Lunar New Year Gates
Sculpture with light and music
Papercutting by hand, 21 unique panels, digital rendering
Overall: 3600 x 3600 x 900mm each, 2 units

Music composer: Andrew Zhou
‘Songs for the Gateway to the Universe’
2-parts, 12 minutes each

Manufacture: Tilt Industrial Design
Vinyl wrapped acrylic & timber artwork panels
Steel frames, LED lights

Commissioned by Placemaking NSW, Department of Planning and Environment
Darling Harbour, NSW
28 Jan – 16 Feb 2022

Lunar New Year Gates’ comprises two archways signifying a new start and refreshing the relationships between nature and humankind; the Sun and the Moon; male and female; heaven and earth; the air and water; and Yin and Yang.

Multimedia artist, Tianli Zu, created the architectural gates using her signature cutouts, weaving together history and the contemporary. The traditional gateways (Pailou) originated in China during the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046 BC – 256 BC) and have since been introduced and developed in other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. It was an extremely solemn event in ancient China for an archway to be set up. Each archway holds significant symbolic meaning. 

Lunar New Year Gates’ represents the twelve zodiac animals – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig – reflecting the twelve-year lunar cycle. Zu uses Chinese folklore to portray each animal. The characteristics and stories of each animal are metaphors for humankind living in harmony within society and nature.

Zu expands upon Chinese culture and tradition with her experiences of life in Australia. For example, the magpie symbolises auspiciousness according to Chinese tradition. It is affectionally called ‘the bird of good luck’, as it announces good news. The waratah, an Australian native flower, is likened to the Chinese peony.

The Gates are decorated with many such good fortune symbols. The butterfly symbolises beauty and romance. The melon, peach, and Buddhas hand symbolise longevity and reproduction. The plum blossom is a sign of Spring, and symbolises perseverance and hope, as well as beauty, purity, and the transformation of life. The peony is a symbol of royalty and virtue. It is well-known as ‘the flower of wealth and honour. Peonies also represent beauty and romance. Plants and flowers are usually decorated on human figures in traditional papercuts. This reflects the concept of unity between nature and human beings, which is of powerful contemporary significance. Coins are often associated with wealth. However, according to Chinese tradition, ancient Chinese coins symbolise harmony. The round shape represents heaven, and the square represents Earth. Water is a nourishing element, and symbolises light, glory, the eternal, and wisdom. It represents the journey of life as it unfolds. The Chinese water pattern contains profound aesthetic values and is of cultural significance. It also reflects the Darling Harbour landscape. Clouds represent holiness and good luck. In Chinese, cloud’ is pronounced yun, which is a homophone for luck. The lotus flower has the same pronunciation as the word for harmony’, and symbolises nobility, modesty, and purity.

The colours of the Gates represent the Australian landscape and resonate with the Five Chinese Elements – wood, water, fire, metal and earth – which fill the space between heaven and Earth, and interact with and depend on each other to maintain the balance of the universe.

Zu hand-cut the work with a knife and scissors, before digitally manipulating it to create three layers. At night, Lunar New Year Gates glow in the dark, connecting with each other and the surroundings.

Andrew Zhou created a two-part musical composition for the Gates. In Songs for the Gateway to the Universe’, one can enter two distinct atmospheres that embody the two archways. Each gate has a unique sound profile built on pentatonic scales, where pure intervals of a fifth are used to construct rich and consonant harmonies. ‘Sun’ sounds are intense and bright. ‘Moon’ sounds are mellow and darker. Together, ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’ encompass all 12 tones of the Western scale, disintegrating into chaos and noise.

The music is reminiscent of traditional festivals, ceremonies, and songs, quoting several Chinese folk tunes and recalling ancient sounds and instruments. The music praises nature, reclaims life, celebrates friendship, regains energy, and finds tranquility.

Together, the artwork and music offer an experience to audiences, and seek to foster understanding, sincerity, appreciation, and reflection. It expands upon Chinese tradition to speak to audiences of all backgrounds. ‘Lunar New Year Gates’ invites all members of the community to celebrate in harmony.