Guge Bricks

Shu Yong


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Resin bricks, rice paper, ink
approx. 15 x 37 x 9 cm x 50 pieces
For the China Pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 2013, Shu Yong produced a meditation on the dissonance between eastern and western values and the difficulties of communicating across a cultural and linguistic divide. Via television, newspapers and the internet, he collected from fellow Chinese citizens 1500 words, phrases, mottoes, slang terms and neologisms. He translated them into ‘English’ using Google, and then wrote each literal translation in calligraphy onto a small piece of Xuan paper before embedding the slips of paper into bricks made of cast resin. These ‘Guge’ bricks, intended to refer to the proportions of the bricks used to construct the Great Wall of China, were constructed as a wall in the exhibition courtyard. The wall, apparently transparent, serves as a symbol of globalisation and the supposed breaking down of old boundaries in an internet age. In fact, the resin brick wall is solid, and the mistranslations and partial translations remind us of cultural differences.
Guge Bricks is playful, with its ‘Chinglish’ translations of Chinese terms resulting in phrases like ‘boyfriend menu’, ‘to the rich have fewer children and more pig’, ‘the sinister heart of a gentleman’s belly’ or ‘gentlemen love fortune in a proper way’. It is of its historical moment, with terms such as ‘microblogging obesity’, ‘wi-fi squatter’, and ‘the cultural construction of mobile phone messages’. In collecting the most popular phrases from Weibo and other Chinese micro-blogging sites, Shu Yong also alludes to another kind of wall, the ‘Great Firewall’ of Chinese internet censorship and online surveillance that ultimately resulted in Google’s withdrawal from China. Like the Great Wall that was constructed to keep out invading hordes from the north, a wall that was ultimately more successful as a psychological than a physical barrier, the walls between nations and cultures, Shu Yong believes, will inevitably be breached by people determined to communicate.
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