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The Impermanent Work of Li Hongbo


Four years ago, Beijing-based artist Li Hongbo, a book editor and designer, endeavored to understand the construction of a typical Chinese decoration: a paper ball made with a honeycomb grid. What he discovered was something simply designed, but with remarkable adaptability in terms of shape. So began Hongbo’s career making some of the most mind-boggling pieces of art — crafted not from plaster or stone, but from something you likely take for granted on a daily basis. 


Using thousands of sheets of paper and precisely placed glue strips, Hongbo effectively creates a shape with which to work. The papers, together in one form, create something not dissimilar from a block of marble a sculptor would work with, something they chip away at until a shape is realized. Paper’s a different beast, of course; Hongbo uses an electric saw to carve his works -- everything from classical busts, skulls, ancient-looking vases, even large blocks of wood. The result is uncannily similar to the real deal.

The coolest difference, however, reveals itself when begin to manipulate the work. Each piece pulls apart like an accordion, becoming distorted and less familiar. Floral vases turn into veritable Slinkies, skulls shuffled like a deck of cards.

Hongbo’s work seems to exaggerate the impermanence of life. (These pieces, after all, are more recyclable than most.) Hongbo brings the concept of Art with a capital “A” down to size, removes the arrogant expectations of importance. Of his own work, Hongbo humbly describes it as “quite ordinary, quite natural.”

We think it’s a bit more than that.


Photos courtesy of IllusionArt Discover, and MashKulture