Beijing Barn Bibliotheca
This Fall we had the great honor of contributing to the ‘Future Unknown’ Chancellor’s Summit held at The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, China. The project grew from careful consideration of the mission and vision of CAFA and the principles driving the “Future Unknown” initiative to move art and innovation forward by building linkages to many educational and cultural locations around the globe.
The one-month project began at Arts Letters & Numbers, in Averill Park, NY where we started by covering the entire interior of our barn with paper, making a full-size paper model of the barn inside of itself. Within this ‘paper barn,’ we did a series of exercises working with maps of Beijing and New York through drawing, rubbings, projection we created a giant drawing of these two cities inside of each other. When the drawings were complete, we carefully took the paper down, rolled them up and they were brought to Beijing with the group on their flight home, Barn in a Suitcase! These papers were then un-rolled and re-assembled in Beijing into this a new work, a Beijing Barn Bibliotheca that contains all of the locations. The Project culminated with a ‘Barn Raising’ in Beijing that took the form of transforming the Paper Barn into giant piano keyboard, which was played for the entire Chancellor’s Summit. We have created a film of the project and it captures the essence of the project.
Creating a work at Arts Letters & Numbers that is physically brought back to Beijing and transformed into a new work was central to our approach to this project. It was a gesture that expresses that culture is more than information and cultural exchange is more than information sharing. Culture is thick, it is people, it is material, it is stories and it is viscous. Embracing “cultural diversity” as a diversity of “ways of knowing” must include our embodied experiences, our literary and material imaginations, and all of the nuance and imagination of life itself. Each project brings new ideas and understandings to the broader ALN project, in this collaboration, we discovered that a barn in Averill Park contained a Piano in Beijing.
Step One: Inhabiting the Barn
Each student is asked to locate themselves within the Barn. This involves a slow and deliberate process of the students exploring the various elements that make the barn, the walls, doors, windows, structure, corners etc. Over a few-hour period, each student finds a place within the barn that captures their imagination, that draws them in. This could be a door handle, a particular corner detail, a window, beam, hinge or simply sitting in the middle of the space. Each student situates their body in relation to the location of their choosing. Standing, sitting, leaning, kneeling, lifting, whatever position feels right to that student in that place.
Step Two: Skin the Barn with Paper
Once each student has identified ‘their place’ within the barn, we together, collectively cover the entire interior of the barn with paper, making a full-size paper model of the barn inside of itself. This becomes the primary site for this part of the workshop.
Step Three: Constructing Barn Doubles
Each student again positions their body in relation to ‘their place’ within the paper barn. (Standing, sitting, leaning, kneeling, lifting, whatever position feels right to that student in that place). Having established their body position, each student constructs a paper model of the barn. Each of these paper models gets located between the individual and their place in the barn, these individual models at any scale that the student decides. They could be a tiny hand-held model, a model that would be the size of their head and could serve as a mask, or a model the size of their body, that they could enter. The size and scale of the individual paper models are the results of how the student decides to have the model mediate between their body and their chosen location within the paper barn.
Step Four: Unfold the paper barns and locate them
Each student then unfolds the three-dimensional paper barn and find its particular ‘figure’. These figures then are located within the full-size paper barn. These can be located in ‘their place’ or they can be located in any other place within the barn establishing a relationship to their place in the barn. These many barns of different sizes and figures become a constellation of barns, like stars within the sky moving all around the interior of the barn.
Step Five: Beijing / New York Projected and drawn up
Once the figures of the multiple scale ’barn-stars’ have been located, the maps of Beijing and New York is projected onto the floor and walls of the barn. This is with Hi-Resolution satellite images projected from the ceiling creating an immersive image on the surfaces. The images of the two cities are registered to each other in scale and aligned with Central Park and the Forbidden City being the registration marks. The three geographies: Two cities and the Barn, are layered and commingled in this immersive experience.
Step Six: Drawing out ‘their stars’
The students find the locations within the layered geographies of: the barn, the paper barn, the double projected cities, and their individual barn-star figures. These drawings are fully invented by the students as they work to draw all of the layers into the paper barn. The interior of the paper barn is filled and marked through the individual actions of each student as they navigate the many scales of this geography.
Step Seven: Peel the stars from the sky
The final step in this part of the project is to carefully peel up and remove each of the individual barn-star figures. This creates a constellation of white paper figures within the large dense interior drawing. The Paper Barn then is carefully taken down. Both the large full-size paper barn and all of the individual barn figures are brought to Beijing and form the starting point of the project to continue in the space in CAFA. This second part of the project begins with locating the full-size barn and the individual Star-barn figures in the new space. These placements set in motion the second series of steps in Beijing.
Once in Beijing, the Paper Barn took on two lives: one as a full-scale installation within an exhibition of the 100-year History of CAFA. The other was in the form of an immersive film experience in the Chancellor’s Summit, culminating with a ‘Barn Raising’ that took the form a giant piano 360 degree keyboard, which was played for the entire Chancellor’s Summit.
We have created a film of the project, please take a look, it captures the essence of the gesture.