A Painting Drawn in Space – Interview with artist Bi Rongrong

Text edited by: Xiao Zhenhan

Date: December, 2013


Epublicart: How did the idea of 7:3 Colors presented at Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) occur to you?

Bi Rongrong: I have a liking for materials that are transparent, for they can be closely connected with the environment and generate richer colors. That’s why I always think about what kind of work can better express the diverse possibilities of colors. I resorted to a friend for help, asking him to calculate how many colors could be generated through the overlapping of color glasses. I wanted to have a specific figure. But he told me it was calculable concerning how many colors could be gained through the overlapping of different materials. But as the environment for the work would change constantly, it was hard to do a calculation.
I’m obsessed with the delicate effect created by shafts of sunshine streaming through stained glasses of church. During the conception stage of this work, I wanted to think of some allusion to colors mentioned in the Bible. I consulted a Christian friend who told me that “seven” was a figure containing particular importance in Bible. Seven days make a week, which makes “seven” a symbol of completeness and integrity. Moreover, “three” was also an important figure, implying returning to the origin. So I wanted to make some use of these two numbers to imply the integrity of colors. What’s more, “seven” plus “three” makes “ten”, also a number indicating completeness. That’s how the title 7:3 Colors came into being. And the number of sculptures I made for the work was seven.
“7:3” in this title is an adjective, indicating that “colors” reach a state of completeness and shedding light on the diverse possibilities generated by the combination of colors and space.
Epublicart: A variety of relations are contained in this piece, including the relations among glasses, among work, environment and man, between the entrance of the center and the outside environment. How did you manage to balance all these relations?
Bi: When designing the installation, the organizer showed me the exact position where it would be presented. Out of the habitual mode of thinking as a painter, I tend to make use of space as if it was a piece of paper or canvas. When I compose a painting on paper, there are always boundaries. Within the space with boundaries, I will think about how to arrange all kinds of elements. When drawing sketches, I will set the rhythm and trends for different color blocks. Variations shown during the process enable me to construct the images I want. That’s what I did for this piece too. By taking conditions of the site into consideration, I tried to set boundaries for the work.
But as a work presented in the open air, apart from changes taking place from inside, it would inevitably interact with the changing surrounding environment. You mentioned the relation between the entrance of the center and the work. The material I used was organic glass, which was transparent and reflective, very similar to the transparent materials used in the façade of the architecture. Hence, a kind of natural dialogue was inspired. The difference between this installation and my paintings was that painting could only be viewed from outside while installation could be seen from inside. It offered viewers more perspectives to converse with the work and enriched the connections between the work and the environment. To me, it is of vital importance to treat the overall space as a whole to complete a work.
In nighttime, it seemed the work was more delicately connected with the environment. Both my work and the center building used a lot of LED lights. The mutual projection between them generated some subtle connection. In different times of a day, the work would take on different faces. For instance, its structure and subtleties of acrylic colors faded out in evenings and the only thing people could see were lines of lights. In my view, the work spoke in two different languages during daytime and nighttime, making it like two different pieces of work.
Epublicart: Just now you mentioned “boundary”. In public space, boundaries are extended infinitively within the urban environment. How did you deal with that when working on this piece?
Bi: I was assigned a specific space. In the narrow sense, space has boundaries. For instance, the zone from the main entrance of the center to the road was what was assigned to me by the organizer, which set the boundaries for the work. In the meantime, I also needed the concept of dimensions to control the overall layout of the work.
It was a pity that when presented in public space, the work seemed a bit smaller than I had thought. My design of the work was based on the dimensions of the assigned space. I think that imperfection was because, as you said, boundaries were extended infinitively. It showed that I needed to do better when dealing with outdoor public space. This work offered me a good opportunity to try and to experience something new.
Epublicart: To viewers, this work can be appreciated in different ways. They can see the work from above in the night or get a glimpse of it when passing by. During installation, did you ever worry about the vulnerability of the work or the impact it might have on passers-by?
Bi: That was a very practical question to think about. I did take the fact that viewers would see the work from different angles into consideration. During installation, I ran onto the overpass many times to check the effect of the work. And I also walked inside the work. As to whether it would affect passers-by, that was a problem we discussed constantly with the relevant management of SWFC. We needed to consider the walking routes of people who worked here and then decided where should be left empty and where wires should not be laid. Compromises needed to be made. During the conception process, safety was my priority concern. For safety’s sake, we made some major adjustments to the original design. For instance, extra brackets were added, tilt angle was decreased and height that might impose danger on children was eliminated.
Epublicart: I like Open Studio very much. A space devoured by red was a bold idea, alluding to a sense of violence.
Bi: That’s right. I treated the whole studio space as a piece of work. All symbols and signs appearing in the space were from my painting. I felt that simply hanging the works in the studio was not an effective way to interact with the space. So I pasted red transparent films onto the windows so that when shaft of sunshine pierced through it would appear red. The unified visual effect tended to generate unified psychological effect. You used the word “violence”. I think it’s a proper description. It was visually powerful, and wiped off human feelings.
Epublicart: You are emotionally attached to space.
Bi: Yes. I see space as an integral part of my work. I wanted to express my intuitive perception of colors through that work. If I stayed in it for long, my emotions would also be affected by it. I hadn’t expected that sunshine would generate such an effect. Many people went in just stayed for a couple of minutes.
Epublicart: How did you arrange the geometric elements in your work?
Bi: I often do line drawing. It has something to do with my observation of life. The work you were referring to featured triangles in the project of compatible bazaar compatible program . I didn’t think much about the language of painting that I was familiar with. What I wanted to express was a kind of strong and poignant feelings. I wanted to express my feelings. Moreover, when the work was presented in the space, a sense of movement was hence generated as the shape of triangle was naturally associated with directions. I thought it would be interesting to combine such sense of direction and the sense of perspective unique to the space. That’s why I chose triangle instead of any other shapes. I believed they could be merged together.
Epublicart: What is good public art in your mind?
Bi: I love Olafur Eliasson’s work very much. His works such as the Weather Project and the New York City Waterfalls help people to feel physical space in a different way and to re-experience the dimensions of space and the relationship between man and environment. I think good public art is supposed to give people the power and vision to rediscover and to make a change. That’s the responsibility of artist.