Irons for the Ages, Flowers for the Day: Li Hongbo examines the conflict of war + weapons with colorful paper gun accordions

The SCAD Museum of Art presents “Irons for the Ages, Flowers for the Day,” a large-scale installation by Beijing-based sculptor Li Hongbo. Hongbo primarily uses handmade paper to create visually compelling and malleable sculptures that challenge the viewer’s perceptions of metamorphosis in sculpture. Li Hongbo is known for employing handmade paper as his medium, to create malleable sculptures that challenge the viewer’s perception of metamorphosis in sculpture. His fascination with the material and its history, which is an important part of his chinese culture — the oldest known paper fragments in the world date back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), and made their way to the west by way of the silk road — began when he attended the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing where paper was a cheap and readily available resource. since then, the artist has engaged in depth with the material, exploring its endless possibilities. Hongbo’s work can be seen as part of this continuum, drawing from a rich formal and historic tradition.

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 This ultimately developed into a focused analysis and engagement with the endless possibilities the medium offers as Hongbo progressed through his studies and established his career. Building upon his expansive knowledge of paper’s natural strengths and weaknesses, Li Hongbo’s creative’s artistic process sees him applying a honeycomb layer of adhesive between sheets of paper, to form solid yet pliable structures that can elongate, retract, stretch and twist. his installation ‘irons for the ages, flowers for the day’ is a composition of brightly colored gun-shaped paper accordions that fill the SCAD museum of art’s pamela elaine potter gallery. The work examines the conflicts of war and weapons, in which Li Hongbo transforms the crude tools of destruction, rendered in vibrant, honeycombed, laminated paper, by reshaping them into delicate abstract forms resembling floral patterns. the artist eliminates any signs of slaughter and chaos that guns evoke, by transposing the sinister intent of guns into a pleasant landscape which instead expresses feelings of optimism. 

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From hippies penetrating the National Guard’s rifles with flower power, to fleeting blooms and butterflies glimpsed amid the chaos of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front,the petal, juxtaposed with the metal of a gun, are as apt a metaphor for our dual desires for war and peace as any. Chinese artist Li Hongbo‘s new installation at The SCAD Museum of Art, Irons for the Ages, Flowers for the Day speaks to this duality with trademark paper sculptures that aren’t what they seem. Calling upon millenia of Chinese paper lamps and decorations, Hongbo and a group of SCAD assisstants erected rows of unfolded rainbow blossoms, ending up with a vivd tower of color. Folded up, they become the titular “irons for the ages”: dozens of cute-yet-imposing candy-colored pistols. This might sound familiar if you saw his 2012 Sydney Biennale exhibit, Ocean of Flowers (2012), but Hongbo says this update is built upon a deep relationship with SCAD: “The historical building together with this contemporary look makes people think about the lifespan of a flower, flourishing shortly, and of steel, which lasts much longer,” he explains to The Creators Project. “Audiences will see a beautiful flower blooming in the space, but this image also hopefully makes people think and pay close attention to what’s underneath. When viewers realize that such a wonderful space is actually made out of ‘weapons,’ they are going react.”

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Detail of the honeycomb paper structures as the artist transforms the violence of guns into a landscape of abstract florals

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Discussion around mass shootings and gun control have become a part of our everyday lives since the 2012 Newtown massacre, leaving cultural and emotional scar tissue that that is picked at and reopened with a fresh ‘incident’ every month. Hongbo seeks to remind people that the will to kill with so brutal and effective a weapon as a gun surrounds us always, no matter how charming the setting. “Everyone has a dream. Dreams of a comfortable life, a beautiful environment, a peaceful society and so on,” he says. “But some selfish people damage others’ lives and dreams because of their own excessive desires. They revert to guns, one of most deadly weapons be used to threaten and kill people who do not ‘obey’ their dreams of beauty.”

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Hongbo’s formal experiments with paper are often mesmerizing, as in the malleable busts of

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 but Irons for the Ages, Flowers for the Day plants a seed of tragic remembrance and contemplation for those with a stake in the issue at hand. “I hope my work can make audience think about others and social repercussions. I also hope people will see new directions and perspectives in this work, to learn to re-look things,” Hongbo ruminates on the purpose of the exhibit. “Visitors of my work usually come from different life backgrounds, academic fields, work fields and social practices. I hope my work can help them all reflect on themselves.”

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