Sun, Jun 02, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Growing to love `plant people'

The creatures from artist Ren Rong's imagination are a combination of the human and natural worlds - a creature that Ren invented during his teenage years and has carefully nurtured to maturity ever since


This work was titled `Yellow River' in China, but I called it `Tamshui River' here. It was called by some other river's name when exhibited in Germany," said Chinese artist Ren Rong (任戎) of River (河流), the major piece in his current exhibition at Taipei's Hong-Gah Museum (鳳甲美術館).

Easily adapting the titles of his works to suit any country, the Bonn/Beijing-based artist views Ren Rong, his second touring exhibition since 1999, as a cultural exchange between countries. Titling the exhibition after himself, Ren had brought this "record of my life, people I had contact with and places I visited" to six cities in Germany before coming to Taipei. It will be heading for Taichung's Stock 20 in July before moving on to Hong Kong, Beijing, Jerusalem and more German cities.

River consists of 80 small-format paper cuts mounted on cardboard surfaces. They were in a flowing linear formation meandering across an entire wall in the gallery.

These black paper cuts are of "plant people" (植物人) -- Ren's imaginary creature combining plant and nude man and woman. Developed since the late 1980s, the hybrid creature has been featured in all of Ren's exhibitions, including the one at Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 2000.

The origin of the creature goes back to Ren's pre-college days. "I used to love painting human nudes. The human body's natural texture had great appeal for me. When placed in nature or among plants, it blends in with perfect harmony," Ren said in an telephone interview with the Taipei Times.

After college, it occurred to Ren to blend natural and human nudes into one creature, which, according to Ren, is ever-growing and freely reproducing.

Art Notes:

What: Ren Rong solo exhibition

Where: Hong-Gah Museum, 5F, 260 Tayeh Rd. Peitou, Taipei county (台北市北投區大業路260號5樓)

When: Until June 23

The fact that "plant people" means the "brain-dead" in Taiwan has been a constant joke among Ren's Taiwanese friends. "I invented the phrase in German. `Pflanzenmenschen' is a poetic word. For me, it represents the `ultimate exercise' -- constant movement, transformation and growth. Plant people are by no means stationary," Ren said.

These spiky-head plant people wear a hard-working expression. Their limbs strenuously stretch out and sometimes entwine with other plant people. The effect of exertion is further enhanced by their extending fingers and toes that seem to be reaching out to grab something.

The background cardboard is a collage of comics, maps, newspaper clippings and calligraphy in Chinese and German, which Ren has been collecting since he moved to Germany in 1986.

"Ren's popularity in Germany is due more than a little to the Oriental, or exotic, appeal of his paper-cuts," said Weng Suying (翁淑英), promotion chief at Hong-Gah. "The contrasting color scheme of red and black and the simplified human forms similar to traditional Chinese New Year decorations create a typical Chinese style," Weng said, referring to Ren's Positive and Negative, a collage of 200 paper cut plates. The Negative part is also on show at Hong-Gah.

For the Taiwan show, Ren made people plant people -- six new large paper-cuts on cardboard.

One of the series shows three plant people seemingly halfway in their stunt with details from an ancient painting Fire Mountain in Xinjiang in the background. Ren's photo portraits are densely superimposed on the silhouettes. Beeswax is sprayed on the bright earth-toned paper to create a warm texture. The vitality of the work seems to reach out from the paper.

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