Over the course of two years, pioneering Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing culled detritus from construction sites across the rapidly changing urban landscape of Beijing, and transformed it into his most monumental project to date: Phoenix (2008-10). A feat of engineering and ingenuity, Phoenix is composed of two birds, a male called Feng and a female called Huang. Feng and Huang—each weighing 12 tons and measuring 90 and 100 feet long, respectively—are now coming to the Cathedral. They will hang suspended in the Nave, two majestic birds in perpetual flight beneath its celestial ceiling.
Creating the phoenixes was a tortuous process, requiring flexibility at every turn. Describing the coming-into-being of Phoenix, the artist explains: “The method is unsophisticated, like Chinese lanterns. At the same time it is also in keeping with the Western concept of ready-made assemblage. The entire process of creation forms an interactive relationship with the environment and Chinese society.” At once fierce and strangely beautiful, Xu Bing’s mythic birds bear witness to the complex interconnection between labor, history, commercial development, and the rapid accumulation of wealth in today’s China.
The Phoenix Project at the Cathedral is the second presentation of these works in the United States. They were previously on view at MassMoCA, North Adams, MA, and have been exhibited in China at the Today Art Museum, Beijing, and Expo10, Shanghai.
Courtesy of the artist and the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, for further information please visit www.stjohndivine.org.