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Interview: Ren Hang
An almost comically terse conversation with the enfant terrible photographer of China's edgiest, nakedest youth...
By Aug 6, 2014 Arts

So, I wanted to interview Ren Hang, since he just had a big solo show open at Three Shadows over the weekend, and he's been kind of blowing up in Europe, where they have an enhanced appreciation of naked bodies art photography. Got in touch with him through a mutual friend to line it up, and I even talked with him a bit on Saturday night at Dada, after his opening, to further thread the needle. Should have just done it then! Ended up doing an emailer at his request and damn, it's so short it might as well be in a print magazine. Like, comically terse. Blunt. Surface.

Most of the interviews that the Changchun-born, post-80s generational torchbearer has given are like that, though. He did a pretty funny one for Vice (obviously), here are some hits from that:

VICE: What's with all the pee in your photos, too?
Ren Hang: Again, I don't use urine on purpose. The models urinate, I shoot.

VICE: OK, I can already guess the answer to this considering nothing you do seems to have a purpose, but the dicks—there are a lot of dicks. Is that a statement about patriarchy, or something, or do you just like dicks?
Ren Hang: No, taking pictures of penises is meaningless. But I do think that erect penises are the most real and beautiful penises. People sometimes even forget they have a penis unless it's erect, which I think is very powerful. But it's not just dicks I'm interested in, I like to portray every organ in a fresh, vivid, and emotional way.

Better than anything I got. Maybe it's all part of an elaborate performance piece, presenting a media persona as superficial and conceptually opaque as his photographic world. Maybe my questions were too boring. Maybe he was tired or hungover or something. I don't know. Fuck it. Here's Ren Hang on Ren Hang, in like 20 words. Oh, also a bunch of nudie pics because I know that's why 90% of you clicked your way here in the first place:


SmartBeijing: You're originally from Changchun, right? Were you active as an artist there? When did you move to Beijing?

Ren Hang: When I was in high school in Changchun, every day I would skip class and play pool. I moved to Beijing in 2006 to attend university.

SmBJ: You went to school at China Communications University. What was your major? Was it related to what you're doing now?

Ren Hang: My major was advertising. After one year of university, I basically didn't go to class any more. I never graduated. My university courses have no connection to my work now.

SmBJ: When did you formally decide to pursue photography as a full-time artist? When you were first starting out, what channels did you use to get your work seen by curators, galleries, etc?

Ren Hang: I started to take photographs in 2008. At first I just showed my work online.

SmBJ: You have a pretty distinct aesthetic, existing in a nexus between youth culture, sexuality, and surreality. How would you describe your aesthetic, in your own words?

Ren Hang: I believe beauty is very subjective, there is no way to describe it.

SmBJ: Who are some of your major influences?

Ren Hang: Shūji Terayama.

SmBJ: You're also a poet. What themes do you explore in your poetry?

Ren Hang: My poems are all written expressions of my anger and lust.

SmBJ: Your website features an entire gallery of photographs of your mom. How has she influenced or supported your work over the years?

Ren Hang: She hasn't really influenced my work.

SmBJ: Within China, your work has appeared in prominent live music venues, like Yugong Yishan in Beijing and Yuyintang in Shanghai. Is there much overlap between the culture you depict in your work and China's live music underground?

Ren Hang: No, there's not really a connection. I like to go to concerts, that's all.

SmBJ: You've been exhibiting internationally since 2013, mostly with solo shows in Europe. How has your work been received abroad?

Ren Hang: More enthusiastically than in China.

SmBJ: You just had a solo show open at Three Shadows, rather rare for such a young artist. How involved were you in the curation of the show? What is the personal meaning of the exhibition title, "Physical Borderline"?

Ren Hang: Rong Rong came up with the title, you should ask him about the meaning.

SmBJ: You've been traveling a lot recently it seems, having just come back from a lengthy stay in Paris. Where, besides Beijing, interests you as a place to live and work?

Ren Hang: I still prefer to remain in China. I'm most familiar with China.

SmBJ: I don't consider your work to be very commercial, but it does have a kind of sex appeal some might associate with intentionally provocative advertising imagery. As a professional photographer, how much of your time do you spend doing commercial work, and how much of your time are you pursuing your art as an end in itself?

Ren Hang: I don't mind doing any kind of commercial work, I also don't believe that I have so-called "pure art."

SmBJ: What are you working on now? What's next for you after this Three Shadows show ends?

Ren Hang: This month I have a solo exhibit in Taiwan, next month I have an exhibit in Italy.

Ren Hang: Physical Borderline is on view at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Caochangdi until Sunday, September 28. Find an exhibition introduction in the listing.

Top/cover photo via NeochaEdge

All other photos by Ren Hang:
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  • 4 years ago Dream Sequins

    This is a great interview. I wouldn't have thought about the commercial advertising angle, but his stuff does look a lot like certain American Apparel ads. Wish he would have said more about that.

    Interesting that he mentioned Terayama, I wouldn't have put that together considering Terayama is most famous for his use of color and his compositions are usually much busier and more theatrical ( Maybe he is talking about Terayama's attitude and approach to sex?

    Anyway, Ren Hang's stuff is much more erotic and reminds me more of a Kern who never lost his sense of humor.

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