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Li Li Ren at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Li Li Ren's sculptural installation To find a way home (2023) is now open at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, inaugurating their Open Art Sculpture Garden alongside a work by Yinka Shonibare.

"Li Li Ren’s To find a way home is a constellation of five patinated bronze sculptures embellished with glass. In forms derived from corals, transplanted onto a green lawn, they are uncanny, somewhat psychedelic objects – too bright, oddly wet, badly behaved. One is sprouting from the navel of a pregnant belly, another spews liquid out of holes in its side. They defy the idea of the well-ordered picturesque established by 17th-century landscape painters such as Aelbert Cuyp and Claude. In introducing an element of the supernatural to the landscape, they perhaps relate more readily to the mythic and biblical dramas of Nicolas Poussin in works such as The Nurture of Jupiter (1636–37)." – Hettie Judah, In View, June 2024


To find a way home (2023) is a sculptural composition of five bronze works, patinated and clad in gelatinous glass, evoking natural aquatic forms. Working with a traditional material deeply rooted in art history, Ren approaches this in a novel way, oxidizing the bronzes in bright colours before sealing them, then working on them with glass. The lurid colours speak to the acidic palette of sea creatures, which represent, for the artist, one element of the sublime in the natural realm, and the strange crossover between the synthetic and the organic. 

The installation comprises a continuation of Ren’s recent works around inter-body and inter-temporal connection through the aquatic. The piece speaks to the artist’s interest in the physics of water flow as symbolic of a desire to understand not only the distant presence of human memory and intimacy, but that of natural organisms beyond the anthropoid. Central to this is a preoccupation with semiotics, specifically communication beyond verbal and written language. 

In her submerged realm, marine lifeforms surpass spatial disjunction through electric currents running between them, interpreted by specialized receptors of sensation that await information. An integral element to the make-up and origin of this body of work is the parallel between ancient-or-future creatures communicating through waves and ripples, and the ineffable sensation of motherhood and the imagining of the womb as akin not to our constructed worlds and languages, but rather to something older, rooted in sensation. The scale of the pieces is designed to create interaction among both adults and children, as they move through and around them, cultivating intimate moments with each individual work.

To find a way home is a reflection on how deeply interlinked all life is, how it is something we are situated among, not something we are separate from. The works are about connection, synchronisation and the possibility of belonging, manifesting in these coral-inspired shapes, which highlight the strangeness and beauty of nature’s biology.” – Li Li Ren 

The sculptures are now on view and free to access.


Li Li Ren (b. 1986, Heilongjiang Province, China) lives and works in London. She gained her BA in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, in 2010, and her MA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Art, London, in 2017. 

Across her practice, Ren negotiates the constantly morphing relationships between objects in space. In her built environments, which expand beyond the physical exhibition space into imagined realms situated between the biologically understood or plausible, and the highly-fantastical, she approximates certain shapes, subjects and environments, while also subverting them through unexpected material applications and abstractions — for example, hard glass cosplaying as soft jelly. In this world-building exercise, the artist often incorporates forms associated with the Anthropocene, the ocean, biology, altered states and maternity, ultimately desiring to queer and elude those connotations to flatten and destabilise humanism through an amplification of the similarities, as well as the strangeness, of human and non-human existence. Her recent works continue her interest in the formation and application of memory; how fragments are forgotten, material associations are formed, and histories are layered. These become vital tools for building narrative within her visual language.

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Solo exhibitions include: The World Forgetting, by the World Forgot, Sherbet Green, London (2024); Sunset as Burning Bruise, Magician Space, Beijing (2022) and Frantumaglia, Qimu Space, Beijing (2021). Group exhibitions include: Art-o-rama, Marseille (2024; forthcoming); Ruthin International Arts Festival 2024, North Wales (forthcoming performance); Art Basel Hong Kong (2024); The Flow of Art and Value, MOCA Yichuan (2024); Embodied Rituals, Times Museum, Guangdong (2024); ANTIDOTE, Informality Gallery, London (2024); Frieze Sculpture, London (2023); Home is where the haunt is, X Museum, Beijing (2023); Sculptural vibe cutting through (in) accessible sites, Gravity Art Museum, Beijing (2023); Into My Arms, Sherbet Green (2023); We Borrow Dreams from Others, Like Debt, MadeIn Art Museum, Shanghai (2022-2023); Memorias del subdesarrollo, Qimu Space, Beijing (2021); In/Out, Guardian Art Center, Beijing (2020); Silence in Violence, Spectrum Art Space, Shanghai (2018); and Camden Arts Centre, London (2017). She is represented by Sherbet Green in Europe and Magician Space in China.

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