The Art of Taboo – Ren Hang
Being a radical artist in China is a pretty tricky prospect. Considering censors banned paradigm of inoffensive banality Katy Perry from the country’s airwaves for supposedly being too vulgar (and not forgetting that time authorities made Ai Weiwei disappear for posting seminude photos of himself online), you would have thought that Chinese photographer Ren Hang would lay off filling his portfolio with gaping buttholes and models pissing on each other, or sustaining his unparalleled level of dedication to photographing erect penises.
But he hasn’t, which is a good thing, because his photos are great—somehow managing to desexualize naked bodies and turn them into sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful, sometimes gnarled, hairy, human-shaped sculptures that make you want to get naked with all your friends, paint your dick red, and hang out on a roof in Beijing. Which is basically the end game all photographers are going for, right? I wanted to talk to Ren about his work, so I did. Here’s that conversation.
VICE: First off, why is everyone naked in basically every single one of your photos?
Ren Hang: Well, people come into this world naked and I consider naked bodies to be people’s original, authentic look. So I feel the real existence of people through their naked bodies.
Is that why the bodies aren’t presented in a kind of conventionally “sexy” way, even if the photos are sexual?
No, I don’t take photos with any particular purpose or plan—I just grasp whatever comes into my mind, arrange that in front of me and take a photo of it. I don’t pay too much attention to whether a scene is sexy or not when I’m taking photos.
Yeah, a lot of the bodies end up looking more like kind of grotesque sculptures.
That’s not really intentional, although I do consider bodies as sculptural—or, as you say, grotesque sculptures—so I suppose the sculptures exist because the bodies exist.
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