Hong Lei specialises in subverting images by careful editing and retouching. In doing so, he subverts the rule of reason, using eerie juxtapositions to appeal directly to the viewer’s unconscious. Early in his career, he used photography to recreate classical Chinese paintings, then added bizarre twists. El Jardín de Senderos Que Se Bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths, 2007) is part of a new phase in which, rather than riffing on well-known works, he stages tableaux of his own. The title comes from a 1941 story by Jorge Luis Borges. One of the first works of “hypertext fiction”, it centres on a Chinese spy and his ancestor, creator of a labyrinthine artwork in which “all possible outcomes occur; each is the point of departure for other forkings”. Against blank backdrops, Hong Lei’s triptych presents goats, horses and dogs surrounded by flies (linked in China with death), butterflies (love and long life), and dragonflies (transience). Borges’s tale makes no mention of mammals or insects. In borrowing its title, Hong Lei suggests that art and life are both labyrinths, in which anything can happen and each viewer interprets the same event in his own way.
“I just reveal the traditional Chinese culture that exists in my heart, the way I understand it. It’s like a poet once said: ‘I love deeply and also hate the land under my feet.’ ”