left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Exhibiting the 'marrow of Chinese culture'

Updated: 2012-08-24 07:48
By Zhang Zixuan ( China Daily)

Exhibiting the 'marrow of Chinese culture'

Palace in the Sky, an installation by Tao Na. She is the only female and the youngest participant among the five Chinese architects and artists at the Venice Architecture Biennale this year. Provided to China Daily

Cutting-edge contemporary Chinese architectural art is featured at the China Pavilion of the Venice Architecture Biennale, Zhang Zixuan reports in Beijing.

The China Pavilion is ready to wow international audiences with its minimalism and traditional philosophy at the upcoming 13th International Architecture Exhibition (Venice Architecture Biennale), held from Aug 29 to Nov 25 in Venice, Italy.

Directed by British architect David Chipperfield, this year's architecture biennale is themed "Common ground".

"The emphasis ... is on what we have in common," explains Chipperfield. "Above all, the ambition of common ground is to reassert the existence of an architectural culture, made up not just of singular talents but a rich continuity of diverse ideas united in a common history, common ambitions, common predicaments and ideals. In architecture everything begins with the ground. It is our physical datum, where we make the first mark, digging the foundations that will support our shelter."

To echo this theme, the China Pavilion is presenting the concept of "Originaire", which combines the meanings of "original" and "initial".

"We seek the origin of memory and the origin of the world," says China Pavilion curator Fang Zhenning, adding that Originaire is the extension of common ground in both the spiritual and material fields.

The five chosen Chinese architects and artists will all present installations, offering poetic interpretations by using traditional Chinese abstract thinking and philosophy.

The image of lighting artist Xu Dongliang's installation is rendered biggest on posters for China Pavilion, attracting a lot of attention. And so is the actual work positioned at the entrance of the oil tank warehouse at Arsenale venue, one part of the assigned space for China Pavilion.

The 3-meter-tall lighting device is made of LED circuit boards producing more than 30,000 red light spots. Xu calls it Lightopia - a lighting utopia.

"I created a new word to name my work. That fits the spirit of Originaire," Xu says, adding that the light tower can change the brightness of its light, like fire, which could be associated with the origin of human beings.

Meanwhile, light has a special meaning for Xu. His name, "Dongliang" means "lighting in the East" and indicates his birth at sunrise.

"So using light is like a quest for my own origin," he explains.

As a lighting expert, Xu stresses that LED will be the "common ground" for future lighting. In building a tower by using LED light, he is actually "building the ideal".

Inside the warehouse is the installation work Sequence created by architect Shao Weiping.

The work originates from Shao's earlier architecture design - the Phoenix International Media Center, under construction in Beijing.

Adjusting to the space limitation of the warehouse, which has a number of non-removable oil tanks, Shao has modified the installation's shape from a twisted circle to a 22-meter-long linear sequence that is formed by 96 resin sections hanging in the air.

Such an adjustment follows the idea of "tailoring the building to suit the environment", which Shao believes is a common factor in architecture.

Wei Chunyu, dean of the architecture department of Hunan University, has chosen a more abstract mathematical approach to interpret the theme.

His installation projects a number onto the ground every second until the end of the exhibition. Every projected number is a prime number, which means a natural number greater than 1 that has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself.

Wei explains that every positive integer larger than 1 can be written as a product of one or more primes. Primes can thus be considered as the "basic building blocks" of natural numbers

"That's why ancient Chinese mathematicians called primes the 'roots of numbers', which can be viewed, in a way, as the origin of the world," Wei says. "I'm trying to 'originaire' by visualizing the continuity of prime numbers."

Wei has named his installation Variation, which goes against homogeneity, and thus the common ground.

"The real common ground is no common ground," Wei says, expressing how he demonstrates curator David Chipperfield's theme by overthrowing it. "Just like prime numbers, the most dangerous enemy of human society's development is homogeneity, which is against natural law.

"The real common ground, therefore, is the world's diversity, the variation."

Wang Yun, architect and deputy director of Peking University's College of Architecture and Landscape Design, on the other hand, shares his thinking in a figurative way.

He places Square Garden - a matrix formed by 36 stainless steel cubes on the grass of Virgin Garden (Giardino delle Vergini), the other part of China Pavilion's assigned space.

The top surface of each cube is drilled with various holes, standing for the space relationships of traditional villages and settlements.

"These settlements are the original forms of humanity's gregarious life," Wang explains.

Tao Na, the youngest and the only female among the five Chinese architects and artists, presents the installation Palace in the Sky.

Her huge rectangular work consists of three overlaying views. The top layer is the bird's-eye view of the Palace Museum, which is also widely known as the Forbidden City. The middle layer features landforms from the planet Mars. And the bottom layer is the boundless universe.

"To me, the universe is the origin, upon which human civilization is built," the 32-year-old says.

Each layer is composed of 4,000 blocks of squared xuan paper backed with magnets. Viewers can take away any of the blocks they like from the first two layers, Tao says, adding that such interaction will not affect the integrity of her work; quite the opposite, audience participation is "an essential part of the process of creativity".

"As viewers take away blocks irregularly from different positions, the picture changes and eventually disintegrates, leaving only the universe," she explains. "That reflects exactly how humans influence the environment."

Tao will use a video camera to document the process of viewer participation and show it during the latter part of the exhibition. A handout with the full view of all three layers will also be provided.

"We are presenting a way of thinking that specifically belongs to China," comments Fang, curator of China Pavilion. "The abstraction is the marrow of traditional Chinese culture. Guided by the wisdom, here comes the most cutting-edge contemporary Chinese architectural art."

Contact the writer at