Li Hongbo is a Beijing-based artist who builds elaborate and flexible paper sculptures that ripple and shift before our eyes. Featured here is “Irons for the Ages, Flowers for the Day,” a large-scale installation currently on display at the SCAD Museum of Art. The work—which spans the entirety of a gallery—involves thousands of small paper objects bound together by honeycomb layers of glue. Close up, the bright shapes align themselves like an undulating, flowery rainbow; step back, however, and you’ll see that together the shapes amass into the greater form of guns and artillery. In a surprising clash of innocent colors and delicate paper with the brutality of war, Hongbo produces a curious (and potentially deceitful) optimism for deadly weapons.
Hongbo’s work draws upon the ancient, cultural tradition of paper-making in China, which dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). Inspired by this art form, Hongbo has reinvented it on a grand scale. Other projects include malleable bodies and busts, such as a version of Michelangelo’s David that unfolds spectacularly. The ability to metamorphose is integral to Hongbo’s works; with the politics left aside (or at least ambiguous), his sculptures challenge our perceptions by unsettling solid forms with their built-in fluidity. Whether it’s guns or classical statues, we can’t help but to reconsider the materiality and purpose of objects as they transform before our eyes.