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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Li Ran

b. 1986, China

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.

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
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Featured Artworks

View All (12)
Eva Wang and Peter Zhang by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanEva Wang and Peter Zhang, 2018 Oil on canvas
90 x 120 cm
The Museum of Street Vendor and Miss by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanThe Museum of Street Vendor and Miss, 2017 Archival inkjet printed, Photo collage and digital drawing on paper
170 x 120 cm
Sunrise 1978 by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanSunrise 1978, 2017 Archival inkjet printed, Photo collage and digital drawing on paper
100 x 160 cm
Comics by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanComics, 2018 Oil on canvas
90 x 70 cm
Put yourself in my dress by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanPut yourself in my dress, 2018 Oil on canvas
140 x 120 cm
Much Ado About Nothing by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanMuch Ado About Nothing, 2017 Archival inkjet printed, photo collage and digital drawing on paper
81.4 x 118.9 cm
From Youlehui to Liubaiben by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanFrom Youlehui to Liubaiben, 2012-2017 Single-channel video. Sound, Color, Single channel HD video. 2 minutes 47 seconds

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group exhibition, Side Lanes 辅路 at ShanghART, Shanghai
18 January–24 February 2019 Group exhibition Side Lanes 辅路 ShanghART, Westbund, Shanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, White Flash at ShanghART, Beijing
5–31 August 2018 Group Exhibition White Flash ShanghART, Beijing
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Show, Semi-automatic Mode at ShanghART, Beijing
30 November 2013–5 February 2014 Group Show Semi-automatic Mode ShanghART, Beijing

Represented By

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