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shikun zhu and porsche's balloon installation in china invites silent dialogues with nature

art 202 shares connections: 62

shikun zhu turns black & white balloons into poetic artwork

 

SH ALL WE TALK is an outdoor art installation created by artist Shikun Zhu for Porsche China. Conceived in 2017 and materialized in Kuqa-Baicheng, Xinjiang, in September 2023, the project explores how images and visual representations influence our perception and comprehension of the natural world through white and black balloons floating against a desertic backdrop. Through this poetic and surreal composition, Zhu also seeks individuals to open their minds and senses to engage in a sincere conversation with nature’s essence. 

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all images courtesy Shikhun Zhu

 

the inspiration behind sh all we talk

 

The inspiration for this artwork came from a solo road trip I took in the United States in 2014. At that time, I was driving alone on ‘The Loneliest Road in America,’ also known as Highway 50 in Nevada. It was different from what I had expected: instead of a barren desert, the surroundings resembled a vast expanse, more like the Gobi, with distant and continuous mountain ranges that were not easily captured by a camera. It was in this breathtaking landscape that I had a concept, which I defined as ‘tamed nature. I stopped my car along the road to stretch my legs, within 15 seconds I instantly felt the immensity of the world that couldn’t be captured by a camera, and this immensity redefined my own sense of scale as an individual. Nature called out to me, and I engaged in a silent yet sincere dialogue with it and myself. It was at that moment I wanted to convey this authentic experience of nature to a wider audience, which led to the creation of this installation,’ shares Shikun Zhu. 

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SH ALL WE TALK is a collaboration with Porsche China

 

 

Building on his words, SH ALL WE TALK reflects how modern society has become so accustomed to evaluating things, including nature, through images on screens. For instance, people are drawn to popular photo spots and attractions but often overlook the intangible aspects of nature that a camera cannot capture, like scale, temperature, humidity, sunlight, wind, scent, and so on. These are all integral aspects of experiencing our surroundings authentically but are filtered out due to the flatness of an image as a medium. This impression is coupled with our obsession over producing nice visuals instead of facing nature’s ‘dark side.’

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inviting contemplation about the natural world

 

 

The artwork prominently features balloons, which the artist had a peculiar fascination with because they, in many ways, serve as a metaphor for humans: ‘the desire to float in the sky while constantly restrained by gravity, full of contradictions. They possess fragility that can burst with a single touch but also remarkable expansibility, capable of being inflated to a large size. Furthermore, one of the original purposes of balloons is to transmit signals,’ Shikun Zhu elaborates. 

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the black and white balloons include a printed passage from a Chinese book

 

three layers: spectacle, contemplation, and inspection

 

SH ALL WE TALK can be divided into three layers. The first is an artificial spectacle encountered unexpectedly in the wild. In this environment, stumbling upon it will be a surprising scene, and those not in a hurry will treat it as a strange landmark and stop to take photos. The surprise is reinforced by not disclosing the exact location. If so, it would transform the installation into an anticipated tourist attraction rather than an authentic, unexpected experience. The second layer involves passersby approaching the installation and sitting on the bench beneath it. The transition from standing to sitting is an essential transition, implying a move toward stability and calm as they sit and look up at the balloons. Then, as they gaze ahead, they take in a vast landscape that cannot be fully captured in a static photograph. ‘It is at this moment that SH ALL WE TALK begins. This ‘TALK’ is silent; it could be a conversation with nature, the universe, oneself, and someone you miss who is present or absent. Nature will inspire you to speak from the heart, and this experience cannot be recorded in images but only engraved in one’s memory,’ reflects Shikun Zhu. 

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conceived in 2017 and materialized in Kuqa-Baicheng, Xinjiang, in September 2023

 

 

Lastly, the third layer takes shape after leaving the site. Perhaps after some time, visitors may come across the photos they took and instantly zoom in to inspect facial expressions if they captured a selfie or portrait. However, people do not typically inspect an image of a vast landscape or scenery. Testing this behavior, the artist printed selected sections from Su Shi’s ‘The First Ode for the Red Cliff’ and included its Chinese and English versions on the black and white balloons. The text reads: ‘Only wind on the water and moonlight in the mountain, Becoming melody when you hear it, Becoming scenery when you see it, neither lose an ounce no matter how much you take nor deplete no matter how much you use. Endless treasure from God above, for you and me, as a gift for being alive.’

 

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‘This passage perfectly summarizes what I want to convey in this artwork. And this text, written almost a millennium ago, resurfaces in a million-year landscape and is brought back to the present moment. Perhaps some people will notice this hidden text when they zoom in on the photo, others may notice that there is something which they can’t identify clearly, and some may simply neglect it. But it doesn’t matter at all if you spot it or not, it serves as an aftertaste. What is important is that the act of zooming in on the photo itself is already a recollection of the experience of being present at that time,’ concludes the artist. 

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the inscription is printed in both English and Chinese versions

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SH ALL WE TALK location was never disclosed to the public

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sh-all-we-talk-designboom-full

 

project info:

 

name: SH ALL WE TALK
artist: Shikun Zhu | @philipzagato

in collaboration with: Porsche China

 

 

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: lea zeitoun | designboom

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