b.1942, Lanxi, Heilongjiang. Lives and works in Shanghai and New York
Li Shan reads textbooks on molecular biology and genetic technology for fun. His studies have persuaded him that Homo sapiens is in no way superior to any other organism. Indeed, he says, humans are the worst, most destructive organisms of all. He thinks it is time we completed “God’s unfinished work” by mixing our genes with those of other species to create “new and better forms of life”. These “living artworks” would be designed by artists and created in partnership with bioscientists. Li Shan’s first contribution to this utopian goal was to enlist a genetic laboratory in his Pumpkin Project (2007). After a series of failed attempts, they produced a living crop of grotesquely split and blackened gourds. Transhuman hybrids will, of course, be far more difficult to create, but in Recombinant (2002-2006, previously titled Reading) Li Shan offers a set of blueprints, seamlessly Photoshopped images that incorporate fragments of his own skin into the bodies of insects and animals. “The life created by God is no good,” the artist declares. “I will pull three pairs out of the 23 pairs of chromosomes [in each human cell] and replace them with those of a dragonfly, and see what will happen. Maybe human eyes can be replaced by those of a dragonfly.” He is (semi) serious: Misfortune 2 (2017) comprises 10 silicone sculptures of human beings with the heads and wings of dragonflies.