At Beijing’s Eight One art museum, Li Hongbo crouches over a seemingly nondescript log of wood. Grabbing hold of one end, he pulls on it and unfurls the log like he’s expanding the bellows of an accordion. The sculpture fans outwards to reveal a beautiful honeycomb pattern made out of paper, completely defying its previous form.
‘Paper has a close connection to me,’ Li says, ‘everyone’s familiar with paper as it’s a readily available material.’ Since its invention in China during the Han dynasty, it has transformed the way we communicate. It’s cheap, easily available and is Li Hongbo’s medium of choice for his latest exhibition, Ocean of Flowers.
‘Paper is an important part of China’s cultural heritage – it’s had a huge effect on civilisation. But it still has more to say.’
In another room, 2,000 brightly coloured paper sculptures form the Ocean of Flowers. Each is made up of hundreds of pieces of paper, meticulously stuck together to form a traditional paper gourd. As he folds one of them shut, the sculpture transforms into a gun.
‘Weapons are made for attacking people and yet they think weapons are made to defend peace,’ Li says. He yearns for people to ‘give up weapons and use a more peaceful way to communicate, like through language.’
Speaking to QZ, Li wonders whether his sculptures can help people to transform violence into a thing of beauty. ‘I wonder if my work could make people let go of these obsessions in their mind, and pursue a kind of true peace, a truly beautiful world for mankind, one without conflict.’