hongtao zhou reflects on china's rapid urban transformation during venice art biennale

hongtao zhou reflects on china's rapid urban transformation during venice art biennale

for the 2019 edition of venice’s art biennale, hongtao zhou presents a large-scale sculpture entitled ‘tontsen eye’. building upon his textscape series, the artist has collaborated with fang qi, abaiyi-akebai and lianglu hou to display an interpretation of shanghai’s rapidly growing urban environment. exhibited within the historical venetian setting of palazzo michiel, the project aims to make visitors pause and consider how the expansion of our cities is causing a detrimental effect to our planet.

hongtao zhou reflects on china's rapid urban transformation during venice art biennale designboom

‘tontsen eye’, built from industrial steel

all images courtesy of hongtao zhou



the curved, wave-like form of ‘tontsen eye’ is built from industrial steel, with the inner surface punctuated by text. the individual letters within the ‘textscape’ are designed by hongtao zhou to extrude at different heights, resembling a dense urban architecture, with the distinctive oriental pearl tower signifying the place as shanghai. as the overall shape of the sculpture curves round, the cityscape is flipped over, forming the abstract image of a city turned on its head. the work intends to question how we can collaborate to find effective solutions, and ultimately, reach a balance between industrial development and ecological sustainability.

‘tontsen eye’,  the extruded letters resemble skyscrapers



above the ‘tontsen eye’ sculpture hangs ‘cloud of measurement’ – an installation made from a number of twisted rulers, whose contortions have been made by students using extreme heat. the piece intends to make reference to the ruler’s function as a tool for measurement, while also being a metaphor for the grading systems in current education. the artist presents a rigid form transformed into a fluid shape to imply that creativity is not linear and should not be graded as such. when viewed together as a ‘cloud’, the installation is created to comment on ‘twisted’ educational systems and aims to prompt change through provoking discussion.

‘cloud of measurement’, the twisted rulers are formed to comment on ‘twisted’ educational systems



the two installations are displayed together, with the curved ‘eye’ placed in water to appear as if it is ‘sailing through the ocean underneath the cloud’, in a quest to find better solutions for current situations. the exhibition invites visitors to reflect on the issues being presented and stimulate conversation on how they could be changed for the better.

the ‘tontsen eye’ and ‘cloud of measurement’ installation together

‘tontsen eye’, displayed in a pool of water

‘tontsen eye’, a detail view of the textscape in water

hongtao zhou reflects on china's rapid urban transformation during venice art biennale designboom

‘tontsen eye’, the sculpture intends to convey the rapid expansion of urban environments

‘tontsen eye’, side perspective with professor hongtao zhou

‘tontsen eye’, front perspective with dr. fang qi

‘cloud of measurement’, aims to represent the fluidity of creativity

‘cloud of measurement’, the rulers are contorted using heat



project info:


project name: ‘tontsen eye’ + ‘cloud of measurement’

location: palazzo michiel, venice art biennale 2019

date: may 11 – november 24, 2019, open daily 10:00 am – 6:00 pm; closed on tuesdays

participating artists: hongtao zhou, fang qi, abaiyi-akebai, lianglu hou, yumei qi, kewei feng, jiabao zhu, xiaotong zhang, hongliang wang, guoyi zhou, marcos cruz ortiz, candace huey, wenjie nie

principle sponsors: tontsen architects, shanghai, china tongji university, college of design and innovation (D&I), shanghai, china

china national art fund sponsors: leading edge global education re.riddle shanghai sujing sculpture art co.ltd shanghai summit discipline in design tongji university shanghai institute of design and innovation hongtaozhou studio


designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.

edited by: lynne myers | designboom

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