I am no stranger to esoteric discussions with artists. My staunch belief in the law of attraction enables many interviews to veer off course into a familiar territory, comparing the numerous coincidental moments of serendipity that come to shape our mere existences into lives. Though I was acquainted with Orange Li’s remarkable narrative from attending her sold out show, Diary of a Chat Girl, at B[x] spaces in October, nothing could have prepared me for the deep conversation we would share in the colorful, cozy space of her new studio at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City.
“Then when I came here, I wanted to chase art… I sold everything. Unfortunately, everything fell apart.”
The numerous instances of divine intervention populating Orange’s story relegate her to near-legendary status. Perched on a chair caddy corner to the couch I’d comfortably melted into, she started her tale from the beginning, when she moved to New York City at age twenty-eight. “I used to be a pretty successful business owner making jewelry in Taiwan. Then when I came here, I wanted to chase art… I sold everything. Unfortunately, everything fell apart. My relationship fell apart, things were not working out, I spent all my savings. In that lowest point in my life [two years after moving to New York,] I even had to sneak and sleep in my studio. It was a really hard time.”
Her humble beginnings resonate with every artist who risks it all in that faithful leap towards their dreams. She recalled, “my family said, ‘just come back.’ I had a home and I could restart. Why did I need to stay here to suffer? But I felt like I wanted to overcome that. I didn’t want to just give up.” She decided to stay in New York and fight.
Nearing her wit’s end, one conversation altered her life’s course. “My sister said, ‘Why don’t you do this online chat?’ I’d never heard about that before.” Her sister explained the online chat service, called Live Me, which allows audiences to observe and interact with chat hosts. Orange initially expressed apprehension, explaining, “I wasn’t sure if I really liked it. She was basically saying that I don’t have much choice right now, and it’s not something bad, it’s just showing art, showing anything. I thought ‘okay, so I’ll just go online and check. Let me just try, one day, showing my studio and showing my art, and if nobody wants to listen or nobody wants to stay, that’s fine, that’s not for me then.’”
In a stroke of fateful luck, she enjoyed success from the start. “I didn’t expect that when I tried that first day, actually painting in front of the camera, [that I would sell] the painting I did live. I got excited and said ‘oh my god, I can make a living making art online?’” Her viewership rapidly rose, and Live Me took note. They offered her a contract, with rates that exceeded her wildest dreams. “They paid me $30-$50 an hour,” she said, in addition to the bountiful gifts her viewers sent her through the platform.
Money’s notorious ability to cloud judgement soon reared its head.
Money’s notorious ability to cloud judgement soon reared its head. In the face of her unprecedented success as a novice chat girl, Orange slowly drifted away from the original goals that had motivated her to move to New York. In retrospect, she recalled, “I got lost, because the money was really good.” Rather than listening to her own artistic voice, she learned to manipulate her performances to maximize the gifts she would receive. “Most of the people there are lonely and they want to just talk to a cute girl, whatever, and you want to please them, in a way.”
She began to experience a deep dissonance in the gap between her goals as an artist and her desire to earn more money. “Deep inside my heart, I really didn’t like it. I didn’t feel proud of what I was doing, because I was a successful business owner who came here chasing art and now I was doing this. I felt ashamed.” By tailoring her chats to appease audiences, she was invited to participate in a company-sponsored competition against other hosts. She thought to herself, “okay, I’m already in the game, let’s try that.” She studied successful hosts, taking notes on the tactics they used in their performances. “That’s how my feelings became really confused and lost, because I started wanting to please [the audience] and not please myself.”
Rather than listening to her own artistic voice, she learned to manipulate her performances to maximize the gifts she would receive.
Life at the Top
Despite her status as one of the newest hosts in the competition, her viewership continued to skyrocket, catapulting her to the leaderboard. A billboard with her face was erected in her hometown of Taipei after a patron threw her three golden castles, a gift totaling $1,000 a piece, in one day. Although she was experiencing internal tumult, from an outsider’s perspective, she seemed to have it all. Her sister said, “not everybody is as lucky as you, to just come up two months and become one of the top ten.” Orange remembers, “she said if I kept doing that, I could do very well. But I just couldn’t. I was crying every night. I was doing [the chats,] smiling, and I had to wake up, do my makeup, did things to please them, and every time I stopped, I felt empty.”
She attempted to push through the sadness, continually striving to please her new fans. “I did one show doing yoga, and then people started to say ‘what’re you doing there?’ Basically attacking a lot of things about me, the positions I did or how I looked. One person even said ‘Can you just stop there and do this pose for one minute and I’ll give you this golden castle.’ In my intuition I didn’t want it. I had a devil and angel fighting, and then in my head I was like, ‘just do it, one minute, what will I lose?’ I stood there for one minute and this guy left, he didn’t give me the gift.” This instance proved a pivotal breaking point. “It wasn’t just one thing, but the whole thing, I put it together finally. I thought, ‘I can’t handle this anymore.’ I was like a monkey at the circus.”
After the humiliating golden castle bait and switch, Orange reassessed her values. “I’m not going to do this anymore,” she said, “I’m going to clean my studio today, I’m just going to paint for three hours right now.” She returned to her true intentions, though she noted, “nobody wanted to watch me paint for three hours. My viewers started to really, really fall. From thousands, to hundreds, to fifty, sometimes ten or twenty people would stay. I felt happier, but the company was not.” Herein lies Orange’s true revelation. In overcoming this emotional low she realized, “I had to go through this to come here. I had to have their support at that time… I had to do what I had to do. But it’s so beautiful I came out from that.”
The entirety of her experience with Live Me formulated the foundation for her incredibly well-received show last October. “That’s the point I started to think about. How do I turn this experience into my art show? When you see from a bigger vision, it’s actually our life, a microcosm of society. First you get really excited about something, you want to try, and you’re caught up just making money, chasing money and you’re lost. That’s a process.”
She shies away from classifying her experiences into dichotomous categories of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ explaining, “There’s nothing really bad. You [had] to experience that. And that leads you to think ‘that’s really not what I want.’ What do you want? This is what I want, I wanted to make a show to share my experience. It’s all connected. When I paint, I start going through my whole life.” With her work on Diary of a Chat Girl Orange found solace in reflection. “Right now, looking back, I’m talking to the old Orange, like, ‘you’re really incredible.’”
Amid rampant discussions regarding the notion of selling out, it’s refreshing to speak with an artist who has experienced the phenomenon. Orange possesses a staggering self-awareness that allows her to understand the intricate grey areas between making art for art’s sake, and making art as a professional artist. Her experience as a chat girl magnified the blurry divide between our true selves and the selves we present to the world for success’s sake. Her principles and propensity for critical examination carried her through trials many may never face.
Orange possesses a staggering self-awareness that allows her to understand the intricate grey areas between making art for art’s sake, and making art as a professional artist.
For artists who currently find themselves stuck at a low point, Orange says, “just don’t worry, everything will be fine. Everything that is happening in your life has its meaning. I know it sounds like ‘right now, how can everything be perfect?’ In the situation, you can’t see it because you’re in pain. Give it time, and you will look back and say ‘that’s why I had to go through that.’ Just keep faith and don’t worry. And when you come out, you will see the most beautiful things, because you’ve been through that and you came out.”
She firmly believes we end up in the wrong places for the right reasons. “We are all perfect, we are just perfectly wrong,” she begins, but “I will say, be aware of the signs. Intuition is important, and we all have that. We grow up, and our society teaches us to bury it. In my life, I got very low, very sad, and something kind of activated and that happened. I feel we all have that. Listen to your heart, listen to your intuition. Everything has a reason. The cup in front of me, the colors that surround you. The things that you notice, you notice for a reason. Your intuition has information for you. Everything will align when you’re in the right place.”
“Listen to your heart, listen to your intuition. Everything has a reason.” – Orange Li
To learn more about Orange Li and her work, check out her website orangeliart.com
And also be sure to read up on her recently release book, The Door to the Infinite Dream
To read more of Vittoria’s work, check out her personal site, vittoriabenzine.com