as a gallery registrar has inspired my own art practice and my knowledge as a practicing artist also helps my work at the gallery.

You can find out more about Mingna’s career and art via her website here, https://www.mingnali.com/.

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Jenny Poole

Film, TV & Music Journalist, Writer & Teacher. Over 10 years covering the entertainment industries, working with major US and Global outlets.