Xu Bing Studio Blog

“紫气东来“ (Ziqi Donglai) at the New Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the U.S.

Posted in On Permanent View by xubing on August 5, 2009

(Photo: Kerun Ip)

(Photo: Kerun Ip)

A large hanging installation of hundreds of heat-shaped acrylic pictographs has been installed at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America in Washington, D.C., designed by architect I.M. Pei and the firm Pei Partnership Architects, New York.

The work,《紫气东来》Ziqi Donglai (loosely translated as “a purple breeze comes from the East”), was created by Xu Bing between 2006-2008. It hangs 11 meters from a skylight in the main chancery building of the Embassy, with a span of 4 meters. Each character depicts an ancient nature-based Chinese pictograph including 云= cloud, 水 = water, 气 = air and 雨 = rain.

The phrase ziqi donglai is derived from the Han Dynasty Daoist hagiography Liexian Zhuan. It describes a purple breeze that proceeded Laozi as he approached  Hangu Pass. The phrase ziqi donglai has come into modern Chinese as a set-phrase to describe a good omen.

The work is composed of clear acrylic characters carved using a high-speed water jet according to Xu Bing’s calligraphic renderings. Once carved, the characters were then flame-polished and finaly sand-blasted. Some of the characters were later treated with a light purple dye. Carving was executed by Milgo/Bufkin, Brooklyn and hand finishing (flame-polishing and sand-blasting) was carried out by Evan Eisman Co. also in Brooklyn.

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