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b. 1986, China

Li Ran Biography

Li Ran is an artist known for his performances and pseudo-documentaries that investigate the institutions of art history and contemporary art. Employing mimicry, repetition and satire to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction, Li draws attention to dominant narratives that have been accepted as truth.

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Li began exploring mimicry in the 2012 performance Mont Sainte-Victoire at Magician Space in Beijing. The name of the work derives from the mountain Paul Cézanne immortalised in his paintings, which Li took as an entry point into modernism. In the four-act performance, the artist read from an original script, switching between various personalities ranging from a middle-aged man to a left-wing youth, a rapist and a victim. On the surface, the performance seemed to be a personal investigation into art history; the dialogue consisted of the artist's own writing as well as borrowings from prominent essays such as Roland Barthes' The Pleasure of the Text and Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilisation. However, by consciously introducing fissures to the artwork—by quoting poorly translated selections of the texts or presenting the dialogue in illogical sequences—Li's act was in part a critique directed at Chinese artists, who in his view have accepted ideas imported from the West without critically scrutinising modernist concerns.

Since then, Li has adopted mimicry as a tool to challenge dominant narratives. His 2012 video Beyond Geography—created for the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale—imitates the narrative structure and style of the BBC Discovery travel series. In a quest to 'excavate the "exotic lands"', Li adopts the role of the nature show host, a character who is a cross between a fetishist and an anthropologist. The zealous explorer-adventurer navigates through the jungle—an 'expedition' that takes place in an empty film studio with a blue screen—and encounters an exotic tribe played by a group of young Chinese actors. In keeping with the original series, Li even narrates in the earnest manner of Discovery, in Chinese. By mimicking widely recognisable characters, Li engenders suspicion over the authenticity of popular media while exposing the construction of the exotic other.

Li also dissects the crafting of the 'other' in Retransformation of the Supporting Roles (2017), a two-channel video in which he positioned footage from 1950s, 1960s and 1970s Chinese films next to his recreations of them. During the period, antagonist characters were required to have a more Caucasian appearance than the heroes to reinforce the idea of the enemy of China as Western. Because of the lack of Caucasians living in China at the time, minorities from the Uyghur, Kazakh, Muslim and other communities were hired to play the villains. In his re-enactment, Li cast Chinese minorities of similar origin to reproduce scenes from films such as Surprise Attack (1960) and Death-Pay on the Coral Island (1980) as a way of suggesting that such propaganda mechanisms are still operative today; often, when internal political conflicts arise, mainstream Chinese media find a common enemy in foreigners to discourage the disagreements.

Since graduating from the Oil Painting Department at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2009, Li has exhibited extensively, including at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2017); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2017, 2013); CAFA Art Museum, Beijing (2012); and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2012). He has also participated in multiple international exhibitions, notably La Biennale de Montréal (2014); Biennale de l'Image en Mouvement, Geneva (2014); Moscow International Biennale for Young Art (2014), in which he received the Best Artist Award; Gwangju Biennale (2012); and the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale (2012). In 2017 Li was nominated for the Future Generation Art Prize by PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv for his Retransformation of the Supporting Roles.

Li currently lives and works in Shanghai.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018

Li Ran Featured Artworks

Continue to Write A Story In The Exhibition Hall 续写一则展厅中的故事 by Li Ran contemporary artwork
Li RanContinue to Write A Story In The Exhibition Hall 续写一则展厅中的故事, 2014Video installation, monitor, bench, projection, microphone, loudspeaker box
ShanghART Contact Gallery
From Youlehui to Liubaiben by Li Ran contemporary artwork
Li RanFrom Youlehui to Liubaiben, 2012-2017Single-channel video. Sound, Color, Single channel HD video. 2 minutes 47 seconds
ShanghART Contact Gallery
Waiting for the New Suits - Video by Li Ran contemporary artwork
Li RanWaiting for the New Suits - Video, 2017Single-Channel Video. Silent, Single channel HD video. 39 minutes 26 seconds.
ShanghART Contact Gallery
Life of the Pilgrim by Li Ran contemporary artwork
Li RanLife of the Pilgrim, 2017Single-channel video. Sound, Black-white and color, Single channel HD video. 33 minutes
ShanghART Contact Gallery
Before Indulgence, After Freedom by Li Ran contemporary artwork
Li RanBefore Indulgence, After Freedom, 2013Colour C-print
102 x 134 cm
ShanghART Contact Gallery

Li Ran Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Summer Wind Flirts among Words 夏风惹来一堆字 at ShanghART, Westbund, Shanghai
27 July–28 August 2019 Group Exhibition Summer Wind Flirts among Words 夏风惹来一堆字 ShanghARTWestbund, Shanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group exhibition, Side Lanes 辅路 at ShanghART, Westbund, Shanghai
18 January–24 February 2019 Group exhibition Side Lanes 辅路 ShanghARTWestbund, Shanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, White Flash at ShanghART, Beijing
5–31 August 2018 Group Exhibition White Flash ShanghARTBeijing

Li Ran Represented By

ShanghART contemporary art gallery in Singapore ShanghART Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore

Li Ran In Ocula Magazine

Taipei Lowdown: Shows to See Ocula Feature Taipei Lowdown: Shows to See By Tessa Moldan, Taipei

As Taipei Dangdai returns for its second edition, we list a selection of shows across the city.

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Li Ran In Related Press

“Cold Nights” at UCCA: curators Boliang Shen and Zhanglun Dai Related Press “Cold Nights” at UCCA: curators Boliang Shen and Zhanglun Dai 23 November 2017, Art Radar

Capitalist excess, a dysfunctional family, communication breakdown, and a widening gap between traditional and modern ideologies are some of the issues raised by modern Chinese writer Ba Jin in his 1947 novel Cold Nights. Although these problems persist in today's China, in fact in many societies around the world, they are set in an era of war...

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Critic’s Guide: Beijing Related Press Critic’s Guide: Beijing 14 November 2017, Frieze

From explorations into the varied meanings of 'Asia' to an uncomfortably personal solo show, highlights of the best shows across the city Discordant Harmony : Observations of Artistic Practices in East Asia at the Transition between the 1980s and 1990s, Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum, 4 November – 4 February 2018. Beijing is the final stop in...

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Kaleidoscope magazine presents Asia issue Related Press Kaleidoscope magazine presents Asia issue 12 February 2015, Kaleidoscope magazine

Under the visionary art direction of acclaimed Munich-based Bureau Mirko Borsche, the magazine combines its defining curatorial and interdisciplinary approach with an emphasis on the power of images and a keen attention to the update, as best epitomized by new cover tagline: Visual Culture Now.

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