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Nine-Tiered Pagoda: The Magic of Space and Vision
PSFO Art Group
Collectivism
Exhibition Design

The Blue Base of “Nine-Tiered Pagoda": Spatial Design for “Unity is Strength" Exhibition of PSFO

date:
author: Zigeng Wang
source: Artmonthly, 2021(7): 40-44

Foundational to the art practices of “Polit-Sheer-Form Office” (PSFO), thoughts on collectivism are also not alien to architecture and graphic design. The space that architect Wang Zigeng created for the exhibition is akin to “Mr. Zheng” , a portrait montage of core members of the Polit-Sheer-Form Office. The exhibition hall in the form of a “tube-shaped apartment” features a water house, a canteen, a screening room, a barber shop and a bathhouse. Five collectivist spatial forms are mixed along the corridors. Here meet the abstract space, artifacts and living memories; reality and distant history are dreamily combined. One has to pass through the blue space of déjà vu and jamais vu, to expand the meanings of the exhibition. —— Curator, Cancan Cui

Nine-Tiered Pagoda: Spatial and Visual Magic consists of nine different forms of exhibition. Nine (groups of) artists provide their works as the basis for the exhibition. Besides, nine architects and nine designers also join to form nine temporary teams, hence the cooperation among artists, architects and designers. There is no ‘priority’ or ‘center’ in the exhibition, but division of labor and collaboration, presenting nine individual exhibitions of a brand-new type. As the first project of Nine-Tiered Pagoda,the exhibition “Unity is Strength”invites architect Wang Zigeng to create the exhibition space and graphic designer Liu Zhizhi to take charge of visual designs, based on the works of “Polit-Sheer-Form Office (PSFO)”. Polit-Sheer-Form Office, or PSFO for short, is an art collective founded by artists Hong Hao, Xiao Yu, Song Dong, Liu Jianhua, and Leng Lin in 2005. Facing the real world and focusing on the construction of the spiritual world, PSFO transforms daily political, cultural, economic life into purified forms, blurring boundaries in between. By developing thoughts, discussions, footprints, pleasures and ideas into forms, the “Polit Sheer Form” has thus been constructed.

Mr. Zheng and Library, PSFO

Mr. Zheng and Library, PSFO

PSFO's works are diverse in form and focus on collectivist forms that abstract away from the political content and core values. Taking the "Polit-Sheer-Blue" as the group's characteristic color, their works are continuously blurring the boundary between the individual and the collective, standing for the value of superposition and symbiosis. In this exhibition, PSFO presents six oil paintings, two films, five bookshelf installations, and a digital composite portrait Mr. Zheng. Mr. Zheng is a digital composite portrait of the group's five members, which is the personification of PSFO's idea that ‘We become I’. The exhibition proposal responds to Mr. Zheng with a collage of five typical collectivist spaces (water house, canteen, screening room, barber shop, and bathhouse), creating a blue tube-shaped space that could adapt to PSFO's artworks in diverse medium.

The exhibition plan is based on the form of five typical collectivist spaces (water house, canteen, screening room, barbershop, bathhouse)

The exhibition plan is based on the form of five typical collectivist spaces (water house, canteen, screening room, barbershop, bathhouse)

Floor plan and perspective view of exhibition space

Floor plan and perspective view of exhibition space

In this blue corridor, five different collectivist spatial elements are extracted and juxtaposed to each other. Different buildings and artifacts are juxtapose to create coincidences and relations, forming a new "species". Parallel mirrors are set at both ends of the corridor, generating the visual illusion of infinite extension within the limited space and a playground of forms accommodating detached contents. The blue walls extending outwards guide the visitors to the blue tube-shaped space inside, where collectivist living objects and spaces are superimposed and compounded in different coordinate systems in an abstract form while the color of “Polit-Sheer-Blue” unifies them into a new whole. The entrance of the exhibition hall could also be viewed as a section to display the "layers" of the superimposed walls to the audience.

The size of windows between the exhibition space and the blue corridor is similar to the size of the six canvases exhibited by PSFO. The windows are arranged on the walls parallel to each other, thus they become the new canvases for the "framed sceneries", creating a connection and tension between the space and the paintings on the shelves. The design of windows simultaneously removes the abstract additions from the blue walls, displaying the objects in the form of section. The entrance and exit of the gallery are lifted from the wall as secret doors, maintaining formal consistency on both sides of the wall. We concentrate architects’ interpretation of the artworks and their own design works in the corridor, creating a dialogue between the exhibition space and the architect's creation. The two ends of the corridors are covered with mirrors, visually extending the space to infinity. A series of symbols of collective memory are spread out in abstract forms. Different combinations of the symbols create a paradoxical experience, bringing the audiences into a past that seems to have been experienced, as well as into a dream that has not been experienced.

At the opening of the exhibition, the artist leaning on the right side of the wall is Hong Hao, a member of the Polit-Sheer-Form Office

At the opening of the exhibition, the artist leaning on the right side of the wall is Hong Hao, a member of the Polit-Sheer-Form Office

Our interpretation of PSFO's works is constructed through rich material symbols that evoke memories of collective life in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the design attempts to erase the material attributes of these symbols, abstracting them into a collage of symbols that can both relate to image memories and create a new visual language. The "Polit-Sheer-Blue" is a unique color palette of this art group, commonly seen in their previous artworks and exhibitions. We apply it in spatial design as well. The uniform coloring and surface treatment hide the various techniques and materials used in different shapes during construction, also serving as a design strategy considering budget and time constraints.

During the construction process, different shapes were quickly completed using various materials and techniques.

During the construction process, different shapes were quickly completed using various materials and techniques.

By comparing the renderings with the actual photos, we can see how this design strategy effectively worked under limited time constraints.

By comparing the renderings with the actual photos, we can see how this design strategy effectively worked under limited time constraints.

During the development of the exhibition plan, we conducted multiple rounds of scheme comparisons around the concept of PSFO's work "Mr. Zheng." "Mr. Zheng" portrait is a composite of the facial features of five artists, symbolizing the relationship between the collective and the individual—creating a non-existent "individual" through the collage of "collective" features. Correspondingly, we consistently adhered to integrating the five typical collectivist spaces (water house, canteen, screening room, barbershop, and bathhouse) with the symbols of "objects," provoking chance and forming hybrid species to generate new individuals from the collective. In the unimplemented Scheme One, we used juxtaposition and scale scaling techniques to create a centripetal space with nested layers of walls. The multi-layered wall structure formed a navigable, surrounding "thick wall" display space, with an enlarged section of the staircase becoming an open viewing area. This scheme inevitably encases the artists' works within our newly created blue space, making them a part of the space rather than being displayed independently. The audience's experience is holistic, not focused solely on the artworks. This raised concerns from the museum. Consequently, we proposed another concept, the “tube-shaped apartment,” where the architect's contributions are compressed into the blue corridor of the building, while the artists' exhibition spaces remain relatively independent black-and-white boxes, acting as rooms within this tube building. This approach preserves a traditional exhibition space model to some extent, juxtaposing (or opposing) the artists' works and the architects' creations. The initial intention behind choosing Scheme Two was to diminish the architect's creativity and highlight the presentation of the artworks. Interestingly, after completion, this seemed to become a question that needed addressing. Although the "Nine-Tiered Pagoda" series of exhibitions is a solo exhibition by the artist, the artworks are pre-existing readymades, which challenges the architect's understanding of the artworks and their response to spatial issues. The architect's role balances relationships in the exhibition, authorship, communication, service, and engineering. This is uncommon in art exhibitions and constitutes the uniqueness of this exhibition.

Comparison of Scheme One and Scheme Two (Implemented Scheme)

Comparison of Scheme One and Scheme Two (Implemented Scheme)

Author Information: Zigeng Wang, Associate Professor at the School of Architecture, Central Academy of Fine Arts, and Deputy Director of the Department of Architecture. Principal Architect of PILLS. This project is supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities and the Independent Research Project of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (Project No.: 20KYZD012).

© Pills Architects, inc.

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