Originally trained as a painter at Yunnan Dali Academy and at Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts' School of Experimental Art, Li Gang works with an eclectic range of materials, techniques, and forms to create artworks that hover between painting and sculpture. Exploring a range of diverse ideas, the artist's key themes include time, human life, and conditions of the contemporary period.Read More
Many of Li Gang's works seek to unsettle our sense of the ordinary, creating unfamiliar impressions of familiar objects. The sculptural installation Fleeting Time (2008–2009), for example, consists of plastic bags containing pigments that the artist scraped off finished paintings. The original works are lost, with only the bagged pigments, a photograph of the original painting, and traces of paint left on the canvases to suggest what may have been. In the 'It' series (2010), with which he began to gain attention, Li Gang painted acrylic boards in a dark colour and then repeatedly stuck on pieces of transparent packing tape to make small, enigmatic, stone-like forms.
The materialistic drive of contemporary society features conspicuously in Li Gang's work. Pedestal (2011), for example, is a wooden plinth painted in white, over which the artist has rubbed banknotes to stain the surface red and blue. This references the relationship between art and money—money pays for the materials needed in art-making, while the status of an artwork is considered greater if it fetches a higher sum. In the 'End' series (2014), which was included in the group exhibition Inside China at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2014, Li Gang linked contemporary ecological issues to traditional technology by using waste from the exhaust pipes of cars to produce a set of traditional Chinese ink blocks.
Other recurring themes in Li Gang's practice include intersections and connections found in human life. In his solo exhibition, Lateral Edge, at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing in 2013, the artist presented Beads (2012): a floor installation consisting of 397 wooden spheres carved from the joints of a dead tree. A growing tree is described in the press release as a metaphor for a human life, from a child's birth in a family to venturing out on their own in a different direction as an adult.
In 2016, Li Gang's eponymous solo exhibition at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing presented further themes of identity and relationships. For the 'Dessert' series (2015), Li Gang mixed plaster with hair he had collected from migrant workers and placed the mixture on top of found pots and kettles. The two disparate materials became one in the finished installation, which resembled a group of buildings from a distance. Similarly, in the 'Gravity' series (2016), Li Gang constructed angular structures out of steel tubes and jade bracelets as a reference to the relationship between male and female migrant workers. Though different, steel and jade became a composite material in a work of art.
In 2019, Li Gang held a solo exhibition—entitled Vowel—at Galerie Rolando Anselmi in Berlin, for which he has extended his practice to consider the production of sound. The 2018 series exhibited consists of seven sculptures, each made up of an iron structure mounted on the wall and holding an empty Chinese pot facing the viewer. The overall shape of the sculptures evokes loudspeakers, while the varied size and shapes of the pots recall a mouth trying to enunciate different vowels.
Li Gang lives and works in Beijing.
Ocula | 2019