Stage Photo of NU SHU


People’s Republic of China - Biennale Arte 2015

People’s Republic of China - Biennale Arte 2015

Living in Future (Performance, Interaction, Exhibition)

Living in Future is created by Tan Dun for the opening of China pavilion at Venice Biennale. It is a three-dimensional exploration of our sense of sound, sight and memory, which combines performance, interaction and exhibition. It is an integration of three independent visual movements. At present, the pavilion is exhibiting the third one. (Note: the first and the second have been exhibited on the day of the opening ceremony.)

Time and space is a continuous existence with no beginning no ending. The future, past and present form a circle where we experience the permanent sensation of jetlag. After a five-year field study and record of the vanishing Nu Shu culture, Tan Dun has tried to explore the relationships between folk culture and future, time and memory, as well as art and philosophy. Today is the future of yesterday, and tomorrow is the future of today. The future is a circle. It is the future of time and everything.

Part One Performance: River of Sound

Water, air, sound and our body are flowing. So does time and space. On May 7th, 2015, 150 volunteer violin players presented the flowing water of Venice in the form of musical sound flow which connects the space flow of ocean and land, and indoors and outdoors. The violin players, having 2 meters between each of them, form a line from the seaside outside the China pavilion to present the “flow of sound”. River of Time is a visual and sound performance art which breaks the border between sound and vision. This river is the river of time and space, and is also the river of the past and the future.

Part Two Interaction: “Nu Shu”

The performance stage for River of Time is a circular shallow pool, which acts as a “water mirror”, so as the musicians stood and played, it created a ceremonial atmosphere. It is juxtaposed with the water calligraphy of the Nu Shu language that has been installed on traditional eastern vertical scrolls with a video of a descendent of Nu Shu singing the “Sound of Tears”. Nu Shu is a multi-dimensional interaction project. Contract roles, including eastern culture and western culture, man and woman, record and reality, as well as the past and present, form the time and the space. After the performance, musicians put the violins into the water, making “now” become the “past”.

The language of Nu Shu is rooted in Hunan, Tan Dun’s hometown, between Yao and Han people. It was created by women, and was only used among women. The characters of Nu Shu are like flowing water and flying butterflies. They are elegant and beautiful. As Nu Shu deviates from the normal characters, men cannot read or understand it. It is a musical language and is passed from mother to daughter secretly from generation to generation, and also the Book of Tears by which mothers taught their daughters the principles of being a mother. Who bear the heaviest burdens and shed the most tears? Mothers. Who is the happiest in the world? Mothers. But why does those who shed the most tears enjoy the most happiness? Tan Dun concludes that because they have Nu Shu through which they can live in their own spiritual life. Mothers live in their dreams and in the future.

Part Three Performance: The future, Eternal Jetlag

The violins thrown by the violin players disintegrate slowly in the water. The violins are given the memories of the performance, and then vanish as time passes by. The water mirror is like the planet and the universe. It could also be life or an eye. Human’s sense of time is always relative. The time we feel is not the real time it is. Just like what Benjamin expressed as “the whole in a moment”. The past, present and future continue to exist in the eternal jetlag.

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  • Title: Stage Photo of NU SHU
  • Creator: TAN DUN