Tortured Trees: Brutal Bonsai Bondage Art Series

The trees writhe and twist as if in pain, the branches bent in seemingly unnatural ways. It almost seems cruel, the metal contraptions that squeeze and pull each plant resembling nothing more than torture devices. And so they are – ‘Bonsai Series’ by artist Shen Shaomin has some not-so-subtle things to say about how humans interfere with nature.

The plants are like prisoners to his work, says Shen. The Beijing artist put the live, green plants into cage-like metal structures that bind them and restrict their growth. Along with the plants, Shen displayed a collection of antique-looking metal tools used to distort the plants.

According to ArtZine China, Shen sought to “critique the notion of relentlessly constructing artificial beauty regardless of price in Chinese society.” Some of his inspiration came from the archaic Chinese tradition of ritual foot-binding, though Shen sees the mistreatment of plants as even crueler because the plants are unwilling participants and the damage is done under the pretense of enjoying nature.

Investigating the technique of bonsai, Shen was shocked to learn how practitioners cut the center of the tree trunk open to twist and scar them so they appear older, “penetrating the intestine, smashing the stomach.” The plants were hacked, burnished and scorched in such a way that reminded Shen of surgical operations carried out on humans. Bonsai forcibly changes plants into unnatural, abnormal shapes that people somehow find beautiful.

“Today what we feel and know as Nature has become something artificial, technical, and sociological. Men are fabricating an artificial world of their own according to their personal interests.”

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