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The Century Document

This is my first genuine installation piece. In the past I made several attempts using different materials, but finally found the inspiration to produce this installation piece in my favorite medium: paper.

Actually, I have always had a deep interest in using my hands to make art. My former pieces made on paper were not made through the traditional processes of painting, drawing or printing, but by pressing, stamping, pounding, hammering, smearing, writing, spraying, pasting and many other methods. I deeply enjoyed these processes. But over the last year, comparing my paper works and installation works, I decided that making two-dimensional pieces was not as satisfying as making three dimensional, spatial pieces, in which the process of art-making is freeer and looser, so I decided to put more thought into making an installation.

The paper selected for this piece comes from newspapers from across China and the world. By twisting and rolling the paper I made each newspaper into a tube, and covered it in high gloss varnish, which aside from making it more beautiful also protects it from insects and moisture. I then made a total of 1500 bundles, each consisting of eighty scrolls, historically an important textual medium. In this piece, the documents of the century take the form of Chinese bamboo scrolls.

The Century Document took two years of exhausting effort to complete, and uses over 120,000 newspapers. This work uses ten appropriate Ming-style elmwood calligraphy tables and 30 elmwood boxes, which are antique, simple and classical. The tables are used to read the books, and the boxes to transport them. They are not only a means of display, but part of the work itself.

I chose newspapers to make this work because they bear the information that defines our time: from important things like political and economic transformations and cultural and technological innovations, trivia like reality shows and artists getting rich, to silly things like ads for escorts and Viagra: etc. etc. etc. etc., everything is there. As today becomes the past, these newspapers are already books of history. I was attracted by this. The Century Document is also a history book; on its surface are recorded things that are important and unimportant, small and large, meaningful and meaningless, both in China and the rest of the world. But this book is peculiar, in that although you know there are many things inside of it, you cannot open it to read them, because every roll is sealed shut, its content merely exists. This work expresses the paradox of writing and the absence of writing, reading and the inability to read. I chose to use calligraphy desks and wooden boxes to finish this work in order to express its relation to simple eternity.

From the artists point of view, every open scroll is a painting composed of numberless elements. Aside from the form of bamboo scrolls, the tables and boxes also express a traditional Chinese aesthetic. The work alone, the thirty boxes in which it is carried and the ten tables on which it is displayed, are like the things with which as scholar and calligrapher would use every day. When all the scrolls are layed out and displayed, I feel that it expresses a hidden mystery like that of the clay soldiers in Qin dynasty imperial tombs, or the imperial annals in the libraries.


6 June,2007

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