Gao Rong

Gao Rong and the reinvention of embroidery

"I am a sculptor who works with embroidery, not an embroiderer"

Gao Rong's studio and her work in progress - embroidered stains and spills on 'designer' handbags,
Photograph Luise Guest image reproduced with the permission of the artist
Gao Rong with her works, 'Public Telephone and Private Telephone', photograph Luise Guest
Image reproduced with permission of the artist

Gao Rong, ‘The Static Eternity’, 2012, fabric, sponge, wire, steel support and board, 
image reproduced courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery
Gao Rong, ‘The Static Eternity’, (detail) 2012, fabric, sponge, wire, steel support and board, 
image reproduced courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery
Gao Rong, Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village, 2010, Fabric, Thread, Sponge, Metal
               Image reproduced courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery

"Because I want to find the roots and origins of my visual language, I thought of my grandmother sewing when I was a child"
           (Gao Rong in conversation with Luise Guest, December 2012)

The Artist

Gao Rong was born in 1986 in Baotou CIty in Inner Mongolia. She studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. She lives and works in Beijing where she continues to use embroidery. She describes herself as "a sculptor who uses embroidery, not an embroiderer". She identifies the moment when she discovered the work of British artist Tracey Emin as a significant influence on her practice. She realised that she could make artworks about her own world and her own life using embroidery as a visual language.

Read Critical Analysis Extracts 1, 2 and 3 and answer the questions:

Critical Analysis #1

Gao Rong has transformed the ‘nu hong’ traditions of embroidery, using fabric and thread to create large scale sculptural works. Every minute detail is stitched onto fabric which is wrapped around sponge stiffened by steel frames and wire. Exact representations of peeling paint, electricity fuseboxes and bus timetables replace the traditional dragons and plumblossom. "I am a sculptor who uses embroidery, not an embroiderer" she says. Banal yet poignant, they represent the public and private realms she inhabits – a public telephone, a Beijing bus stop, the entryway to her basement apartment and the house where she spent time as a child. Her most ambitious work to date is a replica of her grandparents’ traditional home in Inner Mongolia, now demolished. Every detail - the rust-stained pipes, enamel mugs and thermos flasks, heavy furniture and ancestor portraits - was created with embroidered fabric. The work reveals itself slowly - initially seducing through sheer technical skill and then by its evocation of an all-surrounding memory. The Static Eternity’ is a trompe l’oeil labour of love in which the minutiae of humble domestic spaces and the lives lived within their walls are a palpable presence. Gao’s work speaks of family history, memory and filial duty.
("nu hong" embroidery refers to the traditional embroidery of particular regions in China learned by young women and passed down through mothers to daughters)

Luise Guest (published in Randian online journal of Chinese art and ideas)

Critical Analysis #2

A humble single-roomed home occupied the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations. Gao Rong’s installation, The static eternity, 2012, invites you in, not as a guest but, more importantly, as a witness. As you scan across the seemingly worn surfaces of furniture, photographs and personal items, you sense a strange stillness: every object seems heavy with history, yet something is missing. Slowly, you realise that the eroding surface of a chimney flue is not rust-eaten metal, but meticulously embroidered fabric. Every object, every surface, has been re-created to scale with almost perfect simulacrum. You are not standing in someone’s reconstructed home; you are submerged in the artist’s memory, materialised stitch by stitch through the painstaking process of embroidery

Critical Analysis #3

Chinese embroidery was refined over the centuries to an exquisite art—one that Gao Rong grew up with. “My mother and grandmother both make beautiful embroidery,” she has said. “They do it as a hobby. Unfortunately this skill is no longer valued, so it is being lost.”  Traditional embroidery artists “painted” pictures of birds, animals, flowers and other designs with fine thread. Gao Rong adds contemporary twists—and fresh dimensions. Her works are embroidery as sculpture, every detail stitched on fabric wrapped around sponge stiffened by steel frames and wire.  Instead of plum blossoms and phoenixes, she sews perfect replicas of peeling paint, rusty pipes, old framed photos, transport schedules.  Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village (2010) recreates the entrance of the cheap basement flat that as a student Gao Rong used to rent in Beijing. Station (2011) replicates with meticulous exactness the sign at a Beijing bus stop, complete with daily timetables and phone numbers scrawled by hopeful merchants. And the artist’s masterpiece, The Static Eternity (2012), reproduces the tiny home of her late grandmother, who taught her to sew. Each piece takes months of work and countless thousands of stitches. For Gao Rong they are labours of love—quiet tributes to family, home, and the simple joys of everyday life.


  1. What do you think are the most important aspects of Gao Rong's practice - what features set her apart from other artists whose work you have studied or seen in exhibitions?
  2. Gao Rong identifies Tracey Emin as an influence on her practice. Compare her work 'Static Eternity' with a work by Tracey Emin featuring embroidery or applique, such as her appliqued tent 'Everyone I have ever slept with since 1963'. How is each artist reflecting important aspects of their world?
  3. Find other examples of artists who have used fabric and/or embroidery to create sculptural forms such as Claes Oldenburg and Judy Chicago. In what significant ways do their intentions differ from Gao Rong's?

Look at the works below by Gao Rong and outline how she responds to particular aspects of her urban world:

Firstly - 'Station' (detail of a Beijing bus stop, complete with scrawled merchant's phone numbers and real estate advertisements, made of cloth, foam and embroidery)

Secondly her embroidered 'Mailbox' - again created from cloth, foam and embroidery:

Thirdly, her 'Beijing Taxi' - these three-wheeled vehicles are typical of Beijing and are called "San Lun Che" (three wheeled vehicles) or "Beng Beng Taxis"

Click this link to watch a video about her 2013 exhibition "I Live in Beijing" at Eli Klein Gallery, New York:

Remember - EVERYTHING is embroidered!

Discussion Questions:

Can you suggest other elements of the urban, suburban or even the rural world that could be replicated using this technique?

How would the meanings of the sculptures be different if they were made of plastic or steel?

Gao Rong's latest body of work consists of fake designer handbags, embroidered with stains and spills and containing soft sculotures. It is a wry satirical comment on consumerism and the obsession with luxury goods in contemporary China.

Extended Response Questions

  • Imagine a conversation between Gao Rong and a sculptor of your choice who works in a more traditional medium such as stone, steel or bronze. How would each artist explain and justify their practice to the other? Write the dialogue of their conversation.

  • You are an art critic writing for an international arts journal. You have just discovered Gao Rong's work for the very first time. What is your response? Write a 500 - 800 word article.

"What If?"

What if Gao Rong was making work about the everyday life of YOUR family or YOUR suburb or YOUR school. What objects would she replicate with fabric and embroidery?


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