Wu Jian'an Solo Exhibition “The Huge Sand Dunes are the Bed of the Sea" Space Design
Pills Architects was invited to design the space for “Wu Jian'an: The Huge Sand Dunes are the Bed of the Sea," a large-scale solo exhibition held at the Silk Road International Art Exchange Center in September 2021. Wu Jian'an is an internationally renowned contemporary Chinese artist. As opposed to solely exploring contemporary Western or traditional Eastern contexts, Wu Jian'an uses his unique ideological structure and logic to weave a narrative that navigates through times and civilizations. He synthesizes various materials, languages, and media to reconstruct a visual link between contemporary art and ancient culture, giving a new perspective to ancient myths, totems, folk crafts, tales, and traditional writing. The exhibition presents Wu Jian'an's large-scale installations, showing the peaks of his creations in recent years and sorting out the creative lineage systematically. A Spatial-Temporal Field We create a surreal field in the exhibition hall of more than 1,000 square meters, with a five-meter high dune, a black ocean, an endless mirror, and the rising and setting sun. The space and the artworks altogether complete an eternal cycle of dreams. We hope to use nature, geometry, space, and scale to bring the primal power of the real and the surreal to the audience. The space generates an energy field that transcends the limits of space and time to support the narratives of artworks that travel through times, space, and civilizations. To Zhenhua Li, the curator, although Wu's works are rich in pictorial and narrative constructions, what should not be overlooked is the supernatural force in his creations - non-pictorial, non-monstrous, and unremitting inquiries. From flat to three-dimensional, from figurative to abstract, his works stimulate and awaken a certain collective memory through the echoes of the distant past, triggering a reverie of the world. Therefore, the exhibition space meshes the different narratives of his works into a field imbued with the artist's color, allowing the viewer to meditate in the silent dunes, get lost in the forest made of reflections, perceive the passage of time amid the “changing sun and moon" , and gaze at the illusion and reflection of light and shadow in the huge mirror. Finite and infinite, reality and illusion alternate here. Desert, mirrors (including water), and light are the keys to creating a dreamland. The exhibition space is divided into zones by huge ground constructions instead of partitions, forming a continuous spatial experience that allows a reciprocal viewing relationship. The exhibition team eventually chooses to use foam board as the base after many experiments. The structure maintains the sand textures of various granularity on different layers to form the durable and ripple surface of a desert. We conceal the structural pillars with mirrors and place the work “Daydream Forest Series" between parallel mirrors, so that the limited work extends infinitely in the space of imaginary images, adorned with twinkling starlight, delivering the vastness and fantasy of the forest. The mirror facing the dune folds the space, blurring the boundary between the real and the unreal, and the physical and reflective images of the work “The Heaven of Nine Levels" become the main body of the dreamland. At the end of the dune, the work "Plain Faces" is suspended above a black ink pool, forming a mirror image with the tranquil water, where the viewers encounter illusion and reality in space. The two searchlights on the diagonal corners of the site constitute the main light source of the exhibition, becoming an artificial “sun" that rises in the east and sets in the west. The two lights are alternately lit every minute, creating various lighting conditions that cast the works and space in crisp shadows, delineating the pure geometry and ever-changing appearances. We suspend two mirrors at the hole on top of the dune, directing the light to the interior of the dune through reflection, and the light pours down into the space as if coming from an edification, illuminating the artworks inside. The moving figures, the rippling sand, the changing light, the fictitious reflections, the space, and the works together, layer by layer, draw the viewers into the artist's mysterious narrative. An Immersive Narrative Walking, moving, and perceiving are core to the exhibition experience, and the whole viewing process is like a mystic tour of an ancient or a science-fictional world. The entire exhibition hall is covered by sand, and we construct a huge dune with a diameter of 17 meters in the center. The circulation is guided by the texture of the sand, imitating the winding twists and turns of navigating in real dunes. Following the narrative of the artworks, the viewers enter a world of sand eroded by the wind and unroll the mysterious journey. Entering the space, the first thing one encounters is the artist's signature piece “The Heaven of Nine Levels", a huge mirror that creates an alternative world, reflecting and conjuring reality and illusion. The undulating terrain obscures the paths and choices of travel, so one can either climb or step into it. Following the lead of the light, one can wander on the sandy ridges of the “Eternal Realm", or immerse in the mysterious cave amid the yellow sand. The changing light spills from above, rendering the boundaries indistinguishable while signaling the entrance to the “Black Sea". Bypassing the screen, “Plain Faces", a giant matrix of nearly four hundred individual works suspend on the tranquil black water surface. At this eternal moment of confrontation between the viewer and the artwork, only the light suggests the gradual passage and cycle of time. The footprints in the long stretches of sand are a testament to the viewers' dialogue with the world. As the feet sink deeper into the sand, the burning light shines across the dune, and the animal silhouettes of the piece “Omen" appear on the inked walls: a tiger with nine heads, a giant elephant with four tusks, and a plum deer with eyes born on its hips. All these animals are “imbued with a strange image", just like the strange beasts described in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, foreshadowing certain mysterious messages obtained by peeking into the future. They stand on the slope of the central dune and gradually reveal themselves as the viewers move, leading one into the world created by the artist. Looking out from the cave, there stretches a “black ocean" in the middle of the sand with boundless and open water. The suspended array of cowhides extends across the water up to the inaccessible opposite side of the shore. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west in front of the viewers, and an eternal cycle is thus completed in the dark. At the end of the dream, behind the giant wall, there lies the secret “mirror jungle", a space enclosed by two parallel mirrors. The work “Daydream Forest Series" casts glittering light spots on the surrounding sand. These mental pieces with misty and illusory dreams are arrayed amid the star lights in the air. Stars and trees extend into a dream that cannot be awakened in the mirrored world. The core of Wu's artistic discernment and visual creation is to express the eternal part of human civilization and history through situations that seem distant from today's mundane life. It awakens the hidden, subtle yet magnificent subconscious of humanity, provoking reflections and observations on time and self. In this exhibition, the body of works comprises more than 300 individual pieces. Displayed like a library of ancient civilization, the exhibition is like a record or memory of the historical era when knowledge and experience were passed on orally. It is also like the collection of the ancestral mantle and wisdom that is arranged in a matrix of time and space. Between truth and myth, image and illusion, there lies the sea, lies the dune.
Project Information Project Type: Exhibition Design Project Location: CAFA Art Museum – Langfang Spatial Design: Pills Studio Principal Architect: Zigeng Wang Design Team: Manying Wang, Yu Yan, Shaomin Zhang, Shen Li, Yiting Zhang, Yuzhu Wang, Sihan Zhao Structural Consultant: Yang Lu Design Consultant: Xunjun Xu, Zhiwen Ou, Yang Li Design Year: 2021 Artist: Wu Jian'an Curator: Zhenhua Li Exhibition Director: Haiyan Han Executive Curator: Xue Feng Exhibition Coordinator: Che Chen, Shicui Li Organizer: Silk Road International Art Exchange Center Organizer: CAFA Art Museum – Langfang Academic Support: CAFA Art Museum Special Support: Beijing Minsheng Art Museum