Installation view of REN RI’s “Yuansu I: The Origin of Geometry,” 2007–11, natural beeswax, wood, wire, 73 × 57 × 5 cm each, at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, Hong Kong. Courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries. 

Ren Ri: Yuansu Projects

Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, Hong Kong
Hong Kong China

In March, during Hong Kong’s Art Basel Week, Pearl Lam Galleries inaugurated its second space with a solo exhibition of Beijing-based artist Ren Ri’s beeswax sculptures. Situated in the newly built residential and art complex, SOHO 189, the sleek, minimally designed art space is dedicated to the promotion of emerging to mid-career artists and international designers. “Ren Ri: Yuansu Projects” brings together three installments of Ren’s beeswax endeavors, presenting over 40 individual works, most of which have never been publicly exhibited before.

In Ren’s oeuvre, honeybees reign supreme; they are the life force behind the artist’s organic sculptures. The 31-year-old artist took up beekeeping, thought by some to be an esoteric practice, in 2006. Once he felt that he had procured sufficient knowledge about beekeeping, and the production process of hives, he began to experiment by combining it with his artistic practice. He began by creating a collection of maps constructed out of beeswax. At Pear Lam Galleries, ten maps from this first series, “Yuansu I: The Origin of Geometry” (2007–11), are displayed on the upper floor. Each map is individually laid atop clear acrylic stands situated below knee-height, demanding viewers to strenuously peer from above or bend low to see the details. The up-close inspection is well worth the discomfort; the beeswax, built at different depths mimicking the uneven terrain of the earth’s land, is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Installation view of “Ren Ri: Yuansu Projects” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, Hong Kong. Courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries. 

REN RI#03 United States of America, 2007–08, from “Yuansu I: The Origin of Geometry” series, natural beeswax, wood, wire, 73 × 57 × 5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 

REN RI, from the series “Yuansu II,” 2013–15, honeycomb in acrylic box. Courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 

Downstairs, in the larger ground floor space, the piercing sound of buzzing bees consumes the gallery. A new video work projected on one wall, Yuansu III + 2 (2015), is a documentation of a performance piece. Ren is seen lying on the floor wearing a pair of eye goggles (presumably as a safety precaution), slowly being covered by the insects. The bees, as a group, move from one side of the screen to the other, enveloping the artist’s torso in the process. The sounds stemming from the video provides an interesting accompaniment—albeit an annoying one—to the assortment of sculptures from Ren’s “Yuansu II” (2013–15) series, which is the highlight of the show.

To create these series of works, Ren places a queen bee at the center of a transparent, acrylic polyhedron, which is geometrically marked by a wooden stick running across the box. The symmetry of the box stimulates the bees to create equally symmetrical beeswax structures around the queen bee. Determined by a throw of dice every seven days—a Biblical reference to the creation of the world—Ren rotates the box onto a different side, thus altering the gravity of the honeycomb and inducing a shift in the bee’s honeycomb-making patterns. The results are liquid-like and organic: hybrid beeswax forms that defy weight and gravity. The honeycombs take on inconceivable, spontaneous shapes—no two are ever the same. Twenty-eight individual beeswax sculptures are presented at Pearl Lam Galleries, some assembled together to compose larger formations, which are also accompanied by sketches that reveal the artist’s creative process.

Ren claims that his choice of using honeybees in his artmaking is an attempt to remove the subjective hand of the artist from the creation; however, the meticulous sketches and the motion of rotating the boxes is an act of interference that is undoubtedly contradictory to this statement. Aesthetically intriguing, Ren’s “Yuansu” projects use honeybees to explore the relationships between the force of nature and human intervention—they are both art and ethological study of sorts. Despite Ren’s desire to remove human subjectivity, the resulting artworks seem to reinforce the notion of an artist’s inevitable influence on the process of art-making.

“Ren Ri: Yuansu Projects” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, Hong Kong, until April 12, 2015.

Denise Tsui is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.