Dong Shubing, in his early days, took the topic of the daughter as the motif to explore the origin of life, the origin of human culture and the cardinal point of social structure.
Dong Shubing, the Gobi Desert
Also, as Dong Shubing was born in the Northwest, his bloodline is imbued with a kind of tough instinct and heroism, as well as the sentimental attachment to his homeland.
After a long period of weighing options and planning, in the end the author arrived at the decision to create on this Gobi Desert, for which he has always held deep affection.
The carefully picked place is not only different from the urbanized man-made garden, it is also unique, being far away from the remote concept of thematic creation of urban sculpture.
From the geological perspective, this piece of land living through vicissitudes of time is not only a hardened and waterless being, sand-eroded and ecologically degraded environment, but also a vast wilderness forgotten by urban civilization, lacking signal of life.
Dong Shubing, the remembrance of the past glory
The author uses these works to plant life and arouse people’s remembrance or memorial service to the past glory or the bygone green ecology.
In the meantime, it also invokes people to track the arduous steps of the ancestors of the Chinese nation towards the world amidst the heat waves and the whirl of dust picked up by the strong winds sweeping across the ground, so as to review those years of the journey integrating the Eastern and Western civilizations.
Dong Shubing looks up to the sky, holds his steps in the wilderness, lifts his “child” and gently puts the life down, conveying the sad and beautiful nolstalgia to ancient times by modern people and the beautiful vision for the ecological homeland of mankind in the future.
This “child” is undoubtedly the emotional embodiment and condenses hopes of all of Dong Shubing. The choice of the place provides the motivation of quest of meaning for the production of the works and the reason of locality for the birth of Children of the Earth.
The Children of the Earth
By the use of 3D scanning and CNC engraving technology, Children of the Earth is a revolutionary transformation in traditional handicraft work, which is itself a new thinking and new method of contemporary art, and a tentative intervention of contemporary public art in the field of traditional ecological culture.
Its innovative significance should be treated as a success case in the practice of contemporary public art in China.
It has both harnessed the concept of “post-urban sculpture” and the urban aesthetic movement, and manifested against the historical backdrop of agricultural civilization in China a more artistic presentation with the characteristics of the times, realizing the talk between time/space, tradition/contemporary, ecology/humanities, which obviously has opened up a new horizon of thinking for us.
The features and the aesthetics
As an artist with independent mind, Mr. Dong Shubing’s sculptures in the public domain take different value orientations from those on shelf.
Compared with on-shelf sculpture, such public art addresses not only the topic of art, but also of public characteristics.
Dong Shubing has embodied his aesthetic will in the nature of public characteristics, and practiced to infuse his aesthetic personality into the cognition of publicness, into the aesthetic projection of public space and humanistic ecology.
Children of the Earth by Dong Shubing looks like a mountain in close proximity, a spot in distance. It can be looked up to as the peak of life, and also overlooked as the origin of the vast starry universe.
While people are viewing all of this, they also look far back to the past and far out into the future in the endless Gobi, coulds of dust and in the sun, with the Hill of Life as the origin of coordinates.
The harmony between works and environment
The amplification from a small to a large scale draft of Children of the Earth somewhat lessens the attention to the shift from on-shelf sculpture to the sense of space and art architecture, and the patchy effect in finishings leaves some abruptness to the delicate and exquisite texture of the works versus the roughness and vastness of the context, weakening the holistic harmony between the works and the environment as a whole.
Perhaps the author stands from a higher ground and is leaving this type of crafting to time, space, years and infinite polishing by winds and sands with the new thinking of “de-sculpturing” to dissolve some alienation between the works and field of domain.
Dong Shubing, the tenacity of life
In a word, Mr. Dong Shubing’s works has ushered us into a mighty visual space, to feel the ever-lasting proposition of symbiosis between human beings and nature since ancient times, to praise the tenacity of life, to touch the traces of years, to feel grateful for the vast earth, and to continue the steps of human civilization.
By such large-scale, big-hearted and unrestrained creation of brand-new and meaningful public art works completely different from contemporary fashion and culture, a magnificent cultural landscape in Kansu Corridor has come to life!
… Many years later, a group of travelers are trekking through the sand-ridden Gobi and will have stopped in front of a sand dune, which vaguely radiates a sense of “a child sleeping soundly” to them, evoking their urge to trace back to some heroic deeds by their ancestors in 2016 AD.
Boundless is Dong Shubing’s second large-scale public art works completed on the Gobi Desert after Children of the Earth. It consists of four “watchtowers” and a “main palace”, with a total length of 60m, height of 21m and width of 40m. The systematic modeling conforms to the pattern and structure of the temples and palaces in China’s traditional architecture, presenting in central symmetry. The works have consumed about 6,300 steel pipe profiles of 17 models with a length of 6m each and about 30,000 connecting fasteners.
The author intends in his creation to shake off the shackles of imagination, drive out the pleasure that colors may bring and the obsession with grandeur and thriving look, and in the end to shape Boundless in its simple and pristine modeling language.
The straightforward steel pipes enjoy the utmost freedom of combinations against the backdrop of the caramel-toned desert and the azure sky, with no barriers from the ground nor the sky.
The simplicity in modelling, purity in color, coupled with the special position in the Gobi has turned Boundless to be seemingly a secondary universe independent of the main universe, and also an unfinished world–fastener scaffold of steel combinations for molding has brought out the visual impression of the works that it is constantly a kind of construction ongoing.
Since the construction began, with every step of progress, Boundless has grown out to be exceptional on the Gobi Desert, radiating quite some lofty and outstanding hues that do not associate with the turbid world. In the depth of time and space, it holds its own breath with composure and stays carefree and fearless.
In terms of the specific method, Boundless shares the same with that of Children of the Earth, which is still production-onsite, emphasizing the creation subject-a creation method that features artist’s presence. The inspiration of Boundless comes from the Sutra Paintings (Jingbian) of Tang Dynasty in Mogao Grottoes and Yulin Grottoes. The architecture is one of the most common themes in the murals of the Tang Dynasty, and is often used as the background of paintings featuring Buddha and Bodhisattva and various story paintings.
In the most typical Pure Land Paintings after the middle Tang Dynasty, most backgrounds are composed of magnificent pavilions.
The Guazhou County where Boundless is located at is known as the World Wind Reservoir. The average wind speed each day is at grade 4 to 5, and grade 7 to 8 are also common. This steel material structure mode built entirely in lines gives the works a penetrated style, thus reducing resistance, and making it suitable for standing in strong winds.
On the production site of Boundless, Dong Shubing would spend the whole day getting into the scaffolding system as an utter heavy laborer on some days, whilst on other days, he would briefly dust some off and rush to show up at a conference or an event that he must attend as the Chair of the Sculpture Department, Academy of Fine Arts, Tsinghua University. As a university faculty member, he is mandated with teaching and management, research and creation, where not a single task can allow any delay. A few days later, Dong Shubing, just as swift as a gust of wind, would show up in the workshed canteen, gobbling down the meal with workermates in laughter.
With the completion of the Boundless, visitors have exclaimed that it is such a “mirage” on the Gobi Desert. In modern Chinese, the symbolic meaning of mirage is castles in the air , or something that is illusory, non-existent and the like. Since ancient times, mirage has been watched by the world, and also in ancient times, mirage was regarded as fairyland. Modern science has correctly explained most mirages, which are the so-called optical illusions.
The author tries to identify some metaphorical relations between the completion effect of the works and the development journey of China, sort out a vein from a series of elements such as ancient oriental wisdom and the development idea of the times, so as to interweave all factors for coexistance, and jointly construct and design a brand-new lineup and kaleidoscope of the times.
Unlike previous works, “mirage” interacts with dynamics, valuing the importance of the use of light, effectively utilizing the characteristics of sufficient sunlight and wind power in the desert, thus adding to the richness and diversity of visual expression in the works.
The accomplished “mirage” produces a variety of fascinating images in the desert.
The constant change of light, the action of wind has given rise to various mesmorizing images, which have infused the space with a fantasy of wonderland.
It is fair to say Children of the Earth leverages the unique topography of the Gobi Desert as the carrier; Boundless is derived from the Northwest silk road culture; Then the way to look at the Wind Talkers is that it starts to build on the local climate. These three groups of works are all based on the consideration of the relationship between the sky, earth and human beings.
The three pieces of works seem to have greatly differ in forms and bear no connection, but in fact, they are inherently aligned in spiritual connotations, which is all about fushion into the locality.
Whether it is about visual or spiritual integration, it definitely strikes a harmonious chord with the local “roots”.
Dong Shubing and his work titled Wind Talkers
Wind Talkers was created in the autumn of 2020.
The floor plan shows a square on the outside and a round circle on the inside, measuring 30 meters long, 30 meters wide and 9 meters high.
Work’s structure is composed of 4 steel pipes in each group, totaling 128 groups.
The cement foundation serves as the base for the welding points to be pre-embedded.
Each group of steel pipes are welded and fixed at the base, on the interval point of 1.3m and 2.6m, which not only ensures the stability, but also gives the upper part of the steel pipes to harness enough resilience to produce collision.
Digital cutting technologies have been employed for metal connectors, which allows the 9 meters long steel pipes to stand tall on the Gobi desert with precision.
The ground is backfilled with stones and gravels to restore the original look as the surrounding landform.
Wind Talkers exhibits a simple and dialectic tone by assuming the shape of squared outlayer and round inner circle.
The ancients believed that the sky was round and earth was squared, so such circle and square was used as the synonym of sky and earth.
Circle with its round shape habors the knowledge of Chinese Taoists’ philosophy of change, and understanding of momentum.
Square holds the ideal state of China’s practice of Confucian personality: “The wisdom is strongest with adaptability like a circle, the behavior is most respected when fair and square”.
Therefore, the round sky and squared earth was the way of thinking to understand the world by the ancient philosophers.
The mankind will keep advancing forward only in pursuit of development and changes; The world will coexist in peace only with lasting and committed aspirations.
Naturally, the “round sky and squared earth” makes an indispensable component in the works, which inevitably reflects people’s pursuit of stability and progress, and also mirrors the artist’s expression of concepts and views.
The works makes full use of the local natural environment in the conception and production, and takes the wind in Guazhou area as the element of the works.
The adjacent steel pipes will move under the action of wind power within a controllable range, collide with each other and make sounds, thereby delivering the effect of wind to power the movement.
The addition of movement and sound gives the stereoscopic modeling of 3D space its extra expansion, and the dimension of time is integrated to further stretch and expand the space of sculpture expression.