“That’s the way we look at art now: we try to find the meaning of a piece. This raises quite a big question about the function of art, whether art is supposed to be critical or is now just a very weak reflection of our tastes and what’s going on around us.”

Born 1982, Xichang, Sichuan. Lives and works in London and Beijing

British-trained Huang Ran is primarily a maker of films, but whatever his medium, he enjoys dismantling systems of representation and rearranging their elements in new, unsettling ways. One of his goals, he says, is to bypass viewers’ reason and induce them to “believe rather than comprehend”. He names as an influence Georges Bataille, who in the 1920s argued that art should do away with symbolic codes and confront viewers with “the thing itself” rather than interpretations of it. (In Huang Ran’s view, Bataille was a revolutionary trying “to subvert the system”.) The Rise and Fall of Desires Associated with Some Comfort (2012) presents ochre-coloured oil and clear water in separate compartments of a transparent acrylic box. The oil is in the top compartment, the water below—as they would still be if the intervening panel were removed. Though the work itself is mysteriously pleasing, its title seems entirely arbitrary: neither rise nor fall is possible here, and oil and water conventionally symbolise neither comfort nor desire. But perhaps the title refers not to the artwork but to our desire for it to mean something and the satisfaction we would feel if it did. If that is so, the artist suggests, desire can ebb and flow, but it will remain as far removed from comfort as oil here is from water.

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