The Artful Alchemy of Li Gang
by Tally Beck
When Li Gang made his bronzes of workers’ shoes, he demonstrated a unique skill in rendering associative subject matter into an arresting medium. By combining the old shoes and the sturdy bronze, he created a temporal continuity. He gave voice and longevity to untold stories and discarded lives. His recent work shows further development of innovative marriages of media and subject wherein nostalgic mystery becomes cloudy enigma.
The oxymoronic title, Black Light, hints at the visual complexity of Li Gang’s newest show. Once again, he pairs meaningful subject matter with visually striking media, but this time the continuities are less evident. Ghosted photographs hesitantly reveal misty landscapes and bronze sculptures mimic organic forms while defying categorisation. Li Gang evokes an almost eerie mood as obscured images fade in and out phantasmagorically.
Much of the imagery is obscured, obliterated or distorted to such an extent that the work approaches abstraction. In the tradition of Chinese abstraction, there is frequently allusion to the natural world, but this is not the abstraction of linear simplicity. It is an abstraction born of reflection and shadow.
The multi-media exhibition is dominated by an austere palette—shades of black and grey. This quiet sobriety lends chromatic unity to an otherwise wildly diverse collection of materials and visual idioms. His paintings alone reflect entirely different styles: some paintings recall the grand experiments of the abstract expressionists with hints of the intensity of Anselm Kiefer, with smoky greys suggesting murkiness and emotional turmoil. Other pieces present stark, black-and-white contrast with distinctive forms. Li Gang animates the black geometric elements with an allowance for calligraphic, gestural expression.
Li Gang leaves a lot of the investigation up to the viewer. He allows room for narrative, for history, but it is up to us to fill it in. By telling only a part of the story, Li Gang creates a puzzling world with few signposts. His multimedia approach implies a temporal and spatial continuity that is linked by elements of inquiry.