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CCU Atheneum:
"Man and Nature in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube" shows the I Ching gua for fire.

Bleicher collaborates on public art in Beijing

by Mona Prufer
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Steven Bleicher spent a major part of the last year studying the I Ching, the ancient Chinese text of divination. Learning about the complex text—an elaborate series of 64 “gua” or hexagrams that is akin to the zodiac—was a crucial requirement for Bleicher’s second trip to China. This time, rather than serving as a visiting scholar, he arrived as a color specialist, an artist, part of a collaborative team that created the permanent public art installation in Beijing titled “Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube.”

The Water Cube is another name for the Beijing National Aquatics Center that was built to house the water sports events of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bleicher, art professor and associate dean of Coastal Carolina University’s Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, was on the core creative team that reimagined the building into a breathtaking, interactive public artwork that covers a city block and is five stories tall. The unique art installation was publicly dedicated on June 23, and Bleicher and his wife, Helaine Cohn, attended the ceremonies.

“I needed to have an understanding of the I Ching, the names and meanings of the gua, and the ancient ideographs and the traditional colors associated with them,” says Bleicher, who was color specialist for the project.

Bleicher selected colors and movements of the lights to represent natural elemental states specified in the I Ching such as water, earth and mountain, etc. The philosophical essence of the I Ching is the yin/yang—cause and effect. (When there is a long night, eventually there will be a dawn, etc.) In addition, colors were selected to represent a range of emotions (anger, joy, grief, etc.) that correspond to the country’s temperament indicated by the millions of emoticons gathered and sorted on a daily basis from social media services such as Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

For Bleicher, it was a “mammoth undertaking,” a year’s worth of work with artist Jennifer Wen Ma and lighting designer Zheng Jianwei, along with an I Ching expert, and creative technology and programming experts.

“Ma would send me large emails of drawings with dimensions and videos, and I would send her color concepts and swatches. We did a lot of Skyping,” says Bleicher, “It was very interesting working only through a screen. We finally met in person in New York eight months into the project.”

Bleicher was the only Westerner on the design team. Ma invited him to join the project after reading his book, “Contemporary Color: Theory and Use,” part of which focuses on digital color, new technologies and global color issues.

“As an artist, I usually work alone, so it was an incredible experience working with people of this caliber,” says Bleicher. “I also had an amazing opportunity to spend time studying such a unique text and traveling and meeting such a warm and solicitous people.”

The resulting display of light, color and movement on the massive building is visible every evening from dusk to 10 p.m. on the bubble-like “skin” of the Water Cube, which is one of the most popular attractions in Beijing.

“There is nothing quite like this project in the world,” says Bleicher. “As you tweet, you become part of the project. It gives a new definition to the term ‘public art.’ It allows the emotional feelings of the individual Chinese netizen to become a part of the artwork.”


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