Jazz Li is a successful cultural entrepreneur with an overriding interest in how art, culture, and mass media can better interact. He founded Enviseam as his vehicle to help bring art to a wider, more inclusive public by serving as the global platform for artists, entertainers and key opinion leaders, from across disciplines and industries to come together to reach and influence cultural consumers by sharing their stories and encouraging others to write their own.
Jazz frequently takes the road less travelled, enjoying his role as a contrarian and a challenger of convention – a trait he was born with and which manifested early and is perhaps more easily understood when we note his computer engineering background and ongoing love of computer code hacking!
Today, Jazz’s unique worldview – combining the logical engineering lens and deeply intuitive artistic sensibility – enables him to bring together seemingly disparate concepts to connect the worlds of art and entertainment.
We talked to Jazz about why he is driven by his vision to build a better, more empathetic and altruistic world through art and to deliver a sea change in the way consumers not only view art, but to transcend boundaries to make art central to the way they live their lives…
Q: You just connected Jay Chou with Sotheby’s but let’s go back in time: What was the trigger for you to start bringing together the world of celebrities with the world of art?
A: At Enviseam, we have been working to bring together artists and entertainers – to support artists and the evolution of their work using celebrities. Enviseam has a group of celebrities and artists who support our mission. Together, we are working to promote and raise awareness of works of art and/or artistic concepts to achieve a huge cultural impact on a huge number of people.
With the support of celebrities and entertainers, Enviseam is hoping to share the power of art with their many millions of fans and followers. This is especially true today in Asia, where with just a few engaged and committed top tier artists and entertainers, we are able to share our message with more than a billion people! In Asia we have reached an inflection point, for the right message and with the right partner, we are no longer hoping to reach millions, we are talking about making art accessible and relevant to more than a billion people.
At Enviseam we are looking at partnerships that will achieve our goal of making a huge, proper, critical, massive cultural impact by creating a sustainable ecosystem where the general population can access and experience art concepts, art works and art practices. This would be powerful, right?
The ecosystem required to achieve this is a fundamental departure from the current one where artists and their works exist in what we might now call a ‘fine art bubble’ and only occasionally venturing into the wider arena – for often smaller commercial projects which do not always have the support needed to translate them and achieve wide cultural impact. I am, of course, generalising about the current ecosystem. That said, at Enviseam, we believe that an artist’s work can and should reach and influence as many people as possible, so we are working with entertainers, celebrities and the public to create an ecosystem to enable this.
Looking around, we see many opportunities where Enviseam’s approach can make a difference. There are a number of meaningful commercial projects, which we are looking, to foster within our ecosystem. Starting with our inaugural creative partnership with Sotheby’s, we are looking to reshape the traditional understanding, format and delivery of an ‘art’ auction.
With Jay Chou x Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated: Asia, Enviseam has created a first ever concept and unique offering. It’s a fun format, it is commercial and it is also a good way to tell stories and engage an audience that in terms of numbers and interests significantly transcends the traditional boundaries of not only an auction but to use our words of art and entertainment.
At Enviseam, our goal is that this will impact art auctions of the future. Enviseam is seeking to revolutionise how auctions are presented. Moving beyond traditional commercial considerations and fine art audiences to reach the public and influence popular culture. The auction is no longer just a platform where things are being bid and sold, and not just a platform where things are being showcased and displayed, not just where stories are being told but actually the whole platform about reaching out to engage society and in so doing influence culture.
Q: What made you feel the urgency to bridge these two worlds?
A: Yes, there is an aspect of urgency to our mission. Since I first started collecting art, it has become a passion. When I first saw the need to create a new world and new ecosystem to where art influences everything, and using celebrities as the bridge to bring together the worlds or art and entertainment in order to reach a wider public, I knew it would be a long road. I also knew, it was very idealistic. When we established Enviseam, we looked at options over the near, mid and long term for launching our first and subsequent projects. In the end, timing was really determined not by logistics but by the sense of urgency we really feel for our mission.
Every day, we hear, see and read about the problems – environmental crises, social unrest and a fragmenting of societies – facing our world. At Enviseam, we see our mission as helping to promote understanding between different cultures and across different geographies around the world – and at least at the beginning we are focusing on those between the east and the west!
There is a real, desperate need to be addressed. The problems we are facing today, like climate change, food insecurity, devastation of our oceans and rainforests, are urgent. People alive today are facing the effects and challenges of living in a world characterised by rapid urbanisation, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – and now a global pandemic. In the face of these very serious problems, at Enviseam we are hoping to play our part by fostering collaborations to transcend boundaries and promote greater understanding between people. And, that’s why we are launching now. We think there’s urgency for ‘human’ stories to be told in meaningful ways.
Art is the perfect bridge for communicating a whole world of human views, values and experiences. So we feel that through our projects, Enviseam is helping to expose more people around the world to works of art, which convey the very understanding of human values and experience that we need to share if we are to do more than coexist in this globalised world. I founded Enviseam because there has never been a more urgent need to transcend boundaries and to share the human experience as widely as possible.
Q: What needs to happen to break down the barriers between the art and entertainment worlds and connect very diverse audiences?
A: At Enviseam, we are working to break down the barriers between the worlds of art and entertainment and bring together previously disparate audiences to share moments, insights and experiences. Our hope is this will foster more empathy, more creativity, more tolerance. And, not just in our immediate audience. Over time, Enviseam’s goal is help create a more cohesive world by reducing barriers and promoting ideas and collaboration. Art encourages us to see the universe of humanity. We are hoping that despite all that separates us, we can focus on what is shared and inspiring about being alive.
Q: The collaboration with Sotheby’s is a brilliant example of how art and entertainment can come together for a higher purpose, can you share some details how this all came to work? Can you tell us more?
A: Yes. So for some time, Jay and I had been discussing my vision for Enviseam and how we could carry out a real life project bringing together art and entertainment to reach a global audience. All while this was happening, we continued with our shared passion of collecting. It was this crossover of our passions and missions that led to my working with Jay on the collaboration with Sotheby’s.
As Jay’s exclusively trusted collaborator for his art projects, we had discussed various ideas over the years. Last year, we realised that the timing was right for Jay to curate an auction, unlike any that had been done before. Jay Chou x Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated: Asia is far from what we had seen before and exactly what we wanted to achieve: A project with the objective of reaching a massive public audience to create a positive influence.
The partnership with Sotheby’s recognises that Jay is a celebrity and a collector. We had a number of conversations. Sotheby’s were very open to a creative collaboration so the conversations continued and we are where we are today! Jay agreed with us at Enviseam, that we had to do this on a very big scale. It is unlike any previous collaborations. Once we started talking we realised we wanted to tell a story through the auction and combine some of our more creative ways of presenting ideas through social media and using websites and live streaming.
I founded Enviseam to engage audiences around art. We challenge ourselves to be innovative not as an end in itself but to achieve our goals. We strive to do the exceptional. We looked at the traditional format of the art auction and thought how it could be re-invented to make it accessible to members of the public who may never have experienced an auction or considered bidding on an item! We decided that if we wanted to open the ivory towers of art to the public, we would need to do something drastically different. It is to Sotheby’s credit that they were willing to take a big leap of faith and embrace the innovative approach Enviseam proposed for this collaboration.
Q: Will this be part of an ongoing series … with Sotheby’s?
A: While I am known for thinking big, let me say that right now we are focused on landing this event first! I will say that we are looking to learn as much as we can so we can be sure to make this and all future collaborations even better!
Q: This particular project is only one of a number of projects you have in the pipeline. Any other examples of celebrity x art projects you have been working on?
A: We do have upcoming projects. For now, as you can understand, we are very focused on delivering Jay Chou x Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated: Asia!
Q: Would you say that those celebrities are already interested in art themselves or do you personally awake that interest?
A: Intuitively, everyone is interested in art. It can take a moment or years to realise it. It is the same for artists, too. At Enviseam we are really about developing a relationship between the celebrity and the art and artist. Often we find the works of an artist might appeal to us on an instinctive level. There is just something that touches us. It is the same for a collector – rich or poor – we all have artists we like and on different levels we do develop ‘personal relationships’ with the artist and his or her works.
At Enviseam, we try to foster the ‘relationship’ – whether you are investing your time or your money. Enviseam aims to bridge and connect people, art and ideas. Each connection is personal. With international celebrity and artist collaborations, it can take some time to find the right combination of shared values and interests. The key through that interaction or process is to actually have very good ideas come out. And then to develop them to create a viable art project, which also means a project that is economically feasible. This combination, takes inspiration, hard work and some time. I had the idea to create Enviseam almost five years’ ago. It has been a very involved and rewarding process to put in place Enviseam as the structure to provide the ideas, values and relationships that will connect entertainers, celebrities and the public with the art world. From concept to execution, it has taken years.
Q: When working with these celebrities do you also help them to grow their art collection as a next step?
A: I often do. That said, whenever a friend or a colleague comes to me to discuss collecting and purchasing art, the first thing I remind them of is that I’m not an art dealer, or advisor. I am, however, always happy to work with them and to discuss art and our shared values and passions! Before starting or adding to an art collection, I think it is critical to try to think a bit deeper and understand why you want to collect art, what does the work or the collection mean to you? Sometimes, it can seem ‘philosophical’ and these conversations have their own rhythm and pace and they often happen over weeks and months. It’s rare that a question can bring out only one, final, answer. It’s a process we take together. I think it’s really about thinking about your life, where you are in your life and understanding what your goals are. And so, the whole process of working with someone is about developing a meaningful friendship and being there with them as they come to understand themselves through why they want to collect art.
I see myself as more of a friend in art collecting. I think the most beneficial thing I do is to try to help them see the creative possibilities for them and the art world. Whenever I see these opportunities, I’ll try to connect them and when there is a connection, then we talk some more! I think when it comes to the art world and the entertainment world, it can easily be very uncomfortable for anyone, much less a celebrity, to approach an artist. Often people feel that they need to be able to convince the artist – or their friends – of their reason for liking a work of art or even owning it. That is a key topic that I discuss with my friends who collect and a subject we are hoping to talk about more openly through our work at Enviseam. That is, no matter how much you make or how many people ‘follow’ you, you should be confident in recognising and communicating that you have experienced an emotional connection with the work!
So in my relationships with collectors, we try to identify what inspires them and to put them in touch with artists whose views and work will resonate. We work to find common ground between what inspires the ‘art’ of the artist and the emotions of the admirer or collector. And, when my friend or colleague has reached this level of relationship with his or her inspiration, we have been able to secure the work or works. The artist is willing to share their work because it is going to someone who really appreciates the emotional value of the work – and it’s not a famous or rich person who is just looking to acquire an object.
Our aim is for the artist, or gallery, to see that the potential owner of the work appreciates the artist and the emotional value of the piece. In this space, there actually is huge potential for friendship to grow and future collaborations to happen. When it works well, it is the start of the process. That is my experience with others, and it has happened to me. So I know, for a fact that this works!
I can also say for a fact, that I’ve seen cases where celebrities who tried to get a work by just using their name, were totally ignored by the gallery or the artists. So, as with anything in life, it helps to build relationships.
Q: And at the same for the artists, you have worked with names from Xu Bing to Jacky Tsai, how do you select those, and ultimately, pair them with the right celebrity?
A: Well, for Xu Bing, really, the value we wanted to talk about was Cross-Culturalism. There is a commonality between all cultures, which is emotions and communication. And, communication is universal, because it is not limited to any word or language. It’s feelings. It’s music. It’s symbols. Xu Bing achieves that through his Book From the Sky 天書 and Book From the Earth 地書 concepts. For Jacky Tsai, it is the interplay between East and West.
Jay Chou’s medium – at least the one he is best known for – is music! Music is universal; you don’t need a language to understand music. All cultures can understand music. So that is the commonality between Xu Bing and Jay Chou.
Like many of us, Jay has grown up with multiple influences from different geographies. The differences between cultures interest many of us. For Jay Chou, what’s very interesting is the differences between Eastern and Western culture. And, these differences are played out in a very fun way.
Jackie Tsai uses parody, to fuse these differences between Eastern and Western culture, and really lets you think about it, enjoy and actually laugh at the differences.
It’s a case of where something, which could cause friction, actually creates laughter and provokes deeper thinking.
Jay Chou does this with his music videos. He incorporates elements from different cultures. It’s a topic always on his mind, thinking about how things are presented in different cultures, and so if he has a music video, say for example one which has elements of Cuban culture, he fully embraces the culture in the music video.
That doesn’t mean he tries to fuse different cultures into a homogenous mixture. Because he wants to highlight the different elements or ‘flavours.’ Jay tries to bring up the different flavours in distinct ways so that the audience can appreciate them.
And I think that is what Jacky Tsai does with his focus on highlighting the distinctions between East and West – even using parody as a way to highlight the differences between both. And, Jay has done similar things in his music videos.
Q: What is the role of corporate brands in the context? Do you also pair brands with artists for creative collaborations?
A: These days, there are a number of businesses which focus on a popular artist or entertainer as a brand, and some popular brand, or popular celebrity, and do a crossover collaboration. And that in itself can be amazing. There have been a lot of great projects, and everyone is very glad to see them succeed and for people to get to experience and love the works.
At Enviseam, we take a different approach. We do it differently. We work on projects – whether it’s an artist or art movement, and a brand or a celebrity – where we see an alignment of values. Instead of starting a project with commercial goal in mind, we start by thinking about how a brighter future would look like, with the various parties and us as stakeholders and agents of change.
Changing the paradigm of how we shape narratives for corporate brands, empowers them to build enduring relevance in this fast-changing world. The key opinion leaders of tomorrow, including us, need to bring this level of cultural shifts if we are to be loved by the consumers of tomorrow, and at the same time solve urgent and critical world problems.
Businesses and brands will evolve to embrace commerce for the public good and creativity. Altruistic commerce brought about by the coming together of art and entertainment will be the norm.
Enviseam has at its core, a focus on promoting Cross-Culturalism, Diversity, Inclusivity, Positivity and Education to support our mission of transcending the boundaries of art and entertainment.
Q: Why is it so important to make the art world more accessible through collaborations like this to a wider and more global audience?
A: Actually, the process is already happening! With Enviseam, we are really trying to foster and accelerate the process in concrete ways. The art world is converging with an ever wider and ultimately global audience. That is the end state. Enviseam’s mission recognises this when we say our mission is to help make art a positive force to improve everyday life. We are now living in a time of transition for human civilisation. Art hasn’t been really understood and part of everything we do, but that is changing. I believe we are moving to where it will be the norm where everything we think about will be art of some form, and everything will be ‘artisanry.’ Life and art will be more philosophical and meaningful. We know we are moving beyond the industrial age, the age where we’re thinking of producing more goods through more physical labour.
At Enviseam, we are saying that we must do more than acknowledge we are moving beyond the old model. We are saying we need to think creatively about where we are going as humans. In the new world, what do we want our role to be? What do we want our lives to ‘mean’?
At Enviseam, we believe that it’s art that is going to pervade every aspect of life. And, we are working to accelerate this process and become an integral part of the infrastructure for the new economy that is coming.
Q: What is your dream art world/artist x celebrity pairing?
A: Kandinsky is one of my favourite painters. And, I am also fascinated by the mind, the ambition and the talent of Jay Chou. He is a musical genius and a passionate art lover. Jay is an ideal collaboration partner. As a performing artist himself, and in his collecting and curating, Jay connects music, visuals, colours and shapes. Jay’s love of the works of Basquiat and Richter is well known. He also appreciates the work of David Hockney, who is my favourite artist, and who I mention because both Kandinsky and Hockney were diagnosed with synaesthesia which plays a key role in their work.
Jay has a unique ability to connect music with emotions, shapes and colours. So a dream team combination for me would be Jay Chou x Kandinsky – and since we are dreaming, why not add x Hockney. Music, visuals and emotions. Jay Chou x Kandinsky x Hockney. Now, that would be a perfect collaboration!