Beijing artist Li Hongbo is turning heads – not to mention stretching, twisting and pulling them – with his bizarre paper sculptures. Busts that appear to be carved from marble or plaster can be pulled apart like a Slinky and stretched halfway across the room, before obediently returning to their original form.

What looks to be some futuristic shapeshifting material is actually one of the world’s most humble mediums: paper. Hongbo employs the traditional Chinese craft of “paper gourds” – think paper garlands, toys and party decorations that start flat and unfold into three-dimensional objects – to a whole new level. The artist spends months on each creation, painstakingly gluing many thousands of pieces of paper together before carving the blocks into forms. After the pieces are polished, they are nearly indistinguishable from classical busts.

Although a magician never tells his secrets, Hongbo explains the process step-by-step in the video below. Yet even so, even after watching the creation of one of his pieces, the viewer is still left marveling, “but … how did he do that?”

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