It’s not often that ancient Chinese texts about divining the future and social media meet. It’s even less often that they meet in the form of a giant light show that takes place on the facade of a former Olympic venue. But this is what takes place in artist Jennifer Wen Ma and lighting designer Zheng Jianwei’s Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube.
The installation was unveiled last month at the Beijing National Aquatics Center (known as the Water Cube) and uses a computer programme to translate the I Ching and the collective mood of the Chinese people, through the emoticons they use on microblogging site Weibo, into a real-time light display on the building’s blistered exterior.
Using custom software millions of emoji are sifted through, and in combination with the I Ching, they inform the color, tone, and movement of the light. In the video above Ma talks about how the piece juxtaposes the old and the new and is also a representation of nature and man and a symbol of society.
While Jianwei notes how, through the unpredictable interplay of light on the building’s membranous form, the whole structure becomes an embodiment of the I Ching’s philosophy of chaos and interconnectivity.
To turn the emoji and hexagrams of the I Ching into patterns of light was quite an undertaking and it was down to Guillermo Acevedo as creative technology director to manage turning the expressions of the Chinese people into expressions of light. Him and his team did this using the visual program language vvvv, which allowed them to code the data from Weibo into patterns for the different themes: fire, water, wind, earth, and thunder.