Jin Shan’s space station at Brown

Space oddity
By GREG COOK  |  September 4, 2012

WORK-IN-PROGRESS Shan at Bell Gallery.

Jin Shan's "My dad is Li Gang!" presents a common bike and a spectacular spacecraft that seem to float in Brown University's David Winton Bell Gallery (64 College St, Providence, through November 4). But the 35-year-old Shanghai artist, considered a rising star in the hot Chinese art scene, intends it as a biting critique of Chinese leaders.

The cylindrical spacecraft sits in the middle of the gallery, tilted on one end and reaching to the ceiling. The upper end slowly rotates, with a faint clicking. The craft's shell is covered with mirrored tiles that reflect everything in the room, broken into shards, and radiates light like a disco ball. A mound of puss-like stuff oozes out of the bottom. A bicycle — one of those three-wheeled cart-bikes widely used by Chinese laborers — is suspended above the spacecraft. It's made of waxy-looking glue that dangles off the bottom and onto the spacecraft as if the bike is melting. The rear wheels are missing. Five, disembodied black wooden hands grab at the bike. Four white plaster walls — built out from the room's actual walls — frame it all. They're pocked with handprints that might suggest constellations or people who have desperately tried to claw their way up the walls to escape. The floor, ceiling, and walls are painted white, which tickles your sense of your bearings, and might give you a floating feeling.

For those only vaguely keeping track of happenings in China, it's a striking, absurd, enigmatic bit of showmanship. Why are ghostly hands grasping at this melting bike floating above a glittering spacecraft? As is common in big-time Chinese contemporary art spectacles, Jin Shan has loaded it with symbolism.

ARTISTIC AMBITION Shan’s ‘My dad is Li Gang!”

At the 2006 Singapore Biennale, he commented on the winners and losers in the Chinese economy by building a traditional Chinese pavilion with a trampoline inside that allowed visitors to leap upward and try to grab consumer goods hanging from the roof. As part of the 2007 Venice Biennale, he installed a sculpture of himself peeing off a bridge into a canal. In It Came From the Sky, his first US show at the University of Kansas last year, he critiqued Chinese leadership and police with an installation featuring a mannequin of a policeman, suspended by wire, repeatedly rising under a projection of a starry cosmos and then crashing to the floor.

In "My dad is Li Gang!," the spacecraft is inspired by China's Tiangong-1 space station, which was launched last fall. The bike is meant to symbolize the common workers behind China's economic boom. The hands represent impoverished workers squabbling over their meager stake in the world, as the government projects its ambitions by pouring money into technology and public works. "For Jin Shan, the bike is powering the space station . . . powering the ambition of China," curator Ian Alden Russell.

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