Guns to Roses

Li Hongbo’s Paper Sculptures

The bright, happy colours of the fanned paper sculptures in Li Hongbo’s work Gun No. 1 (2016) would not be out of place at a seven-year-old’s birthday party. But appearances are deceiving.

The underlying structures of these ephemeral decorations are solid paper cutouts in the shape of bullets, hand-held pistols, and shoulder-mounted semi-automatic weapons.

The rainbow field of paper rosettes that comprise this installation are a plea for peace. Each colourful rosette is actually a paper sculpture in the shape of a gun, constructed in honeycombed layers so it can be fanned and pulled out like a traditional Chinese decoration. These lantern-shaped decorations are often seen hanging in temples and shrines, especially during New Year celebrations.

Li Hongbo makes each piece following the practices of traditional Chinese paper craft. He builds up layers of glued sheets of paper into a block and then cuts each block into the necessary shape.

The paper armaments are placed at regular intervals on the floor, and then each is fanned open in a burst of colour. As they are opened, they lose their resemblance to weaponry. The violence of the image is then hidden and become part of a celebratory paper garden.

Li Hongbo has spoken of his fascination with the old Chinese expression ‘Life is as fragile as paper.’ He counters this traditional wisdom in the exhibition Guns to Roses; showing that paper has its own strength, and that our future may be more certain if we celebrated spreading joy rather than shedding blood.