Huang Rui

"I got a city of bricks and tiles, I turned it into a city of marbles."


Huang Rui presented Rome an extremely symbolic artwork.

The artwork built up at the Museum of Rome by the artist had a private and urgent dialogue with the walls of Rome. The artwork composes 2,229 repaired grey bricks, it’s a carefully built structure, which reflects the history and deserves to be studied and pondered upon. The artist systematically adopted the 'vacuity' created by the extremely intensive removal and rebuilding in Beijing in recent years. The space left by removal can’t last long in the continuous rebuilding of the city, the concept of the planners are vastly different from the relics conservation in Europe, they are the mastermind in one of the repeated changes in the history of the capital. Many areas, which had complete courtyards, are sacrificed; modern skyscrapers are built on them. New buildings are designed and constructed swiftly, because the great economic achievement needs to be reflected on the face of the city and showed to the world people for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Every grey brick is marked by a date, starting from 221 BC, which was the time the first Chinese feudal dynasty was created, till 2008. Each year is expressed in three ways on each grey brick: Roman Gregorian calendar, the title of the Chinese feudal ruler, and the gradual timing system adopted since the founding of PRC. The Chinese characters on each grey brick present the contrast and connections of the three forms, and the confrontation of the cognition and logic. Although the People’s Republic of China adopted the Gregorian calendar, the lunar and solar timing systems are maintained and applied primarily in traditional festivals, they have played important roles in history study.

In the traditional Chinese calendar, each 60 years compose a circle, each year has 60 combinations which are connected by 2 lines: 10 heavenly stems and 12 terrestrial branches. In traditional Chinese astrology, the 12 terrestrial branches are based on the observation of Jupiter, or its revolution around the Sun in each 12 years. On this track, heaven is divided into 12 sides, each side corresponds with a year and is represented by an animal, which is connected with the Chinese sign of the zodiac (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig).

The structure in the Mura Aureliane Museum expresses an ideal process of historical order and accumulation through the Gregorian calendar, at the same time, it’s also an intonation of the Chinese calendar in which 60 years form a circle. An animal statue is placed on each group of 60 bricks, a precise historical circle is recorded on the surface of each grey brick, the well-arranged animals form endless circles of the history.

China experienced miraculous economic development since the Deng Xiao Ping era, the face of the country has been fundamentally transformed within a number of years, the dead skin has been taken away and new cells have emerged, but the “make-up” has inevitably brought side effects. Or we can call the event, which transformed China ‘surgery’, instead of a ‘make-up’. The “smashing” trend has appeared in cities, especially in Beijing because of the 2008 Olympics. The artistic taste of the city should be improved urgently and its artistic style should be reshaped. Facing the huge changes, the continuity of the cultural characteristics has become uncertain in this city, especially when it needs to be positioned as a city which is experiencing drastic changes. After a series of smashing style of removal and rebuilding, the scene of the city has been broken and lost its historical content and connections. At this moment, it is as if we have become the evidence of the transformation process and the scene, which firmly opposes the new post-city concept.

If we can claim that the bricks used in this structure are taken from a building, that is to say they are the private belongings of a residence, he expressed a majestic example of heterodoxy by a refined, determined and elegant artistic language, that’s the importance of Huang Rui’s artwork. The bricks themselves are the basic phoneme of a language and the generator of dialogues. In terms of ontology, it’s connected with the construction process at one side and the design experience at the other side. Through using a simple structure of the seemingly useless bricks, the form is created, adjustment is made and the city is expressed as one of 2 sides which are the planning and implementation of politics. The bricks represent the links of personal space, collective residence, and the citizens’ theoretical space.

Equally, the 2,229 bricks shipped to Rome from Beijing represent the link and dialogue of the historical absoluteness. This form of historical absoluteness develops the human existence through the Gregorian calendar and the Chinese imperial calendars. This form of existence have left no trace, it doesn’t resonate with the linear years, but is divided into repeated circles or expressed through animal signs.

The political history and human history are integrated into three kinds of interpretation based on evidence. The grey bricks have become the silent witness and visible mark through their simple and well-ordered existence; they die away in the constant floating of life.

The removed and repaired grey bricks are recollected, sent away from their original residence and arrived in Rome. They are rearranged as background and side scenes to express the content of the artwork. Huang Rui turned on the silent topic of history, the dialogue of memories, the trace left by materials. He opposes the disturbance of the dialogue and has delivered another form to Rome. The broken dialogues are reconnected, the original phoneme of the dialogue – the bricks will eventually tell us what it knows.

The words presented to Augustus by Svetonio are resonated in this environment, not only because the content of this artwork coincides with the importance of city reforms in Rome during the Augustus, but also because Rome tries to maintain the historical construction experience, instead of betraying it. Each time, new behaviors bring judgment, comparison and accumulation of the history. The western building experience has inherited a form of analogy, in this theory; architecture is just to redistribute the historical process and the stratified forces. It’s more about hinting and reflecting, but it doesn't miss any details.

This is an artwork created by one of the first generation and most important Chinese pioneering artists in the late 70s; it’s equally splendid as the Roman historical legacy. Huang Rui repaired and carved each of the bricks and composed them into the structure in Rome. They are a rare existence and exist for the purpose of beauty only, they are the full display of self-inflicted privation. This is the concept Huang Rui intends to express through the abstract concept created by the unnatural combination of the bricks themselves: the bricks are spread on the floor and formed a horizontal wall, instead of a vertical one, it shook off its original functions and gained a temporary title of citizenship, at least for the moment and at this spot.

Look, he intoxicates us with the formless texture, its untouchable grey, the color of Beijing. He brings us to a time trap full of wisdom; he gives us a riddle, which attracts us to display our ability to calculate. But we haven’t discovered that he has brought our souls into the dialogue unconsciously through the beautiful lines, the calmness, determination, all of his strength and his logic.

In this artwork, Huang Rui keeps delving until the most important nature is exposed, that is the urgency of restarting the broken dialogue in Beijing. Holding the breath, we are brought into a unique world which lacks of oxygen and doesn’t allow us to breathe well, nor to speak well, what we can do is to observe in the silence. In this silence, we can’t reach the peak of extreme purity yet, because we can still hear the whispering and see the crowd. This is not only wisdom, but also humanity.

Adriana Forconi