Artist Talk: Li Ran

Both paintings in the exhibition are related to real-life encounters over the last two years. The Same Lazarus, completed in the first half of 2020 during the early stage of this global pandemic, coincided with a constant stream of critical voices echoed through society. In this scenario, the helplessness of the “petty intellectuals” and the post-event embarrassment of their opportunist statements seem to have spared no one in the process. “Lazarus” is a biblical figure, sharing the same name as the one who died and then resurrected and the sore-ridden beggar in the Bible. The other work is a recent piece done early this year, called Close Contact, which is inspired by a story between an artist friend I have known for a long time and me. On the night frequented the restaurant a newly diagnosed patient has been, I talked to him all night and parted with a giving each other a big hug for encouragement. Three days later, he was forced into quarantine in a small hotel in the Beijing suburbs, and his itinerary was revealed online. Although his name was undisclosed, his daily routine became a hot topic on the Internet, whose absurd pairing dumplings with coffee was the clickbait.

The protagonists in both paintings are somewhat similar to this friend of mine, whose melancholy imbues bitterness and is overwhelmed with frustration. I have been painting this type of petty intellectuals lately. You can’t tell whether they are on the “left” or “right” side. I don’t think they are petty-bourgeois – they still have a squirm in them. The video is a small work I showed on my 2019 solo exhibition at Aike Gallery in Shanghai. The subject matter of stage makeup is a projection of my creative approach. Of course, the title Somewhat Abstract, Somewhat Realistic is also a response to the Chinese art world’s long-standing anxiety about painting methods.

I am an artist who likes to work on the medium directly. For example, I edit, score, dub, and even perform in my video works, which is not uncommon. Many artists work in this way. When I work on paintings, I still try to maintain that physical enthusiasm, from which I draw joy from my work. It stimulates and activates my creative impulses. Adopting different media is not central to my practice. I think the anxiety of media classification and its related issue, such as how the media itself is defined, mainly applied to the Chinese contemporary art world in the 1990s. Today, these issues are less relevant; at least, it’s not an intractable issue when it comes to interpretation. At the same time, the reading of iconography in painting has regressed. Artists single-mindedly pursue interdisciplinary derivations without assessing the foundations of the artistic discipline, who neither have the ability nor enthusiasm to write about it, so many disadvantaged artists pay the price from this “dumb” loss. This phenomenon is an inherent problem of the discipline, not necessarily related to media classification discussion.

However, I encounter different problems when dealing with painting, video, performance, archive, and installation work. I will discard some aspects of video making and research when painting. At the studio, I generally do not refer to any photographic images. But that doesn’t imply the absence of archiving images that are later adopted for other mediums. On the contrary, I tend to pile up documents, archival materials, and various references on my workbench when I work on moving images. In other words, my mind is constantly preoccupied with the contents of multiple types of images and archives, which I almost thoroughly “memorize,” mimeograph, and compile them when I paint, so that realism becomes relatively “abstract” again. This approach is very much like the way certain types of traditional satirical cartoonists work. Interestingly, this approach has propelled me to go back and examine the group of Republican satirical cartoonists in the 1930s or 1940s. In this sense, I think there is a ” knock-on effect ” in the process of accumulating feelings and experiences because empathy is a prerequisite to increase the joy of creative practice. Moreover, as a performer, playwright, editor, music composer, and voice actor, I am passionate about investigating translation studios’ history. When I am working on sets and costumes, I am interested in the stage art system’s historical ramifications, which preserves an enthusiasm for physical experience. When I step back with a critical distance, they were all materials applicable in one’s practice, which affords me the channel and pathway to reach for ideology. They become a way for me to communicate with others.



Li Ran

Born in Hubei in 1986, graduated from the oil painting department of Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 2009. He moved from Beijing to Shanghai in 2018. His work involves multiple media such as video, performance, painting, installation and writing, etc. In recent years, he embarked on a journey surveying the antagonist roles in theatre, stage art, make-up design, the production of imported films and espionage films since 1950s in China. The artist often writes images through collections of photo documents, character scenes, and dubbed monologues. Meanwhile, he also expands the more complex and personalized time and space of this writing in painting, sound, and installation.
Li Ran has exhibited at the Center Pompidou, Pairs; basis door actuele kunst (BAK), Utrecht; Huas der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), Houston; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal; The Museum of Moscow, Moscow; Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; NTU Center For Contemporary Art Singapore (CCA), Singapore; Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), Manila; HOW Museum, Shanghai, Sifang Museum, Nanjing; OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Shenzhen, Shanghai and Xi’an; Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing; CAFA Museum (CAFAM), Beijing; and other venues, He has held solo exhibition at OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Xi’an (2015); His single-channel video work also screening in Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London; The Jewish Museum, New York and other venues; His works have also been featured in Montreal Biennale (2014), Biennale Of Moving Images 2014 (2014 In Geneva), 4th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art (2014), 2nd CAFAM Biennial (2014), 4th “Former West” Project (2013, In Berlin), 9th Gwangju Biennial (2012), 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale (2012). He won the “Best Artist Award” at the 2014 Moscow International Youth Art Biennial and was nominated for the “Future Generation
Award” by the Pinchuk Arts Center in 2017.

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