Life is full of big questions, but one that’s rarely asked is this: why embroider a doily when you can embroider a life-sized sculpture of your grandparents’ home?
Beijing-based artist Gao Rong has done exactly that, painstakingly reproducing the tiny rural shack where her grandparents lived for more than 50 years down to the last doorknob, teacup and rusty pipe. Taking months of toil and countless stitches to complete, this 2012 installation (entitled Static Eternity) looks utterly ‘real’ but is actually created from embroidered cloth, sponge and metal.
The entrance to the basement apartment Gao rented as a student gets a similar treatment in Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village. What looks like a grotty front doorway with saggy pipe, old fuse box and scuffed walls is the result of her ingenious work with cloth, cotton and sponge. It’s enough to make you question your eyesight.
Like the original Pop Artists, Gao finds her inspiration in everyday objects; those banal items we barely notice as we go about our lives. A sink full of dirty dishes (one with a fish skeleton caked to it, others with soy sauce residue and sticky rice grains), a battered public telephone, a graffitied bus stop sign, a ridiculously convincing replica of a motorised tricycle – these are her humble muses, imbued with unexpected magic as soft-sculptural doppelgangers.
Every detail – every stain, scuff and scratch – is lovingly embroidered onto cloth then wrapped around sponge or wooden board and bolstered with metal frames. As unusual as her work is, Gao sees it as an extension of the traditional embroidery practised by her forebears. “My mother and grandmother made beautiful embroidery,” she says. “It was their hobby. Unfortunately, this skill is no longer valued, so it is being lost.”
Mind you, if Gao’s art is any indication, a stitch in time might just save it.