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Li Gang’s art practice is a revelation on the significance of materiality

The Chinese artist traverses through a slew of disciplines - printmaking, painting, architecture and installations – to oversee artworks as a means to promote world peace.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Mar 30, 2021

Given the rise in the number of artists and the performance pressure to present a plethora of artworks, more often than not, it leads to the production of replicas, where the novelty takes a backseat and a challenge to create incessantly ends up defining the art practice. Standing apart from this lot is the Chinese artist, Li Gang, whose art practice creatively weaves in and out of multiple disciplines such as painting, printmaking, architecture and installations. Avoiding any kind of flippancy, a variety of artworks by Gang pushes the viewers to understand every work in a new light. Accustomed to borrow metaphors and draw analogies while running between the series of an artwork, Gang with his works opens an opportunity for his audience to glide into the world of an uneasy inexplicability only to reveal the presence of, until now, unseen.

Seven Colors| Li Gang | STIRworld
Seven Colors Image: Courtesy of Galerie Urs Meile and Li Gang

The task to delve into the multiplicity of mediums was never going to be an easy course of action, yet for Gang, human emotions offer a palette of possibilities. “I am often inspired by the feelings in my life to think about the existence of human beings. People's situations and encounters seem to have never changed. Human emotions are so rich and fragile. We, as human beings, are part of our world and our future. What will our destiny be? Have we forgotten the brilliance of human nature? Faced with these problems, I feel very powerless. I can only do my best to make art retain our common emotions, as much as possible, and try to keep it alive,” he says.

Li Gang’s portrait | Li Gang| STIRworld
Chinese artist Li Gang Image: Courtesy of Li Gang

Rooted to represent the real and familiar terrain of the environment with a hitherto unseen perspective, the monochromatic world of Gang’s art is about the juxtaposition of the unfamiliar materials. The ambivalence arising out of these unusual combinations refrains to draw a single meaning. The art of sculpture-making offers Gang a fecund site to play around with this idea furthermore. Interestingly, the sculptures in his hands carry a sense of spontaneity. Elaborating on the presence of rawness of abstract accidentalism in his work, Gang states, “Yes, I very much believe that there is a mysterious power in artworks. I define this power as the ‘materiality’ of the artwork itself, and the materiality ultimately belongs to the ‘world spirit’. Here I may need to explain my understanding of materiality: it refers to the essential attributes that are embodied beyond the physical characteristics of the substance - when the concrete substance is intervened (discovered) by the action of human beings”.

Enthusiasm for Vegetarian Diet | Li Gang | STIRworld
Enthusiasm for Vegetarian Diet Image: Courtesy of Galerie Urs Meile and Li Gang

He further adds, “It is the ‘world spirit’ reflected by the interaction between humans and substance in the new context. Materiality is the creation and the beginning of art. World spirit is the basic concept in classical philosophy to discuss the essence of the existence of all things in the universe, which comes from Hegel's philosophical theory. World spirit is the meaning of materiality, and it is also the motivation of materiality. Materiality is consistent with the world spirit regarding the essence, but different manifestations in different contexts, and ultimately materiality must guide to the world spirit. The world spirit is the ‘creator’ of the world, while materiality is the ‘developer’ that allows us to see the world clearly. The birth of new things is the materiality manifestation of the world spirit. It can also be understood that materiality is a way of understanding reality with the real things and it means: materiality is a historical event, materiality is the way of life, and materiality is the clarity of artistic existence”.

Sphinx Series| Li Gang | STIRworld
Sphinx Series Image: Courtesy of Li Gang

Visually translating these thoughts to the tangible reality was Gang’s last exhibition, Nude Colour, at the Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing. Formally trained as a painter, Gang with this display showcased canvases dominant in the colour nude. The artist gives an explicit account of his understanding of the relationship between the colour nude and materiality: “Nude is a colour present on everyone’s bodies, and one which belongs to every one of us. Nude is everyone’s true colour, rather than any one specific colour. When we see a person in their nude colour, it is like seeing ourselves. Just like people, each work of art has its own nude colour. The texture and colour of ‘flesh’ in his artwork reveals its material existence. I believe the history of painting is a history formed from the ‘flesh’ of paintings from different eras. Materiality is the primary property of painting, the definitive element that allows it to be presented, displayed, collected and passed down. The flesh of the artwork derived from the word ‘nude colour’ refers to the concept of ‘materiality’ that exists independently of the work itself. Choosing Nude Colour as the title of a pure painting exhibition because painting is the material manifestation of image experience and the beginning of all visual art. Using the materiality of painting to understand the materiality of visual art will become simpler and clearer. Obviously, the significance of materiality in art is the prerequisite for the independent existence of all visual art”.

Exhibition view of Li Gang's solo exhibition entitled LiGang at Galerie Urs Meile Beijing | Li Gang | STIRworld
Exhibition view of Li Gang's solo exhibition at Galerie Urs Meile Beijing Image: Courtesy of Galerie Urs Meile

Having showcased his works at Art Basel Miami, the Moscow Biennial and the Foundation Louis Vuitton Museum, Paris, Gang believes, “The task to make art itself the main body of art rather than the artist being the main body of art, just as ‘world spirit’, is the essence of the world's existence, and man is not the master of the world”. To realise the true essence of existence is the act of refusal to overrun the human soul with power and desire. For Gang, art is a means to promote harmony. “If I have to say what my art conveys to the audience, then I think ‘materiality’ is the awakening of the true existence of art, and art is the declaration of promoting world peace,” he mentions.

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