Bi Rongrong, photo by Zhang Jin
Bi Rongrong is an artist who reads cities. When travelling to new or familiar places, she scans the urban architecture for street art, ornamental patterns, posters – any fragments she can use as visual fodder for her vibrant multimedia works. ‘If civilisation is the land, then the cities are the forests which grow on this land. There are lots of invisible parts of the forests and things beneath the surface. We can learn a lot from looking closely at this surface.’
Led by her curious eye, Bi collects these visual references and reconfigures them into canvases, collages or large installations. Across these various formats, explosions of colour, furtive marks and swirling patterns recall the cityscapes from which they were drawn but are also entirely unique in their new context.
The Shanghai-based artist began her training as a close observer of her environment while studying Chinese traditional landscape painting at Sichuan University. Although her practice has since evolved into encompassing murals, fabric, video and much more, she credits her studies as shaping her adventurous approach to materials: ‘[Chinese painters] were developing brushes because their surfaces of paper, cloth, silk were changing. In their era, they were also trying new things, experimenting constantly…In my own practice, I also positioned myself in a very free way and let the environment inspire me.’
(Left to right): Bi Rongrong, Exhibition view courtesy Pearl Art Museum and the artist. ‘Untitled Textile’, courtesy the artist.
As well as the streets, the artist also visited museums of historic art and architecture for inspiration, a move that led to her to bring textiles into her work. ‘I found that, actually, architecture is not only stones, it also can be textiles. Nomadic people don’t have solid buildings. Where they put down their carpets is where their home is.’ Upon returning to Shanghai in 2016, she enlisted the help of fashion students at the city’s Institute of Visual Art to incorporate knitting and crocheting into her work.
In 2020 Bi brought LEDs, architecture and video into dynamic dialogue with textiles for an exhibition at Hong Kong’s Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile, positioning luminous patterns on the museum’s walls alongside ornamental carpets on the floor in a kind of mirroring effect. For the artist, this was a way of activating the inner life of the textiles’ patterns, in keeping with the ethos of traditional Chinese painting for things to ‘flow and not be still’.
The artist aims to build on this textile and LED work during the Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge, which she also sees as an opportunity to expand her multimedia practice: ‘Having a group of people to help me will encourage me to be more ambitious and to use materials I have never used before…I think this piece will be very curious and exciting.’
Bi Rongrong, photo by Zhang Jin
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