From China to New York: Phoenixes of Dystopia

Deep inside the belly of magnificence lies beauty. Beauty made from trash and a sense of dystopia. 


The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City is setting up for the March 1st debut of Chinese artist Xu Bing’s art installation-Phoenix. The two 12 ton, 100 ft Phoenix sculptures are comprised of the debris and refuse from Beijing construction sites; the suspended mythical birds took two years to make, and weren’t exactly warmly welcomed by the company who originally commissioned the project.

The blatant symbolism of our attempts to reach a societal apex and the gritty methods we take to achieve it is brought to us by Bing’s juxtaposition of mysticism with harsh reality. China’s burst in construction and capitalism rides on the backs of very skilled migrant workers who live and work in squalid conditions; the situation, from the people to the air,  has come to be a rather dirty and oppressive vision of the future.

Two birds are better than one. Bing’s male (Feng) and female (Huang) Phoenixes fly on wings of scrap metals, shovel heads, and hubcaps, and yet they are magnificent.

20130803_125747The immense detail, creativity and design not only of the birds as a whole but down to the strategic placement of red canisters or hardhats for color opens a new door of perception and a sense of awe and wonderment. While the aviary wonders are a cohesive unit, they also have distinct features from one another that magnify the minutiae involved. The glitter of the LED lights bring a bit of romanticism to the sculptures as well.

f4e75486398540c80a439fd921a3ef59The sculptures describe the state of the world wonderfully: hunks of beautiful, majestic, flying rubbish. Peering up at the great structures causes an undulation of emotion and internal discourse. First lost in the magnitude, then disgusted by the roughness of the materials, back up to the detail and overall design and then down again to the realization that these birds represent areas and moments of suffering and toil.

Is modern mysticism a product of our societal desire to grow and expand at all costs? Does mysticism exist at all anymore in a time of aggressive and moral less capitalism? Bing brings our attention to our visions of utopia and forces us to re-examine the world we live in. The combination of beauty, vision, social commentary and design of the artwork has every right to constitute a magnum opus for any artist, but the depth and elegance of the phoenixes has me anxious to see what act Bing intends to follow on these hard metal wings.


The Phoenixes will be on display at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine from March 1st until August 2014.


2 thoughts on “From China to New York: Phoenixes of Dystopia

  1. Reblogged this on Journey Into Asian Art and commented:
    I think this is a fascinating piece, knowing how symbolic the Phoenix is in Chinese culture. The lights featured on the Phoenix brings out the “fire” that this bird symbolizes.

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