In the BAMA gallery, the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Cock, the Dog and the Pig stand proud and tall on their marble plinths. Each of the 12 animals of the zodiac dominates an assembly of 60 bricks, inscribed, one after the other, with the years dating from 1924 to 2643. At one glimpse, our eyes see 720 years: historical time already recorded by the historians from 1924 to 2008, and the coming, projected time from 2009 to 2643.
“Animal Time” is an installation that echoes its historical setting in time, “Animal Time: Beijing2008”, simultaneously exhibited on the ramparts of Aurelius’ ancient walls in Rome. More than 10,000 km from Beijing, 4 cycles of 720 years trace the History of China starting with the unification of the Empire under the Emperor Qin Shi Hhuang in 221BC and ending in 2043. Laid out on the floor are 2,229 recycled bricks brought over from Beijing recording 2,229 years since the year 221 BC, up until this year – 2008. The last cycle therefore remains unfinished, and in the spaces left empty on the floor you can see the dates of the years to come simply chalked in, emotive outlines of a future time that will one day be covered by bricks, soon 2009, 2010…. And so it is that “Animal Time: Beijing2008” finishes its historical path in Beijing in the BAMA gallery. The full meaning of this installation then becomes clear, a two part narration of the History of China with historical time belonging to the past exhibited in Rome and future time, where Huang Rui picks up the historical thread of his narration, in Beijing; both ends joining together to create one complete and same work.
The aesthetic emotions that “Animal Time” evokes come from the layout of codes that are revealed when observing the piece. A “mineral” work, Animal Time is made of bricks and stones, which echo no doubt by pure coincidence the four elements of earth, fire, water and air. But especially, the recycled bricks, steeped in the memories of the city and people who lived within their walls in another time, remind us that the cycle on which the whole piece is based is not only theoretical, but can also be found in the materials used. The coding is nearly perfect when you realise that there is little more than a complete cycle of 720 years that separate the construction of Dadu, ancient city of Beijing founded by Kubila Khan in 1272 under the Yuan, and the destruction of the oldest quarters of Beijing. As if the coding has to be “humanised” to remind us that behind each recorded historical memory hides a multitude of lives that history has forgotten.
Huang Rui succeeds to visually and physically capture the concepts that ordain our understanding of time.