• Li Liao: “Labour”


Artist: Li Liao

Duration: 8th July – 31st August, 2023

Address: No.110, Stage 2, South Square, One Shenzhen Bay, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China


MANGROVEGALLERY is honoured to present Li Liao’s solo exhibition “Labour”, which will bring out photographic works from his recent collaboration with the artist group “seeyoutomorrow”, as well as his most representative works from the past. The exhibition will be on view from 8th July to 31st August 2023.


As an earnest practitioner of physical action, Li Liao often shows a perceptive and self-deprecating insight to observe and deconstruct social, familial, and artistic modes of production. For Li Liao, labour means action, and the embedding of ideas is often based on a strong sense of physical initiative. He is both a participant within the system and a wanderer detached from it. Through seemingly random acts and documentations, the rigid structure of real life is playfully disrupted, and the boundaries between reality and fiction, life and art, are thus dissolved. As a witness that dwells in time, he cracks open the disparity between individual and systemic power divisions through repetitive actions, where the law and order become absurd, where everyday experiences and perceptions spark a new understanding.


Following his exhibition The Wife Went to Start a Business, Li Liao manages to pay a month’s mortgage with six months’ labour as a delivery man. The almost comic contrast reveals a most realistic take on reality — “Buy a house with leverage, and then pay back the leverage without any leveraged resort” as he said with self-deprecating humour.


From consumption to production, and then from production to labour, Li Liao’s practice plumbs the depth of the metropolitan social structure, to return the artist to the most elementary form of labour. He responds to leveraged consumption without resorting to leverage. This ingenuous, even clumsy, action creates a dramatic conflict; it is also the result of our natural propensity to work when confronted with real-life dilemmas. It is artless. It is concrete. This concreteness is also translated into the fruits of labour, leaving traces of time on Li’s body, and is documented in the form of six photographic sets. Under the studio-style lighting, the chiaroscuro and high-definition quality give the photographs an oil-painted texture, while the real scenes are endowed with a surreal significance. The enlarged details of body parts gradually morph into abstract symbols through a changed visual perspective; the body is at the same time the subject and the object, suggesting a rethinking of experience.


Li sees the body as a natural field for experiments. He sees it as the objective product of subjective ideas (i.e. the object of observation), while also implying the body politics behind the individual consciousness that stem from the current social and domestic mode of production. In a series of cyber realities, he navigates in-between the systems, carrying with him a fluid identity, and signaling to us, who reside in the same space, from the invisible periphery of the metropolis.