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Extra States: Nations in Liquidation at Kunsthal Extra City Ocula Report Extra States: Nations in Liquidation at Kunsthal Extra City 8 Dec 2018 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

The nation-state—a nation (a people) presided over by a governing body with jurisdiction over a defined territory (the state)—is either going through a renaissance or demise, depending on one's perspective. There has been talk about the nation-state's end for years—from a 2013 United States National Intelligence Council report...

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Anita Dube Ocula Conversation Anita Dube

On 12 December 2018, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), referred to as 'the people's Biennale', will open its fourth edition to the public. Considered one of the most significant large-scale exhibitions in South Asia, and by far one of the most attended art events in the subcontinent, this edition is curated by the New Delhi-based artist and critic...

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The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial Keeps Up With The Zeitgeist Ocula Report The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial Keeps Up With The Zeitgeist 8 Dec 2018 : Susan Acret for Ocula

Looking through the windows that front Indonesian artist Aditya Novali's wall installation The Wall: Asian (Un)Real Estate Project (2011), a series of miniature apartments come into view: private interiors that are sometimes bland, strange or garish (Hello Kitty decor characterises one space, for example, while multiple Duchamp-like toilets appear...

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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

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
Waiting for the New Suits - Video by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanWaiting for the New Suits - Video, 2017 Single-Channel Video. Silent, Single channel HD video. 39 minutes 26 seconds.
Life of the Pilgrim by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanLife of the Pilgrim, 2017 Single-channel video. Sound, Black-white and color, Single channel HD video. 33 minutes
Before Indulgence, After Freedom by Li Ran contemporary artwork Li RanBefore Indulgence, After Freedom, 2013 Colour C-print
102 x 134 cm

Recent Exhibitions

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

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