Ren Hang was a Chinese poet and photographer known for creating intimate and erotic images of naked models in provocative poses, bearing surrealist and fantastical undertones.Read More
Born in 1987 in Jilin, China, Ren attended the Communication University of China in Beijing where he majored in advertising. In 2007, Ren bought a small Minolta point-and-shoot camera and began taking pictures of his friends to counter the dullness of his studies. Ren lived and worked in Beijing until 2017, when following sustained periods of depression, the artist died by suicide at the age of 29.
Ren's high-contrast photographs of thin naked bodies scaled in cold hues retain a homemade quality despite being formed from intricate arrangements of contorted limbs, concealed behind exotic animals or set against green foliage and cityscapes, showcasing sleek surfaces and angular membranes.
A self-taught photographer, Ren's subjects were often friends and models who he trusted to respond to his directions in a process of performance and play. Untitled and dated for convenience, Ren's images invoked sexual liberation in an otherwise heavily censored cultural context.
Untitled (2014), for instance, shows a young girl with a sharp bob and ebony skin, back arched against a crimson wall, the shadow of a hand casting over her naked pelvis. A strand of black hair brushed over her upper lip she looks to the viewers with the same obstinacy expected from her male counterparts.
Influenced by Surrealist filmmaker Shuji Terayama, Ren incorporated juxtaposition and fantasy to later images. Resulting photographs show fluid identities, bodies stacked together, seemingly sexless, and male models wearing silk stockings and red lipstick. Amongst them, Untitled (2015), depicts the face of a naked man, body concealed behind a second. Chin rested on an upper torso replicated to resemble a bottom, he looks over with inquisitive eyes, both hands wrapped around the second body's further end, hinting at the artist's undivulged preference for men. The same year, the quarterly photography journal Aperture used one of Ren's photographs as the cover for its Spring issue centered around 'Queerness'.
Ren's photographs were developed and scanned in his private studios to avoid obscenity charges, with awareness of the looming possibility of censorship. Once, as the artist was shooting outside, a neighbour called the police who attempted an arrest on the grounds of 'group licentiousness'. Ren's camera was regularly confiscated, his website shut down, with exhibitions cancelled under 'suspicion of sex'. The artist's work is still deemed controversial today, often being spat upon and taken down when exhibited.
Despite the controversial nature of his works, Ren only started thinking about their significance after gaining international exposure. To Ren, it was more important to create photographs that were interesting to the photographer and subject than to make political statements.
Ren's first poetry collection, Word or two (2017), contained translated works by the artist written from 2007—2016. In them, Ren addresses love and the fear of loneliness across short lines documenting the experience of loving and living with others. Ren also documented his depression online, published on a website, under a menu titled 'My Depression'.
In 2010, Ren Hang received the 2010 Third Terna Contemporary Art Award in Italy.
Ren's works have been shown worldwide. In addition to collaborations with fashion brands like Gucci, Rick Owens, and Loewe, Ren's photographs have been featured in magazines such as GQ Style, L'Officiel, and Vice.
Select solo exhibitions include Love, Ren Hang, posthum, C/O Berlin, Berlin (2020); Love, Ren Hang, posthum, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris (2019); Human Love, Fotografiska, Stockholm (2017); Naked/Nude, Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam (2017); Athens Love, Klein Sun Gallery, New York (2015); The Wild, OstLicht Gallery, Vienna (2015); and In addition to sleep, Copenhagen Photo Festival, Copenhagen (2014).
Selected group exhibitions include: Medium of Desire: An International Anthology of Photography and Video, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York (2015-2016); Contemporary Photography in China 2009-2014, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai (2014); FACELESS, Stichting Mediamatic, Amsterdam (2014); Fuck Off 2 Chinese Contemporary Art Document, Groninger Museum, Netherlands (2013); Originate from Energy Resource, Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, Moscow (2012); and Qui & Ren Hang INNER EAR, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2011).
The artist's Instagram account can be found here.
Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2021
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