Studio Visit: Li Ying

Ethereal metal sculptures hint at the Beijing artist's ongoing continuum with time

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Li Ying is a young, Beijing-based sculptor from Hunan province, who’s gained increasing attention for her monumental metal artworks—the latest of which mesmerized audiences at a recent CAFA postgraduate exhibition. We visited her studio in Heiqiao village in the outskirts of Beijing, a place where many emerging artists can still afford to find a peaceful nest in the middle of migrant workers’ villages, old warehouses and railway barns.

She is a pupil of master Sui Jianguo, who is the former chairman of the Department of Sculpture at CAFA, and a renowned artist for his work with metals and granite. His “Jurassic Age,” the caged red dinosaurs standing in front of UCCA, have become an icon of the 798 art district.


At the core of her sculptures is a peculiar approach to space and time. “From my earliest to my latest works, I see my artistic production as a continuum, I pursue the exploration of spacial relations: my own body, the artwork I create and its communication with the surrounding environment. Time plays as well a key role as a continuum; I never feel my artworks to be complete, I consider them parts of an ongoing process where time is a substrate where new connections can be built.”

I like accidental aspects to be part of my creative process.

In Li’s early work “Time,” her ideas about space and time take shape in a massive metal net structure which create a line of tension in the middle of an eight-meters-wide room. In a process (which required three months of work), Li welded—one by one—tiny bits of metal to create two suspended, organic-looking structures, which seem to grow toward each other. As she recalls, “I started from an idea, a very simple sketch, I didn’t know what the outcome would have been, it was like something growing with me, day by day, a sequence of unexpected micro-events. I like accidental aspects to be part of my creative process.”


The mix of materials, and Li’s fascination for the unexpected life of her creations, found an ideal medium in metal wire, a material which can be bended but still keeps its own inertia. “It has its own strength but at the same time can give you an idea of lightness, like it was floating in the air,” she remarks.

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In her 2013 series “Cishi – Hechu” (which translates to “This Moment – Where”), wires of different colors are woven together with wood structures, visually overturning the balance of gravities and creating a continuous flow between the two media. As she points out, “The flow continues in the surrounding space, in the shadows projected on the floor and on the walls,” an aspect which makes her particularly sensitive to the features of the exhibiting space.


Her latest work “Jia – Kong” has a more explicit connection with the location where it was conceived. The artwork is jaw-dropping; a suspended, life-sized skeleton made of thousands of almost-invisible metal filaments, which was originally built inside Li’s old family home back in Hunan, a few months before the whole area was torn down. The flow of relations between the artwork, the surrounding environment and the personal history here become extremely strong and poetic. As Li explains, “I saw a parallel between a skeleton made of thin wires and the fragility of my old home, at the same time I feel a sense of emptiness when I look at it, the same emptiness I feel for the disappearance of my old neighborhood, soon to be replaced by anonymous skyscrapers”.

Thanks to her extraordinary talent and personal approach to sculpture, Li has been awarded an art residency at Yishu 8 in Beijing. Her artworks will be here showcased in a solo exhibition opening 22 November 2014.

Studio images courtesy of Alessandro De Toni, installation images courtesy of Li Ying