Back in 2008, the Beijing National Aquatics Center — more informally known as the Water Cube — served as an international stage for China's engagement with the global public during the Beijing Olympics. Today, it continues this legacy of large-scale broadcasting, standing as a real-time display of China's mood.
Unveiled on June 23 of this year, the installation Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube is the product of Jennifer Wen Ma's artistic insight, Zheng Jianwei's lighting expertise and Guillermo Acevedo's programming chops. Together with their team, the three collaborators built a program that aggregates and analyzes millions of emoticons used on micro-blogging site Weibo. Based on the frequency of emoticons, the program constructs a lighting scheme to match the real-time feelings of China's netizens.
The sequences are built around the main themes of fire, water, wind, earth, and thunder, and the colors move in daily flux.
The installation goes further than solely broadcasting emotions, however. The other half of the computer program draws from the I Ching, the ancient Chinese text that forecasts each day with a specific energy and natural phenomenon. The resulting display is not only a visual marvel, but also a conscious statement about the interconnectivity of current society.
Commenting on the cell-based structure of the cube, Ma describes the installation as a "beautiful analogy of how we are all cells in society, but we're interconnected. These are translucent cells; if you turn blue and someone else is red, you're going to make purple in-between."
By using futuristic technologies to join the classic teachings of the I Ching with the current state of man, the installation honors both the heritage and modernity of Beijing.