‘Central Park’ by Gu Wenda

At the end of November 2010, I interviewed renowned Chinese artist Gu Wenda in his studio in the m50 district in Shanghai, China, as part of my first leg of PhD fieldwork research…according to the blog post from that day it was interview number 8. It seems like such an age ago, yet at the same time like it was yesterday. As part of our morning together, we discussed his practice in relation to my research focussing on points including the concept of “inbetween” due to his shared time between Beijing, Shanghai and New York; coined terminologies such as global, universalism, othernisation, and revisionism; the question of whether cultural meaning and cultural context translatable; the different levels of culture today and their accessibility; how misunderstanding is the essence of new creation; visual arts versus conceptual art; and the notion of “to define is not a punctuation, it is a process of development”. He also showed me an animation and short film of what was then a work in development called ‘China Park’, an architectural idea and reinterpretation of the traditional Chinese garden, which ‘offered a blueprint for an ecologically-friendly future city and makes a spectacular contemporary garden scene.’

'China Park' (2010) by Gu Wenda
‘China Park’ (2010) by Gu Wenda

“I do not want my art being something just kept in the hands of collectors or displayed in museums…Artists should be responsible to the world they are living in and offer solutions no matter how long is needed to put them into practice.” – Gu Wenda

Now known as ‘Central Park’, this work is soon to be on display at Chambers Fine Art in New York (opening 15 November 2013) and will consist of the preliminary studies and documentary material for this venture, and new development of Gu’s practice into garden design and urban planning. It was first exhibited in its entirety in Shanghai in 2010 as part of the Shanghai Pujiang OCT 10-Year Public Art Project and, as stated, known as ‘China Park’. It’s change in name to ‘Central Park’ makes reference to its relocation to Manhattan, New York. His practice has always examined the relationship between East and West, the transcultural as such, alongside the comparison of the traditional and modern. Here, for ‘Central Park, Gu compares the Western and Chinese approaches to landscape gardening proposing the creation of “a modern eastern garden” which beyond its possible realization can serve as a model for the future planning of ecologically sound cities throughout China.

'Central Park' by Gu Wenda
‘Central Park’ by Gu Wenda
He rejects the picturesque, looking more at functionality where every single element has been considered and planned, resonating meaning. ‘Unifying the landscape and architectural features are the Chinese concept of yin and yang and the five elements of Chinese philosophy (wood, fire, earth, metal and water).’ In the centre, the highest point of the entire scheme, is the ‘River Calligraphy Garden’ which is surrounded by a river and is interlaced with a complex network of narrow canals. Representing the yin aspect are the feminine qualities of the river, separate to the core complex of the planted green expanse of the ‘Green Forest Calligraphy Garden’, which represents the masculine character, thus the yang aspect. On the perimeter of the gardens is the four ‘Merit Monument Squares and Gates’ laced with cultural and historical references. Symbolism is rife in the visionary plans, the blueprint intended to be the heart of a real, living community. Gu thinks that we should integrate this type of planning from entertainment to leisure, theme parts to high and low-end residential. To me, it is a visual comment with real potential talking about how we can make sense of the frenetic pace of global change, specifically in relation to urban development, architecture, ecology and sustainability. It is about how we must start to think and take responsibility for the lands and kingdoms in which we live and negotiate on a daily basis.

“As the users of the park grow familiar with it as their outdoor playground or living room, they will be presented with cultural and historical references in an entirely pleasurable way. Gu’s proposal for ‘Central Park’, elitist in inspiration but populist in its aspirations, is visionary in its scope but based in reality.” – Chamber Fine Art

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