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Press Release: Li Shan, Echo of Sumer | Art Basel 2023


ShanghART Gallery is delighted to announce its participation in the 2023 edition of Art Basel with Li Shan's solo project "The Echo of Sumer" at booth R24. As one of China's most important contemporary artists, his thinking on "existence of life", that is, the practice of condensing into "Bio art" runs through Li Shan's artistic trajectory from 1970s to the present. He thinks from the perspective of the origin of life, with scientific theories as analytical support and artistic output to reflect his understandings and imaginations of the mysteries of life. "The Echo of Sumer" reveals another new chapter of the artist's proposition on the origin of life that began at the age of eighty, starting from the "Reading" series that lasted nearly thirty years.

To delve into the root of Li Shan's creation is to explore the driving source of vitality and creativity under the material appearance represented by biology. Since the 1980s, his early abstract works have reflected the chaos, structure, and mystery that directly represent life. This series established the initial surge of the artist's depiction of the characteristics of life. Consistent with the totemic representation of the "cognitive world" in the early days of human beings, the artist tries to show the inextricable connections between the microcosm and the macrocosm through imaginary patterns consisting of dots, lines, and circles. The drastic changes in the social structure and the advent of the tide of the times in the 1990s provided opportunities for artists to practice and explore and produced the most well-known "Rouge Series" during this period. Under the accelerated fermentation of Pop Art, Li Shan took a unique approach to combine biological symbolisation and political metaphors, and he developed a series of classic visual images. But the artist is not satisfied with "giving meaning to material objectivity" [1] but looking for the transcendence of sensibility and rationality. Since 2000, Li Shan has continuously proposed and practised artistic proposals on biological diversity in science laboratories, art studios, experimental fields, and art galleries, from butterfly fish and dragonfly figures to deformed pumpkins. Oannes, the fish-man sage who taught humankind wisdom in Mesopotamian mythology, coincides with the status of the cultural image revered by the artist.

The origin of life expressed in ancient mythology resonates to the fantasy of the super science fiction era. As the source of human civilisation, the "Sumerian Civilisation", the developed culture it bred and the legends of extraterrestrial creatures have undoubtedly found the proof of imagination and the fertile ground for Li Shan, who has been thinking about the cause of life for more than 50 years to deepen his philosophical thinking. The "new species" created by Li Shan with super-scientific and super-biological forms has the characteristics of both: mystery and future. Through colour, shape, and language, the artist shows the rich expressiveness of life forms and the meditation on the profound accumulation of civilisation. Behind a series of explorations, it shows the artist's observation of life consciousness and the ultimate free expression of life.

[1] Gao Minglu, The Empiricism of Li Shan's Bio-Art and its Origins in Mysticism, Reading Li Shan,2013,Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei

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