Performance artist makes his point with umbrellas

Branden Duong, 20, talks with Chinese artist Huang Rui for 64 seconds underneath an umbrella. Participants in Rui's performance art piece held their umbrellas for 64 minutes while standing across from the Slought Foundation on 40th and Walnut. (Aaron Levy / Slought Foundation)
Branden Duong, 20, talks with Chinese artist Huang Rui for 64 seconds underneath an umbrella. Participants in Rui's performance art piece held their umbrellas for 64 minutes while standing across from the Slought Foundation on 40th and Walnut. (Aaron Levy / Slought Foundation)
Posted: March 19, 2012

On a sunny Friday afternoon, Chinese artist Huang Rui opened his black-and-white umbrella at 40th and Walnut.

During the next 64 minutes, 63 others picked up umbrellas and joined him in the performance-art piece. Soon, the 64 handmade umbrellas, each emblazoned with a Chinese character and its English translation, filled a stretch of sidewalk a block long.

Huang's piece, I-Ching, takes its name from the ancient Chinese book of divination that contains 64 hexagrams used to predict the future.

I-Ching is part of a monthlong exhibition by Huang and fellow Chinese artist Ko Siu Lan organized by the Slought Foundation, a nonprofit contemporary art space, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Though born into different periods of Chinese history, Huang, 60, and Ko, 35, explore similar themes in their work, including China's relationship to the West.

During his performance, Huang spoke to each umbrella carrier for 64 seconds. And each participant had to hold an umbrella for 64 minutes.

The Chinese characters on the umbrellas bore rough translations in English, illustrating the difficulty of cultural translation.

Huang's "performance was quite good . . . very spiritual," Penn senior Branden Duong said.

Many participants remained for the entire ceremony. "If the performer can hold an umbrella for 64 minutes, so can I," added Duong, 20.

Ko preceded Huang's piece with a dramatic performance, entangling herself in tape and cloth that encircled her. While blindfolded, she tried to escape the circle but remained tethered by the lines of tape and cloth.

Ko's "art shows how everybody is implicated by the actions of everyone else," Kevin Hudson, 19, said. "Memory is a collective affair."

The public exhibit left some students and residents confused. Penn sophomore Chris Burcheri, 19, encountered the exhibit while walking down Walnut Street.

"I think it's hard for people walking by to understand what the goal of this is, but I still enjoyed taking in the scene."


Contact staff writer Shaj Mathew at smathew@philly.com or follow @shaj10 on Twitter.

 

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