Upper Iowa University hosts the Zhongkai Li: Drifting Fragments exhibit.

Installation view of the exhibition “Zhongkai Li: Drifting Fragments” at the Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery, Upper Iowa University, 2022

FAYETTE, IOWA (November 21, 2022) – The Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery on Upper Iowa University’s (UIU) Fayette campus has opened a new exhibition featuring the work of artist Zhongkai Li. The solo exhibition, entitled Zhongkai Li: Drifting Fragments, will be open from November 14 to December 16, 2022.

The exhibition presents a selection of mixed media works by the artist, projecting the artist’s studio practice over the last two years of the pandemic. Through what Li calls a reinterpretation and redefinition of everyday materials and familiar media, he transforms the gallery into a place of contemplation and encourages the viewer to reflect on how our bodies respond to the place. Li says: “The consideration of how the subject might react to the space is always embedded in my work process. The exhibition itself is an invitation. The arrangement and sequence of the work is a concrete poem, a puzzle to unfold.” Li continues, “My work often has many pauses. I like to wait for the right moment to show how a fragment, a thought or a gesture could begin to drift as the parts connect, repeat and duplicate between different media, forms and materials.”

On the west side of the gallery wall, four collaged corrugated cardboard sculptures entitled “We’ve Never Been This Close Before” were displayed one after the other with abstract risography patterns printed on them. About this work, Li says: “One day, as I was walking past the recycling bins in my studio, with all their leftover cardboard packaging from online orders, I started wondering about them—curious about where they came from, where they were packaged , shipped, loaded and unloaded, etc. Introducing each piece of cardboard is a fascinating mix of autobiography and adventure, the material carrying its own memory.” According to Li, cardboard reflected a globalized, collective everyday life even as the world experienced widespread isolation and disconnection experienced. Li continues, “The juxtaposition of repeating patterns and collaged cardboard implies the narrative in a sense of reality.”

Next to the sculptures is a video installation consisting of a vertical screen placed behind a semi-transparent curtain. The video on screen is a loop from the artist’s ongoing web-based video series entitled “Impermanent Space”. “The screen manifests as a ‘window’ in both physical and digital senses – the window in front of my studio, the window of a video call, a browser window,” Li said.

The artist’s work, titled Fragmented Body #2, hangs in the center of the gallery space as the result of a process Li calls improvisational choreography. Li says, “As the pressure was released from the rotary cutter onto the canvas and the tension of my body began to shape and direct where the curve was going, the flat surface transformed it into a sculptural ‘body’.” Li notes that the movement of the piece flows further into the three pastel drawings and two collages featured in the exhibition.

“We’ve never been so close”, 2022, corrugated cardboard, risography, wooden panels, various sizes, courtesy of the artist

The series of canvas paintings entitled Anonymous sound to notations is arranged in three groups and presented on the same wall. The artist collected audio recordings outside his studio window and later translated these sounds into abstract notations on the canvas, layered over a series of horizontal colored block backgrounds that traverse the canvas. Li notes that this series is intended to be contextualized with other works for the show: “The background colors imply an internal grid system—a pattern that appears in other works as well. When your eyes follow the grid and start moving up and down, the movement of the exhibition becomes apparent, it’s always drifting.”

Zhongkai Li earned a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Yale University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design from the Central Academy of Fine Arts. He has held solo exhibitions in Shanghai and New York and has participated in group exhibitions and film screenings worldwide. His most recent curatorial project, Radical Return, received a grant from the Mass Cultural Council and won the 2022 Communication Art Design Competition. He is a jury member for the 2022 and 2023 Young Ones Awards at The One Club for Creativity in New York. Li has previously taught at the Parsons School of Design and has given public lectures and lectures at various institutes including the Royal College of Fine Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, Boston University and the Pratt Institute.

The Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery is located in the Edgar Fine Arts Hall on UIU’s Fayette Campus. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Opening hours are subject to change.