Somewhere Between Abstract and Concrete 浪荡在抽象与具象之间

Chinese artist Li Shurui (b.1981, Chongqing) is a central figure on the Beijing contemporary art scene. Born and raised in Chongqing, in South-West China, Li Shurui is part of a new generation of Chinese artists – born between the late 1970s and 1980s – who distanced themselves from the memories of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). This generation greatly benefitted from the radical economic reforms and social changes that took place across the country, and its artistic community began to look both to Chinese art history and that of the West.

Li Shurui entered art school with the intention of studying traditional Chinese ink painting, but rebellious against its formalist training and strictures, she developed a more intuitive and sensory approach to her practice. As the artist explains: “In our education, there is traditional Chinese ink painting and Socialist Realism, but not modern nor abstract art; it jumps directly into contemporary art” [..] When I started my ‘Lights’ series I had no idea what Op Art was. It was in my DNA to choose such a style of art, and my concept of light is always inseparable from that of space. I strive to my best ability, for my work to be able to control the mind, soul and body, to overcome language barriers and the inertia of logic; and for my audience to experience and enter the realm of my artistic conception.” – Li Shurui in conversation with Phaidon, December 2012.

Li Shurui’s interest in light stems from her personal observations of Chongqinq’s nightscape. Fascinated by the visual patterns of LED lights, so much an integral part of the modern Chinese cityscape, she began to depict their optical illusion and spatial depth. Li’s interest in light also derives from her experience as an art assistant in Beijing, where she realised that “what you paint is unimportant, what matters is the viewer’s physical and sensory experience” – Wu Jianru, LEAP Magazine, 2014.

Her early paintings are based on personal photographs. Human figures can be vaguely discerned within a whirl of motion and hallucinogenic light. Yet Li’s paintings are not frenetic, but meditative and calming. The psychedelic effect of the image envelops the viewer in an alternate reality.

In her more recent series, the shadowy figures dissolve into pure abstraction. Li accentuates the spatial dimension of her paintings, pushing against the limits of the picture plane to reach the realm of geometrical and three-dimensional compositions.

“I always reflect on the implications of the concepts of abstraction and non-abstraction, representation and non-representation.. My early paintings were similar to a network of matrix, then I slowly started enlarging each independent dot, transforming them into celestial and luminous bodies or circular shapes.” Li Shurui, SuperELLE Magazine, November 2020.

 

Li Shurui (b. 1981, Chongqing), lives and works in Beijing. She received her BFA at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (SFAI) in 2004. In 2016, Li was granted the New York Fellowship Program of Asian Cultural Council (ACC).

She has presented solo exhibitions at New Galerie, Paris, France; Salt Project, Beijing, China; White Space Beijing, Beijing, China and Connoisseur Art Gallery, Hong Kong. She will have a solo exhibition at Long Art Museum, Shanghai in January 2021.

Her works have been exhibited in several group shows in major institutions and museums, including Constellation, Georgian National Museum Dimitri Shevardnadze National Gallery, Tbilisi, Georgia (2017); No Man’s Land: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., USA (2016); Turning Point: Contemporary Art in China Since 2000, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2016); No Longer / Not Yet, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2015); Jing Shen: The Act of Painting in Contemporary China, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (PAC), Milan, Italy (2015); 28 Chinese, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA (2015); About Painting, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Xi’An, China (2014).

In 2019 Li Shurui was commissioned to design a special, limited edition handbag for Christian Dior, based on a painting by the artist from the John Dodelande Collection. Christina Dior launched Li Shurui’s handbag during Art Basel Hong Kong 2019.

Li’s paintings are housed in major private and public collections, including The Estella Collection, US; The Rubell Family Collection, US; Ullens Collection, Beijing; Domus Collection, Beijing; Long Museum, Shanghai; John Dodelande Collection, France; and DSL Collection, Paris.

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

The Belgrade-born Maja Djordjevic is known for her digitally-native aesthetic sensibility and her innate ease within the realms of computer-generated visual syntax and digital manipulation.

Djordjevic’s work has from the very beginning directly engaged with the legacies of deskilling, net art, and feminist figuration. Its use of antiquated Microsoft Paint software and expressly simplified essential forms deliberately eliminates the dogmatic pressure of technical prowess and institutionalized criteria of virtuosity as well as exclusionary connotations of tech-agility and opaquely seamless coding associated with misogynistic preconceptions and attitudes.

What has always attracted Djordjevic to the aesthetic of Microsoft Paint, an early bitmap graphics program whose crude algorithm generates colour pixels so large as to pre-emptively foreclose any possibility of granular detail or advance chromatic modulation, is the paradoxical rawness and immediacy that its unadulterated shapes convey to and from a vantage point of someone raised with the pixelated vocabularies of Sega, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man as points of foundationally constitutive reference.

That is not to say that Djordjevic’s work lacks in skill or labour investment – quite the contrary. Indeed, the multi-stage process entailed by the artist’s method is both manually rigorous and time-consuming. It begins with Djordjevic composing – or, more accurately, sketching from direct immediacy of an inspired moment – her compositions in Microsoft Paint. This is then followed by a meticulously precise process that sees the artist scrupulously replicating the digital images pixel-by-pixel and line-by-line in glossy, sumptuously bright enamel oil paint, relying purely on hand and without the aid of customary projectors or masking tape. The choice of medium here is instructive as well – Djordjevic has settled on the enamel paint for the uniquely reflective quality of its surface – as close as one could possibly get to an approximation of the computer monitor itself. In this way, the resulting works are left forever oscillating between the extremes of forgetting or jettisoning of the painterly skill and its deliberate recuperation and celebratory exacerbation through the artist’s craftsmanship and manual virtuosity.

Motifs unmistakably specific to the female experience customarily absent from the language of video games of Djordjevic’s cohort of contemporary digitally-native artists sharply distinguish her uniquely feminist take on these elements of new ubiquity. Thus, while mining the same discursive fields that shape the current artistic landscape of her peers, Djordjevic’s combination of deliberately and daringly simplistic “still rendering” visual elements with deeply personal linguistic expressions charts a feminist path all of its own.

Djordjevic turns to the title of her favourite song, This Must Be the Place, by the Talking Heads for a source of this exhibition’s title – a reflection of both the inextricably personal nature of these works and their deeply interior source of origin – a proverbial snapshot of the artist’s inner monologues and idle ideations divorced from any modifying outside influence. Conceived in the months of the global lockdown, all of the paintings in the show speak to this unique historic moment and the longings that it engenders.

Home is where I want to be is both the title of one of the paintings in the show, the first line of the Talking Heads song, and an inspiration for the exhibition’s unusual layout. “Home is where we’re all supposed to be right now” – Djordjevic observes, “so I decided to make furniture from my paintings – a table and a chair so that we can all “sit” and have a thought about the places where we dream to be, where we were, and where we are now – a home where we want to be. The paintings themselves show these kinds of situations”.

While Djordjevic’s canvases are hardly ever devoid of a healthy dose of humour and darkly ironic self-reflection, the situations her signature “naked girl” stick figures find themselves in here are distinctly reflective of a kind of particular COVID Derangement Syndrome of fidgetiness – spread out on the table (THIS MUST BE THE PLACE), serving up daisies on a dinner plate (I am serving you), hanging upside down from the rooftop (My point of view) – they’re restless, sleepless, and decidedly not sober. It is as if the physical works themselves have imbibed the spirit of confined restlessness and want to stand, and lay down, and rotate sideways in search for a new perspective – on themselves, as well as each other:

Home is where I want to be


Pick me up and turn me around (…)


I guess I must be having fun …

 

 

Maja Djordjevic (b. 1990, Belgrade, Serbia) has completed her BFA and MFA at the University of the Arts, Belgrade.

Her works were featured by Carl Kostyál in the group show ‘Malmö Sessions’, Ystadvägen 22, Malmö, Sweden (2019). Djordjevic also participated in the artist residency ‘Draw Jam 2019’ organised by the galleries at Masseria Fontana di Vite, Matera, Italy.

Djordjevic recent solo exhibitions include: ‘I’m Always Different Person’, Dio Horia, Athens, Greece (2019); ‘I Will Find You’, Dio Horia, Mykonos, Greece (2018); ‘Body Building’, The Hole, New York (2017); ‘This Is What Is Not’, U10 Art Space, Belgrade, Serbia (2016); ‘I Don’t Know You, But I Love You’, Dio Horia, Mykonos, Greece (2015); ‘DOODLES’, Galerija KM8, Goethe Institute, Belgrade, Serbia (2015); ‘SLIKE’, Galerjia Kulturnog centra Rnbica, Kraljevo, Serbia (2015). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Carl Kostyál Gallery; The Library Street Collective, Detroit; The Garage, Amsterdam; The Hole, New York; U10 Art Space, Belgrade; and Museum of Contemporary Vojvodina, Serbia.

 

– Text by Valerie Mindlin