Shuang Li is increasingly recognized for her multidisciplinary interrogations into forms of bio-political struggle. Trained in literature and media studies, Li examines the past as well as current sociocultural dynamics, thus allowing for new and radical narratives to emerge within her practice. As Adrienne Rich wrote in 1972, “the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes…. is for women far more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival.” In Intro to Civil War—Shuang Li’s 2019 solo exhibition at Open Forum, Berlin—an AI sex doll converses with the ancient concubine upon which the doll is modelled. The story emerged as Li researched the historical archive of ancient concubines, which was, according to the artist, written almost exclusively from the point-of-view of the “foreign missionary, local tabloid or male literati”. Li’s fictional protagonist submits, “There are so many literatures written on me, about me, but my story never exists.” It is a somber reflection on sexuality and gendered social constraints. Intro to Civil War references a 2010 text by the French philosophy collective Tiqquin, who consider the ways in which crisis may give way to communism. The text—and Li’s citation of queer theorist Paul B. Preciado in her statement for the show—reveal the philosophical checkpoints of the work.
In a 2015 performance, Li walked around New York City’s Times Square wearing a sign that read “Marry Me for Chinese Citizenship.” The public reaction to the work highlighted the underlying racial and gender bias at play in America: an overwhelming number of passers-by read the sign incorrectly, and instead offered to marry Li for a fee. By commodifying her citizenship, Li revealed the weight of mythology in the construct of national identity. In an essay for Mousse Magazine, Alvin Li writes, “Charged with provocation and apparent frivolousness, [the work] aligned itself more closely with the labor of a migrant sex worker who thrusts her body into the public and offers sex—a slice of subjectivity, just like citizenship—qua work.”
During her residency at Callie’s, Li has been preparing new sculptural work and a large-scale projection piece, as well as conceptualizing a new video work that will be realized in 2021. Recently shortlisted for Forbes “30 Under 30 in Art in Asia,” Li’s work has appeared in international institutional exhibitions, including Times Museum curated by Biljana Ciric in 2019 and Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong in 2018. Li traveled to Berlin in February 2020 to open her first solo show with her gallery Peres Projects; when Covid-19 sent much of the world into lockdown, Li could not return to China. She began her residency at Callie’s in June 2020; in July she applied for and received a visa to remain in Berlin. Li’s solo exhibition Exit Wound opened at Callie’s in September of 2020.