‘A Phantom’s Vibe’ is a solo exhibition by artist Dinu Li, featuring newly commissioned and existing works that combine music, sculptural assemblages, and video installation. The exhibition explores the complexities of colonial history, cultural memory, and hybrid identities.
Li’s work in the exhibition combines autobiographical allegories with a tapestry of cultural influences. Visitors are taken from the night markets of Hong Kong to the blues parties of Hulme and Moss Side, via Jamaican recording studios owned by the descendants of Chinese coolies. The reggae classic ‘Always Together’ runs through the heart of the exhibition, where music becomes a medium for cultures to meet, mix, and become hybrid.
As a child wandering through the working-class market districts of Hong Kong, Li overheard ‘Always Together', mistaking it for a Chinese folk classic. Years later, the song unexpectedly reappeared like a phantom at one of the inner-city blues parties Li frequented during his 1980s Manchester youth, and decades after that, the song once again re-emerged on YouTube.
It wasn't until much later that Li learned the song was actually recorded in Jamaica in 1967 in one of a small number of Chinese recording studios, some of which helped shape the sounds of Lee Perry, Augustus Pablo, and Bob Marley. Through his work tracing the history of early reggae, Li's exhibition, 'A Phantom's Vibe,' serves as a means of unearthing the underrepresented history of Chinese coolies in Jamaica, subverting mainstream cultural hegemony.
Li infuses the gallery with his own dub track, 'Skanking Hawker,' interspersed with sounds from a tribal mountain song recorded from the hinterlands of China. The composition is completed with a sampling of 'Always Together' sung in Chinese by Stephen Cheng, manifesting the ways in which music can offer a sense of escapism for marginalised groups as vibrations reverberating from their sound systems act as symbols of expression and defiance.
In 'A Phantom's Vibe', Li brings the ambience of Hong Kong markets to the gallery through sculptural works informed by stalls and vendor's carts, featuring pom poms, hair extensions, fake pearls, and reggae-coloured cable ties that combine to form a new lexicon. Union Jack-coloured tarpaulins, ubiquitous in Southeast Asian street markets, act as screens or backdrops. Li's seemingly idiosyncratic arrangements avoid singular, linear narratives and instead attempt to forge new connections and alliances between slippery cultural boundaries.
In addition to the six new works featured in the exhibition, visitors to ‘A Phantom’s Vibe’ can also view Li’s video installation 'Nation Family' (2017) and photographic slide projection 'Folk Songs' (2013).
Throughout his practice, Li creates a discourse on the intercultural complexities of contemporary identities. He challenges boundaries and classifications, exploring fresh perspectives and establishing novel systems of reference.
Dinu Li was born in Hong Kong and currently lives and works in Cornwall, UK. Li is an interdisciplinary artist working with the moving image, photography, sculptural assemblage and performance. In his practice, Li examines the manifestation of culture in the everyday, finding new meaning to the familiar, making visible the seemingly invisible. Archives play an active role in Li’s work, and they are often used as points of departure for his projects. His methodology is research based, with an emphasis on appropriation and reconfiguration. Li’s work is often characterised by problematising the document as part of the modus operandi.
Li has exhibited both nationally and internationally, including the 53rd Venice Biennale; the 3rd Bucharest Biennale; Tashkent Biennale 2007, Uzbekistan; Tatton Park Biennial 2012; EVA 2005; Contact FotoFest 05, Toronto; PHotoEspana 13, Madrid; Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden; Oldenburger Kunstverein, Germany; the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art, Dublin; White Space 798, Beijing; the V&A, London; OCT Loft, Shenzhen; Konsthall C, Farsta, Sweden; Chalk Horse, Sydney; San Antonio Art Gallery, Texas; Alternative Space Loop, Seoul, and the He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen.
Li’s works are held in private collections in Berlin, London, St Gallen and Zurich. He has undertaken international artist residencies through ArtSway in Sichuan; OCAT in Shenzhen; an Artists Exchange Residency in Central Asia through the British Council, Space and Cornerhouse. Li’s work features in many publications as well as his own monographs and is featured in Phaidon’s 2013 survey book ‘The Chinese Art Book’ showcasing artworks by two hundred significant Chinese artists since the Shang Dynasty. He has presented papers in several conferences including Urban Encounters at Tate Britain in 2017. In 2019, Li's film Nation Family was selected by Sacha Craddock and Mark Titchner for the Exeter Contemporary Open Art Award as the Overall Winner. In 2022, Li was a nominated recipient of the Henry Moore Foundation Artist Award.