The beauty of reusable materials is on full display in a public exhibit of two majestically crafted birds hanging from the ceiling at St. John the Divine cathedral in upper Manhattan (1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street). Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing gathered all sorts of odds and ends of scrap metal from deconstructed building sites sites across Beijing which were being cleared for new construction related to the 2008 Olympics. His birds, together called Phoenix (2008-10), are a male called Feng and a female named Huang. Feng and Huang together weigh 12 tons and are each 90 to 100 feet long. Their faces and brilliant feather tails recall the tradition of Chinese dragon production while the LED lights strung about the birds’ bodies accentuate their size and point to modern influences. A trip to St. John the Divine is always a treat for the stained glass and vaulted ceilings, but with these birds, the vastness of the church seems to be particularly apparent, and provides an interesting juxtaposition as Eastern and Western artistic motifs come together.
Sustainability in arts and crafts has been a trend in recent years as artists and creators strive for socially responsible work that inspires a new appreciation for the reuse and repurpose of seeming junk. If materials that would have languished in a landfill can be forged into objects so beautiful, it begs the question as to how often each of us may overlook the use of things that we are tossing in the garbage. Michelle Reader, a London based waste materials sculptor, famously used a month of household waste to create “Seven Wasted Men” (2006). And Miguel Rivera crafts intriguing race cars and robots from beat up old hard drives and other electronic equipment. Xu Bing’s Phoenix fits nicely into the recycled art tradition by imagining it much larger, shinier, and suspended in mid-air. Check it out (for free) at St. John the Divine daily from 7:30 a.m to 6 p.m.. Phoenix will be on display until the end of the year.
[Photo credit: Rachel Sommers]