View of “Li Shurui,” 2018. Photo: Claire Dorn.

View of “Li Shurui,” 2018. Photo: Claire Dorn.

Li Shurui

For this exhibition, Li Shurui’s debut solo presentation in Europe, the artist presented ten new paintings and a video, the roughly twenty-four-minute Marriage Certificate, 2018. Her first work in this medium—made with her husband, the musician Li Daiguo—the video weaves together the physical and emotional material of the couple’s relationship with flashes of their creative production. The eight paintings comprising The moment before evaporation, Me Nos. 15 and The moment before evaporation, You Nos. 13, all 2018, were displayed in level rows across large sheets of paper painted with curving lines in gray and black, like the veins of marble. All tondos in acrylic on canvas on wood panels, these predominantly blue paintings engaged the sharp illusionism of Op art and resembled gigantic droplets of steam. Hung high in a corner of the same space, Wind Blows Open a Ray of Light, 2017, a rectangular diptych also in acrylic on canvas on wood, seemed to be capturing the diffuse reflection of an illuminated screen on a mirror slicked with condensation.

In a playful performance in a forest near the start of the video, Li Daiguo, dressed in a fluffy housecoat, leaps among dark tree trunks adorned with Li Shurui’s round blue canvases. The titles of her paintings seem to lament the disappearance of the individual within a relationship, the evaporation of the autonomous self in the construction of the couple unit. Tellingly, in Marriage Certificate, Li Shurui is not shown creating her paintings, but her husband is seen performing with several musical instruments: the stringed pipa and the mbiradzavadzimu, a thumb piano, among them.

The video was installed in a low-ceilinged basement room covered with plaid cushions and a shelf of flowering plants in plastic pots too small for them—the kinds of plants, daisies and impatiens, that a blissful young couple might pick up as they stroll through town. In the video, viewers see a windowless room in Chengdu’s Ruixi Hotel, flooded with red rose petals, and a round mattress in another part of the towering building; these are contrasted with the austere beauty of massive rock formations found on the side of the road and a wooden rowboat in Eryuan West Lake, sites near the artists’ current home in Dali. As in practically any relationship, humor is the couple’s salvation, and an amusing scene takes place in a white-tiled bathroom in Chengdu. As Li Shurui recites the rules of their relationship, her Chinese subtitled in English, Li Daiguo performs a stilted dance while playing zills (finger cymbals). “No fighting in front of parents, relatives, neighbors . . . If male party refuses to eat hot pot with female party, she may curtail sexual activity with him . . . Male party must remind female party on a daily basis that she is beautiful and will never appear old.”

Li Shurui is from Chongqing, and the couple perform some of their most carefree moments in that city. There is a short, elegant scene at the posh-looking Mr. Tipsy bar. And we see Li Daiguo keeping up his side of the contract, eating hot pot with his wife on the skyscraping roof of the Loquat Mountain Print Factory. Thick fog hangs above the murky waters of the Yangtze and the Jialing Rivers snaking far below. The haze of Chongqing appears to seep into Li’s panoramic ten-panel painting How Long It Takes a Habit to Form or Change, 2018, a precise panorama of aligned points of white and gray paint on a background that fades from a vibrant orange to the steely blue of her tondos. In these works, the paint starts to look like jewels or velvet; the artist’s devoted attentiveness to her materials is evident.

And maybe marriage is like painting, a daily practice with good days and bad. It is an effort whose demands are unrelenting, an effort that goes practically unnoticed, except, perhaps, like painting, at moments of disaster or triumph. “Perhaps my works are prayers,” the artist wrote in an email interview with the gallery, “or the outcomes of my rituals, or just flowers I pick from the garden of this collective brain hahaha.”