The Mahjong Ox Lantern
Light sculpture, steel frame, over 700 individual perspex tiles, two storeys
Ox Lantern comprises hundreds of small lanterns. Each lantern is in the shape of a Mahjong tile. Mahjong is a game played between four people that originated in China. It contains Chinese characters and symbols, such as Hong Zhong, Fa Cai and Bai Ban, which represent sincerity, prosperity, and cheerfulness respectively. The use of this Chinese element to construct the ox figure aims to add a playfulness and joyfulness to this very sturdy zodiac animal. Mahjong’s commonly played during festive seasons, such as Chinese New Year, when family and friends gather together and share joy, laughter, and bring about harmony.
The Ox Lantern is a magical celestial ox that is associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, who said that riding a blue ox embodies one’s return to nature. The colour red evokes passion and radiant energy, while jade green (the reverse side of a Mahjong tile) represents good fortune and prosperity.
Audiences are invited to walk underneath the ox. The ox comes to life as it is in constant change responding to the audiences’ participation. The best location to display this ox will be Martin Place. The colourful ox will bring new life to the concrete ground and old buildings, and provide busy city life with a refreshing view.
1. What can Sydneysiders expect when they see your zodiac animal as part of lunar lanterns exhibition?
ZU: The Mahjong Ox gives viewers an experience that is familiar, yet unfamiliar. The familiarity lies in its symbolism as one of the 12 zodiac animals, which is embedded with Chinese tradition. The unfamiliarity lies in its non-traditional depiction, not only in its 3-dimensional shape and its large scale but also in its construction and formation, which carries new meaning. It sparks the viewer’s innate imagination and spontaneity. This zodiac image will broaden and deepen people’s understanding about Chinese tradition as well as provide a new angle, reshaping western perceptions of Chinese tradition and culture.
2. How did you come up with the concept, or what was your inspiration?
ZU: Three important people in my life were born in the year of the Ox. First, my grandfather, who taught me how to play Mahjong when I was about 8 years old during the Cultural Revolution; a time when every tradition was banned, although, in reality, never discontinued. Secondly, my cousin, a trumpet player, who brings the rhythm of the ox. Finally, my son, who inspires me with his innovative and interactive approach. My memories and impressions of their characteristics have shaped my concept and emboldened me to create the Ox figure – energetic, playful, intelligent, humorous and somewhat mischievous. The Ox figure is a combination of them.
In my view, one of Mahjong’s functions is to connect people through game playing; to place a private family activity in a public space seeks to correlate people.
3. How do you celebrate the Lunar New Year?
ZU: Celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia is not the same as celebrating it in China, mainly because there is no official holiday. The celebration is more symbolic and streamlined, so I always try to fit in everything within one weekend. Sometimes it becomes a disaster: too much food, not enough cutlery, split wine on a white rug, cheating at the Mahjong table. But no one seems care because the important thing is that everyone enjoys each other’s company.
4. What’s your favourite New Year Tradition?
ZU: Playing Mahjong and lighting firecrackers.
5. What do you like about celebrating the Lunar New Year in Sydney?
ZU: Intuitively, celebrating the Lunar New Year in Sydney gives me a sense of returning to childhood and innocent times.
As I have lived in Australia for 27 years, my perception of Chinese culture, tradition and its values have changed inevitably. In my view, the only way to continue Chinese traditions without geographical boundaries is to keep renewing the past: some remain, some leave and some are added.
6. How do you plan to celebrate The Year of The Monkey?
ZU: 2016 marks my father’s seventh cycle of the Year of the Monkey. So I will celebrate it personally and collectively. It will be a time of regaining positive energy, being spontaneous and creating more art!
7. What is the best thing about being involved in the Sydney Chinese New Year Festival?
ZU: This is my third consecutive year being involved in Sydney Chinese New Year celebrations. I enjoy participating in the event because I can communicate with people through my art, and the public responds to my art as addressing a social phenomenon. It gives me an opportunity to transform and renew eternal Chinese metaphors; to give them present-day significance in the context of contemporary art.
Chinese Zodiac Lantern Exhibition
Martin Place, Sydney 2016
The Overseas Passenger Terminal, Sydney 2017
Circular Quay , Sydney 2018
Commissioned by: City of Sydney