Shanghai, 1984 Bookstore Café, Wednesday May 1th 2013



Hu Yun, born in 1986, lives and works in Shanghai. He studied in Hangzhou at the China Academy of Art. In 2010, he spent 3 months in the Natural History Museum of London for a residency program based on the Scientific Illustration Collections of the Natural History Museum. Using different mediums to express his artistic investigations, Hu Yun’s work is exploring the boundaries between individual stories, History and imagination. 



Cecilia Suarez : Your last exhibition fits in a suitcase. Why is that?

Hu Yun: Because the whole idea is about travelling, about a journey and an adventure. The first thing that came to my mind was travelling then I found this suitcase tag.

Lift with Care, Hu Yun’s solo exhibition, Front: ‘Mission’/ Installation/ secondhand suitcase, rubbing paper (the rubbing from Nestorian Stele, purchased from Xi’an Stele Forest), dry flower Back: ‘Revisit Memory1940-2013’/ Slides/ slide projector, 80 pieces 35mm color slides 2013, Image courtesy of the Artist and AIKE-Dellarco Gallery
Lift with Care, Hu Yun’s solo exhibition, Front: ‘Mission’/ Installation/ secondhand suitcase, rubbing paper (the rubbing from Nestorian Stele, purchased from Xi’an Stele Forest), dry flower Back: ‘Revisit Memory1940-2013’/ Slides/ slide projector, 80 pieces 35mm color slides 2013, Image courtesy of the Artist and AIKE-Dellarco Gallery

I always collect different kind of tags when I travel and I have them all hanging somewhere. I suddenly found one that said something like: « lift with care », « heavy, lift with care ». So I chose that sentence as the exhibition title and therefore it seemed a natural choice to have a suitcase as the container for the exhibition.

Léa Genoud: During the exhibition you tell the visitors many stories; stories about your grandfather, stories about an American explorer and also anonymous tales. Your exhibition is about telling stories but also about telling History…

HY: For me History is stories and stories are History. In this exhibition I think the only thing that seems related to me is the part about my grandfather.

Actually around 3 or 4 years ago I started to talk with him again. Before that I knew nothing about his life because my parents had had some issues with him. I remember, when I was a boy we didn’t live together. We were separated and I came to visit him twice a year. Somehow 3 years ago, because he is quite old now, we started to visit him more often and I found out that he was more willing to tell me some stories. I think because he can find some kind of response from me unlike my father and his generation in general who don’t seem interested in History. So my grandfather started telling me stories mixed with History.

In 2010, I started a project of my own: I had an artist residency in London, at the National History Museum. In the Museum of course you can read and see a lot of History but once you get into it and you do a lot of research, you realize that all the information you can find is related to different people and so it becomes personal stories. So for me actually it’s one thing; all History is created by people. People are telling their version of their stories and it is our History.

CS: We saw pictures of other shows. Last year you had a solo exhibition in the Goethe Institute here in Shanghai, it was about one of the first museums in China and the exhibition is called “Our Ancestors”?

Could you tell us more about it? We were especially interested about the installation called “Personal belongings…”

HY: So for the exhibition “Our ancestors” I used the name of a novel from an Italian writer. His name is Italo Calvino and in the book he tells four different stories about four different people. It looks like they don’t have any connection between them but as you read them together it is like reading our, all of our, ancestors stories. This is where the idea came from.

During my research at the Natural History Museum [in London] of course I read a lot of things about the first museums in China. The very first museum was brought by westerners; actually by a French missionary in Shanghai. He established a Natural History Museum in the Xujiahui area.

Then I found out about this Chinaman who established the first museum opened by a Chinese. I became interested in his story because he is really important. His ideas were quite different from other people ideas of that time. He earned a lot of money from business and he really wanted to build up a new city. He was based in Nantong, a very small city, close to Shanghai, along the sea. There he built: a hospital, a jail, a post office, a bus station in fact the complete system of a modern city. I see him more like an urban planner. He had a big dream for modern China.

The only connection between him and my grandfather is that he died in 1926 and my grandfather is born in 1925. The year he died my grandfather came into this world but my grand father’s life experience is the real version of modern China that is the reason why I chose these two characters to be my exhibition storytellers.

From this exhibition on I started to do these very casual interviews with my grandfather. I would think about some questions, like yours, wrote them on a paper and ask him about them. So this is the reason why I called this exhibition “Our Ancestors”.

Of course it has to do with the recent past and is related to modern China.

CS: Do you want a real connection with the past? You did one installation called “Personal belongings”. It is an installation directly linked with History…

‘Personal Belongings- the last exhibition curated by Zhang Jian’ Installation/ wooden exhibition model, gentleman hat, Chinese folding fan, metal boxes and a pair of glasses 2012, Image courtesy of the Artist and Goethe Institut Shanghai
‘Personal Belongings- the last exhibition curated by Zhang Jian’ Installation/ wooden exhibition model, gentleman hat, Chinese folding fan, metal boxes and a pair of glasses 2012, Image courtesy of the Artist and Goethe Institut Shanghai

HY: Yes. During the preparation of the exhibition I read about an interesting public sculpture in Berlin. There is a square outside the national library in Berlin where an underground sculpture can be found. They dug a square hole in the ground and covered it with glass but inside this underground space, there are empty bookshelves. Of course it reflects on the Nazis’ actions when they burned a lot of important archives.

I thought it was a nice way to bring people back to some important period in History; so I borrowed this display idea. I replicated this underground box in relation to the Chinese gentleman I mentioned earlier. During the Cultural Revolution, they found a lot of his personal belongings. They thought he was quite rich and hoped they would find a big fortune in his tomb but actually only these few things came out [nb: a hat, a pair of glasses and a book – those items were presented in the show].

I thought this way of presenting was quite strong and I made this small box with walls inside. Actually, I copied the exhibition space and made a model of the exhibition area. I conceived this small box as if it was the last exhibition of this person. As if he had curated it for himself because when he died he decided to take these few objects with him.

I added a small title “Personal belongings – curated by Zhan Jian” and “Artist Zhang Jian”. Everything came out the day these activists dug out his tomb in 1966 [talking about the date used for the model exhibition staged in the installation “Personal belongings”]. It is as if the exhibition only had one opening but no on going show…

LG: You also did this kind of model with another exhibition; I believe it was for the exhibition “The Secret Garden I: Reeves’s Pheasant “ at the 4th Guangzhou Triennial. You built a small model of an aviary, wasn’t it? What is your interest in this approach, in a way it is an art installation but it is also like a museum installation…

HY: Yes, because it is a very common way museums bring the audience back to some context.

The 4th Guangzhou Triennale, Guangdong Art Museum Secret Garden I- The Reeves Pheasant, Hu Yun Exhibition view Front: Beale’s Aviary Installation/ iron cage (the exhibition space model), metal, glass 2012 Image courtesy of the Artist
The 4th Guangzhou Triennale, Guangdong Art Museum Secret Garden I- The Reeves Pheasant, Hu Yun Exhibition view Front: Beale’s Aviary Installation/ iron cage (the exhibition space model), metal, glass 2012 Image courtesy of the Artist

Actually in my work I always borrow these museum show techniques because people are  trained to see objects this way. If you put something inside a glass case, people will think: “this is an important object”. People are really familiar with this type of display. I want to question it: what is the real relationship between these objects and ourselves?

I didn’t really want to make an aviary at the beginning for this project but during the research I read many things about this interesting Scotsman who lived in Macao for almost half of his life and had this fantastic garden. [nb: Thomas Beale (c. 1775–1841), was a Scottish naturalist, opium speculator and general merchant operating in the Far East during the 19th century]

The place was a “must see” for the Westerners at the time. In his house, he had this huge aviary and it was also in this aviary that John Reeves [nb: the East India Company tea inspector and naturalist around who Hu Yun constructed his work for the Natural History Museum] first met this animal [talking about the pheasant called the Reeve’s pheasant that was first introduced to Europe by John Reeves (1774-1856) and is the central subject of the exhibition].

Everybody said (the aviary) was huge but nobody mentioned the shape. There is no image of it, only inside images, some kind of bird views of the aviary.

It gave me the idea to use the exhibition space as the (Thomas Beale) “aviary”; because once you enter this space to look at my work, you are inside a period of History; you are a part of History.

I am always interested in (creating) this kind of exhibition space for my work.

CS: In a way you seem like an artist and an historian, do you feel you are a little bit of an historian?

World - 2011, Ink on transparent paper, 110x80cm, 2011, Image courtesy of the Artist and AIKE-DELLARCO gallery Short description: The artist outlined all countries on the World Map, copying them in the way that each country's capital is on one point. He then reproduced this "New World"  on a globe.
World – 2011, Ink on transparent paper, 110x80cm, 2011, Image courtesy of the Artist and AIKE-DELLARCO gallery
Short description: The artist outlined all countries on the World Map, copying them so that each country’s capital is on one point. He then reproduced this “New World” on a globe.

HY: No, I don’t use the methodology of historians because they are interested in facts. Historians always dig out the facts or give you the facts. I do not want to do this.

First I am not interested in facts and I don’t see my works as factual. Facts are man made; they are ready-made. If you read History; you are reading about personal stories and that will take you somewhere. It has nothing to do with the facts, that exactly happened.

For example if some lady was murdered in an historical plot. When you read it you will think about how this lady looked like, how did she talk, what was her lifestyle? You will let your imagination wander; you will not just think of her as a neutral fact.

LG: So you are interested about the individual in History?

HY: Yes, and also for me History is not like as if something had happened in the past and stays there, for me what has happened could happen now or even is happening as we speak. I see all these stories that make History, past and present, as if they were happening in parallel time. The same events have happened, are happening and will happen again somewhere, someday in this world. Thus I perceive time as a flatline.

CS: Is it related to the present?

HY: Yes, somehow like the way dogs live; instant action-reaction; little perspective. Everything is flat.

CS: What is you next project?

HY: Well, after this project at the Aike-Dellarco gallery, I want to develop this approach further. I like telling stories and so far I feel it is only the beginning. In the future I want to develop maybe one or two stories more. Right now I am reading missionary stories.

CS: So you read a lot. All the stories you tell in your work, you have read them first. Are you doing research to construct your art?

HY: Basically I read books, I watch films but also I do a lot of drawings, watercolor drawings.

But when I draw my mind is very clear; I can think about different things at the same time. It is the time when all the stories form; as when you make wine or beer…

LG: Maturation?

HY: When I do research or read a book, I don’t think much I just follow the lines. But when I draw; thoughts come to my mind and start brewing and one day something will come out and becomes the starting point of a new story.

Untitled, 14,5x18,5, 2009, Image courtesy of the Artist and AIKE-DELLARCO gallery
Untitled, 14,5×18,5, 2009, Image courtesy of the Artist and AIKE-DELLARCO gallery

CS: We saw the watercolor drawings and we thought it is very interesting because on one hand you have this History component and on the other hand there is a lot of imagination.

HY: Beside this kind of research or this kind of research based work, most of the time I do watercolor drawings, but sometimes I would also do a small installation, a sculpture or a video.

Artists are never satisfied with their life or with their work and they always have more things to say; sometimes even just to tell themselves. Sometimes I make works for myself. For example, I have a video that I have never shown.

Sometimes I just feel I have some poison in my body and I want to take it out. So I just let it out.


Shanghai, Taopu, Jin Shan’s studio, June 10th 2013

Jin Shan in his studio

“Most of the inspiration for my work comes from the present reality in China. At this moment in history, China, the most populous nation in the globe, is going through immense changes. From this incredible transformation so many absurd, terrible and amazing stories emerge everyday, and these stories become inspiration for my work. However, while I am influenced by particular stories and situations that take place in China, I believe the underlying elements that motivate people’s behavior are universal. The impossibility of satisfying desire, the drive to power, the inherent contradictions in life, are all seemingly programmed into humans, into their DNA. In this respect my work begins with the specifics of present day China, but extends beyond these borders to portray the abstract forces that shape human interaction and structure societies. ” Jin Shan

Léa Genoud : Firstly I am curious about what you studied ?

Jin Shan : Oil Painting.

LG : How did you come to choose or why did you choose to do installations ?

JS : Because it was not interesting to do that [oil painting] and my school didn’t have other choices. After I graduated I started to change.

LG : What was your first installation ?

JS : It was a kind of slide piece in 2005. I changed stairs into a slide so that the people joining the show had to slide to enter the building.

LG : At the end of the slide you installed small models of the Pearl Tower?

JS : So that people would be like bowling balls and hit the towers. That was my first installation.



LG : What was this exhibition about ?

JS : It was in DDM Warehouse in Shanghai. It used to be a good Art Centre but in China nothing can last very long. Some people just took down the building. Some rich Chinese people from Guangzhou turned the place into a real estate project. That is the story and the end of it.

LG : I also saw you created a collective called « comfortable ». Could you tell me more about it?

JS : It is composed of a few artists. Most of the time we are like five or six and we do some projects together. We work on the same things, for example, once we had one room so we did something in a room. Once we had a piece of grass, so we did something with the grass. That’s it.

Comfortable Art Project, Shanghai

LG : Is it with this collective that you did the X-Baltic Triennial ? You occupied a house, right? Could you tell me more about this project?

JS : In 2008 we did the first kind of show in an old house in Shanghai. We used a lot of tricks to be able to rent the house and stay in it for one month only.

No one wants to rent a house for one month so we told a lot of lies and then we got the house for one month. We said a lot of bullshit to this landlord.

At that time we did not have many ambitious concepts. We just had a lot of fun with some things we could change a little bit and then turn into art.

For example in the bathroom, you can stay there ten days and then you leave all the trash in the bathroom and then shut the trash out. Then I switched the inside of the air-conditioner with the outside of the machine. The outside part was inside and the inside part was outside.

Some artists made stairs next to the windows so that it made you want to… How to this “professional English” word meaning “kill yourself”?

LG : Commit suicide.

JS : Suicide yes. So there was a lot of stuff like that. Some people made a fake floor. They found a lot of old bricks the underneath they put foam. So the floor felt very soft.

We didn’t have great ambitions for this project. For the Lithuanian project we had a more specific target. We tried to bring the Soviet time back to the house.

We used the historical memories to make an art project in one very old house, the oldest house in Vilnius. Then we bought a lot of Soviet stuff for the house and made the interior of it look very old.

For example, we made a barbecue in the garden and used some ashes to make the house look very old. As if no one had cleaned the house for a few years and if you moved the glass it would leave a dust mark. We faked it. We used the ashes everywhere around the house to make it look as if someone had fled. As if there was nobody there.

Social realist paintings were on the lunch can of Lithuanian people. It’s like the beginning of the 20th Century, this kind of painting from the Russian era is like social realism. As there was this kind of painting on the cans, I bought about a hundred of them and put them in the drawers and I installed automatic doors to open the drawers; when it’s open, it’s full of cans. You can then see all the paintings on the cans. It is a metaphor that brings back old memories.

Comfortable Art Project, Shanghai
Comfortable Art Project, Shanghai

Some artists bought books from the 1980s and used the paper from these books to make a paper sculpture. This time we had more concepts behind the works.

At the end we didn’t work very well. Everyone wanted to do something different. So I guess we Chinese like Italians are not meant to work collectively.

LG : What about humor, in general it seems you use it a lot as a tool in your work.

JS : Because I hate something to be very serious. I think nothing is very serious. I think seriousness has already been done in human history.

LG : But you use humor to talk about serious things.

JS : I’m criticizing seriousness as an attitude.

LG :  Would you tell me more about the artwork « My Dad is Li Gang » ?

« The driver Li Qiming, who hit two students, killing one, fled the scene shouting, “Go ahead, sue me if you dare. My dad is Li Gang!” Social outrage erupted, provoking a social media phenomenon that made the phrase ubiquitous throughout the country. »

Courtney Coelho about the exhibition of Jin Shan at the Bell Gallery: My dad is Li Gang! August 14, 2012

Jin Shan My Dad is Li Gang
My Dad is Li Gang, David Winton Bell Gallery, 2012

JS : It’s a story that took place on a campus. Students were killed by rich people. Then the two rich people escaped so they didn’t care about the killing. I guess it that is part of human nature but it happened like that here. Especially in China it is more obvious.

After that a lot of students stopped and asked them to take responsibility for what they did and one answered: “My Dad is Li Gang”. That is a real story, Li Gang was head of Hebei Province.

So it’s just showing how power works in China. Everywhere you can find this kind of problem but in China the power system is tougher than in other societies. There are some societies that have means of covering that and make it seem more beautiful but here it is very tough.

So this is the basic story I used to make the art piece. It’s the title of the art piece.

LG: The art piece is a space ship covered with mirrors, a tricycle is glued on it, equally covered with glue. Why did you cover it like that?

JS: Because I think this glue can express human desire. Because when this material melts, the colour looks like…

You like men or girls?

LG: Men.

JS: So it’s looks like men’s semen [laughs]. You know I asked girls many times because this color is very art to get.

LG: So you used it to express this desire you cannot control. Desire of power.

JS: It’s human. The men’s semen is human desire. If you want to fuck a girl and then you want to come. It is all in our genes, it is natural. Actually I wanted to show that some problems belong to the human nature. Everyone has the power to fuck people so it is not only in China. China is very tough. It is sometimes good to use something very obvious to show people.

LG: I found an article from Jordan Mainzer. He was speaking about art, Internet and Chinese democracy. He made up categories that classifies the artist who “uses the Internet or not” and “is or not political.” The first category would be artists a little bit older than you, like Ai Weiwei, using internet and are clearly political in their art, then you « who uses or makes art about the Internet but whose work is not inherently political » and finally artists of the younger one-child policy generation, who, for the most part, are not at all political.

What do you think about these classifications?

JS: I think it’s different. Ai Weiwei points at very specific problems the government caused for people. I want to show something that belongs to the human being. It does not involve nationalism. It’s just a coincidence that I’m Chinese. I was born here; I grew up in this country. Political problems inspire me to think about the human being, about ourselves. Thus I think my work is different than Ai Weiwei’s work.

LG: What about the younger artist generation? The author’s point out that they don’t speak at all about social-political subjects. What do you think about this statement? 

JS: I think if the younger artists are not interested in political themes it is because you can’t promote those themes.

I hate those articles where art critics claim: “new artists just focus on their daily life, they’re different from the older artists.” This is the usual crap from those who know nothing about the younger generation, they don’t know how this kids grew up and were educated. They were educated the “wash-blind” way and they don’t know enough about the real world.

LG: But you had the same education as them?

JS: I’m older. You are from 90s right?

LG: Yes

JS: I have more than 20 years difference with you. Students like you in China don’t have access to Google, if they want to use Google it doesn’t work.

LG: But from what I experienced here it seems a lot of people are using VPN or some kind of software to pass the wall?

JS: A lot of adults in the art world use it, but none of my students use a VPN.

LG: Even in the art school?

JS: They always use Baidu, the Chinese search engine, similar to Google.

However with Baidu only rubbish comes out.

If you search for artists, only the new generation will come out, they grow up to become superstars but nothing supports their status. They have no life to draw artistic resources from. It can be fun for a while but it won’t last. You need depth to go far.

LG: You are a teacher in an art school, right?

JS: Yes, I am.

LG: What do you teach?

JS: I teach paintings and installations.

LG: Do you talk a lot with your students?

JS: Actually, I’m afraid to talk too much.

LG: Afraid?

JS: The government just promulgated a new law requiring that the younger teachers do not say anything negative about the government. So now, we don’t talk much.

I don’t usually talk much anyway but if you face this kind of rules… I guess you understand what I mean.

LG: Do some of your students come to you and ask you questions?

JS: Yes, they ask a lot of questions.

LG: What kind of questions?

JS: Most of them are art questions.

LG: Do you have in mind some examples?

JS: They ask me why this artist is good or why is he famous. So I give them examples. Most of the art you know is very specific. Most of it is very technical.

JS: I like Europe so much. I have been to Italy. I really love this country. It is very interesting. Looks like if everyone is just enjoying this or her art; not much to do,  it’s very interesting.

LG: Not much to do?

JS: [Laughs] Actually, it is not but because I am a tourist, I only see that. It makes it beautiful.

LG: It is funny you mention that because I met young European artists in residency here who met Chinese artists and their comment was: “Oh they already have galleries representing them and they are so young, while we, back in Europe, sometimes have to work beside our artist work.”

JS: Here it is crazy. A lot of young artists have massive spending’s, like Ferrari cars, because they sell their paintings half a million or one million. Artists my age already have a Porsche car.

If you go to Beijing, you can see some painters. Well, I don’t do painting, so I can have so much money [laughs]. Again artists my age, 36-35, have a Porsche car, while they started painting only ten years ago.

For example Chen Ke, who produces some kind of cartoon with the round face. Her paintings are over a million for one piece, and if you want to buy one now, you can’t because someone already bought it.

LG: Who buys those works?

JS: It’s a lot of KTVs, very good quality private cocktails and places like this. They hang them on the walls.

Artists are rich because their costs are much less than a New-Yorker or a European. But I think it will be gone very soon. It’s an economic bubble.

LG: I read about your exhibitions in America, did you also have exhibitions in Europe?

JS: Yes, in the Dutch Groingen Museum. There was a very big Chinese show at the time, before the crash, when Europeans still had money and at the Venice Biennial in 2007.

LG: Yes you did a silicone sculpture of yourself peeing like the Bruxelles Mannkenpis. I read some young drunk people destroyed it.

JS: Yes but I have a second one. Somebody bought that piece but never came here to pick it up. [laughs]

“I like humoristic art, so I use this method to express my ideas. Sociology, urban anthropology are methods for observing humans and useful methods in society. But when they try to explain the relation between human and society common word language logic turns to become useless. This is the one of the main reasons I chose humor as an artistic language to express ideas. I know that art cannot solve problems of the social reality, but I just want to display it, and I believe this is the real role that art has.” Jin Shan


Email exchange with Guan XIao after a meeting in Aike-Dellarco Gallery in Shanghai during her group exhibition “Video Unchained” (11.05-11.06.2013) curated by Weng Zhijuan.

“The theme of the exhibition refers to the revolution of ideology implied by the evolution in the language of new media art and its effect on the transmission of information in contemporary society. The video ‘Reading’ by Guan Xiao combines visual and audio dimension trying to get to the essence of the objects she observes. The result is a rythmic multi-dimensionnal work appealing to the senses of the viewer.” Weng Zhijuan

July 6th 2013 23:38, From: Xiao Guan to : Genoud Léa

Léa Genoud : In the last show you participated to [Video Unchained, group show at Aike-Dellarco Gallery, Shanghai, May-June 2013], you presented a two-channel video called Reading. On one screen you showed a computer animation of what could be described as archaeological vestiges and on the other screen scrolls a text that seems to be describing in a poetic and abstract manner the visual experience the viewer is having on the other screen. Could you tell us more about how you conceived this work?

Guan Xiao, Reading, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist
Guan Xiao, Reading, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist


Guan Xiao: First of all, I believe that reading is not an act only for text. Reading is a process of individual cognitive through the perception and thinking of materials.

As you saw, this video has two screens. The left side screen content is completely constituted by images. All the shapes, such as the vases, are from some major auction house catalogues. I was always interested in historical relics. To me these ancients objects are more and more present contemporary aesthetics because of the passage of time. I want to make them return back to the contemporary context to play their role.

Although the meaning, the history and the function that they originally represent has already disappeared in time, I’d like to re-build a new way to apprehend them by watching rather than restore their significance or function at that time. All shapes and materials have very unique rhythm and language that belong to the objects, if we concentrate enough on watching, we can feel the various expressions of the object.

On the right screen, I chose to present only text. These words use different rhetorical method to divide theirs sections and to synchronously transform the left screen images. But they are not simply describing the picture but to express the process of how we can wave the individual thinking through reading image. This relates not only to the art watching, but also relates to all objects that we want to watch. To read all unspeakable images like reading books.

LG : We know that for your last solo exhibition “Survivor’s Hunting” at Magician Space in Beijing you made a three-channel video called Cognitive Shape who consisted of a compilation of images you collected from the web (YouTube, Vimeo), TV and DVD as well as clips you shot yourself. We would be interested to know if you linked those two videos (Cognitive Shape and Reading) in a more general research on what is your/our relationship to internet and the new media (video) and how does it influence your/our way of seeing?


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Guan Xiao, Cognitive Shape, video, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist


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Guan Xiao, Cognitive Shape, video, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist
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Guan Xiao, Cognitive Shape, video, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist
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Guan Xiao, Cognitive Shape, video, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist
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Guan Xiao, Cognitive Shape, video, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist
Guan Xiao, Cognitive Shape, video, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist
Guan Xiao, Cognitive Shape, video, 2013 (screen shots). Courtesy the artist


GX : I think it’s obsolete if we continue to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Internet. It’s already become to the way we watching world and communicate with the outside. The more we deeply use Internet the more we discovered, how to find or retain our individuality become a difficult thing. When we get information too easy and too fast that more people become vested interest, constantly “take” without to think about why. This leads to too many art woks look like by same person, and too many meaningless images and information’s wastes are dumped on Internet. They quickly come and also quickly disappear.

I cost long time online almost every day, and GOOGLE always is my favourite toy. After a long time over searching and watching stage, suddenly I feel like zoom out: All images, informations, music, texts are flat spread in front of me. Then “watching” is no longer only stay in visual level but becomes a complicity imagination and a thinking aggregation. No matter what form of seeing, hearing, reading, they all work with us to expand the cognitive border.

Everyone should work or think like a creator. I always believe that art should beyond language. Although we still need to use language to express, but language is just the same as all other objects of our creative material. For me, the artist’s working is more like a guide, by self-practice to transform abstract and mysterious feeling to knowable. Here to borrow a phrase from Bruce Nauman: “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.”

LG : Could you tell us about your next(s) project(s)?

GX : There will be a new gallery opening in Shanghai September; I’ll present a new video called ” Where is David”. In this video I still use 3 screens and focus on the situation when people shooting things. Relate in humorous way to emphasize the importance of consciousness during watching.

And I’m also planning a performance project with a dance artist. This will be a part of my solo exhibition next year and directly link to the subject. It will exhibit in a space, which like a shop window in September or October.


A short introductory presentation of Li Ran’s work after a meeting in April 2013 in Beijing with the artist…

Li Ran, Another modern artist, Video, 2013 (screen shot)
Li Ran, Another modern artist, Video, 2013 (screen shot)

Li Ran graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing in 2009. In 2008 with other young artists – Chen Zou, Li Ming and Yan Xing, he initiated the 公司/Company. While collaborating on different projects including others artists, they did not wish to define themselves as a group but more as an art collaborative project where each artist has its own individual practice.

Always searching new ways to communicate his concerns about the Chinese Art system in which he’s been evolving, Li Ran found in recent years through his videos-performances a creative language to express them. Using acting and mimicry as tools to question the transmission of knowledge and information, he challenges the viewer perception and at the same attracts him in his artistic practice.

Li Ran, Pretty Knowledge, Video (screen shot)
Li Ran, Pretty Knowledge, two-channel video, 2012  (screen shot)

In Mont Sainte-Victoire video (2012), he enacts a multiple-role actor imitating dubbed voices from 70’s-80’s movies and reads a script, written by himself, composed of a compilation of different Art History essays – from Cézanne’s letters to Foucault’s and Barthes’s essays. In a more recent work Pretty knowledge (two-channel video, 2012), he plays the role of a French seer – imitating a video supposedly created in the 80’s where a man predicts the future for the next thirty years. The original video is quite popular on the Internet and generated a debate over its truthfulness. Li Ran’s incomprehensible imitation of French accent and body language further alienates the spectator’s perception by presenting a deconstructed narrative and pushes him out of the established knowledge framework.

For the exhibition Alternatives to Ritual curated by Biljana Ciric, Li Ran presented I want to talk to you, but not all of you, a two-channel video, where he filmed a conversation with the curator exchanging about their respective work. On the second channel he replaced the original soundtrack by a dialogue between a “man with mental problems and his psychiatrist who tends to solve his problems through a bunch of medical terms[1]”.

Li Ran, Born Again, Video, 2013 (screen shot)
Li Ran, Born Again, Video, 2013 (screen shot)

He continued to explore his performer skills with Born Again video where he plays the roles of a news reporter and a dead bluesman. The final result is a frantic rhythm video with musical background that troubles senses and meanings. This work was showed at the UCCA ON I OFF show, which brought together works from selected young artists born between 1976 and 1989.

For his next project, Li Ran will return to his father’s artistic practice and try to talk about his individual experience of modern art in China. The question of how to face the transition in Chinese art history from a conception of « meishu » (fine art) to « yishu » (art) in relation with his contemporary practice will be presented through the new installation for Art Basel HK 2013. It will contain a series of texts and documents including letters, oil paintings, photos, etc. related to his father’s art education and creation from the late 1970s to late 1990s as well as a new single channel video “Another Modern Artist”, where Li Ran plays an imaginary modernist artist. The title of the work refers to the exhibition curated by the critic Rasheed Araeen (Hayward Gallery, 1989), which pointed out the “absence of non-Western artists in the history of modern art.” In this work, the artist also presents one aspect of his father’s artistic career, which has accompanied his own specific practice of contemporary art.

“We can understand this as a kind of return, a return to art itself which is outside the system and unconfined to aesthetic absolutes; a return to a certain introspection and reflection with regards to the perception of the context of the field; a return to creation imbued with contemporary significance, to a clear creative.” Art critic and curator, Su Wei (text accompanying Li Ran’s solo show at Aike-Dellarco gallery, 2012).




[1] Li Ran’s description of his work,, 2012.