shu yong: great wall of guge bricks at the china pavilion
shu yong: great wall of guge bricks at the china pavilion shu yong: great wall of guge bricks at the china pavilion
jul 31, 2013

shu yong: great wall of guge bricks at the china pavilion

shu yong: great wall of guge bricks at the china pavilion at venice art biennale 2013
image © designboom


in his installation for the venice art biennale 2013, chinese artist shu yong constructs a sculptural reflection on the divide between eastern and western values and the ‘googlization’ of culture in contemporary society. yong solicited 1500 different maxims, quotations, mottos, and popular phrases from fellow chinese citizens and translated them word by word into english using google. he then wrote both the chinese and corresponding english literal translation for each selection in calligraphy onto a piece of xuan rice paper, which was embedded into an individual transparent brick of cast resin, shaped to the proportions of those in the great wall of china.


the resulting mass of 1500 ‘guge’ bricks forms a solid wall in the exhibition courtyard, before crumbling into disorder at one side. they are an artifact to a particular moment in time and culture, where newly popular circulated words join traditional quotations before all are subjected to machine translation that jumbles and displaces their significance: ‘into a new era’ and ‘marching towards science’ join ‘garlic you cheap’ and ‘boy crisis’ in the translated english. shu yong finds these bricks a fitting metaphor for the ways that eastern and western cultures remain divided: even in the age of globalization and realtime communications, the transparent wall will remind us to confront the hidden ‘walls’ between different countries, nations, and individuals. at the same time, the chinese public’s inclusion of words like ‘photobomb’ among the bricks is a reminder of cross-cultural influences.



image © designboom



this year’s china pavilion explores the idea of ‘transfiguration’ in response to the overall theme of the 55th international art exhibition, ‘the encyclopedic palace’: a fictional museum that would house all human knowledge and innovation. the title comes from the name of a patent filed by italian-american artist marino auriti in 1955 for such a structure. in the china pavilion, ‘transfiguration’ refers to contemporary changes in art and its thinking. it takes special interest in the disappearing boundary between life and art: the transformation of life to art and the rise of the commonplace to the level of art. wang qingsong is another artist represented at the china pavilion, with mind-bogglingly detailed and highly culturally critical staged photographs.




closer view of the ‘guge bricks’
image © designboom



‘[the phrases] are written in both chinese and english that show living concepts, popular culture, and social changes of today’s society. the artist uses these strong social-presence bilingual texts to convey his concern about the social and cultural ecology. he writes the terms in calligraphy so that more cultural sense is given to the texts.
when seeing the culture traditions and heritage embodied in objects, the cultural phenomenon becomes a visual presentation; the tile symbolizes a basic unit the social construction. by putting them together, the ideas of cultural china and the cultural world are materialized. the meaning and symbol of this work is simple and clear, it means the barrier between life and art is broken. this is exactly what ‘transfiguration’ means.’
– wang chunchen, curator of the china pavilion at venice art biennale 2013



each brick features the original chinese and google-translated english texts in handpainted calligraphy by shu yong
image © designboom


‘all reactionaries are paper tigers’, one of the ‘guge bricks’ on display at the china pavilion
image © designboom



image © designboom



each tile measures 37 x 15 x 9 centimeters, retaining the proportion of bricks in the great wall of china
image © designboom



image © designboom



image © designboom



image © designboom

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