Xu Bing: Phoenix Project Soars at MASS MoCA
North Adams, MA
On a recent trip to MASS MoCA, I discovered the work of Xu Bing. The exhibit included a range of his work from the past two decades and highlighted his focus on the interplay of labor, capital and culture.
The most remarkable piece was the Phoenix Project (2007-2010). The piece consists of two 100-foot long, 10-ton sculptures intended to resemble birds in flight. Both are suspended from wood trusses in a large industrial gallery space.
The project was inspired by a visit back to his native China after living abroad for nearly 20 years. He was amazed to find how much had changed both physically and cultural as a result of the country’s growing wealth. He also found the “huge contrast” between the new modern skyscrapers and the primitive shantytowns, which housed the construction workers, striking. So when he was commissioned to create a sculpture for the lobby of the World Financial Tower, by Cesar Pelli, he set out to create a work made entirely out of the garbage and construction debris to juxtapose these two realities.
The fabrication of the Phoenix was very labor intensive. He collaborated with local construction workers for over two years to complete the project. The tools of their trade, such as shovels, hard hats, and monkey wrenches, can be easily distinguished upon close inspection.
The piece was deemed to controversial for the real estate developer who originally commissioned the piece and will be on display at MASS MoCA until October 2013.