Empty City / Mutant place

As the Yi Jing or Zhou Yi teaches us, change is the main characteristic of this transient and fluctuant physical world. Change happens all the time, incessantly, constantly, uninterruptedly, so that every second every-thing is not the same as the instant before: the whole world changes continuously, transforming itself without interruption. Nothing is static, nothing is permanent, the whole is engaged in an endless process of permutation: it has always been like that and it will always be that way, in the eons to come.

This is the Nature of things; this is Life; this is The Process which affects everything which is.


Human beings, through their actions, interfere with the natural process of change by inducing transformations dictated by their will and not contemplated in the natural order of things. True as it is that humankind has always acted like that, nowadays the process has reached frightening speed and proportions. In virtue of our creative powers we have shaped the world into which we live, following what we envisage in our minds. For the first time in our history and on a global scale, the Artificial order of things seems to have superseded the Natural one.

Most modern cities are there to demonstrate that. In the cities, we have created an entire new environment, detached from Nature, still subject however to the rule of change imposed by Time or by the actions of the human beings. The big cities of our times are thus ‘artificial organisms’ constantly reshaped and redefined through our thoughts and actions: they are mutant places.

The effect of the changes which have affected a tiny fraction of one of the largest cities in the world, Beijing, and the lives of a small but significant portion of its inhabitants, have been the focus of the project carried on in China by the two Italian artists Sara Bernabucci and Lapo Simeoni. Through a different but complementary approach they have investigated and documented in real time the effects of the rapid urban development of one of Beijing suburban areas, where the countryside is being eroded, villages flattened to the soil and residents displaced to leave place to modern new mansions built for the nouveaux riches.

Sara has interacted with the population of a small village, by now cancelled from any map, by piecing together fragments of the stories of its inhabitants, their hopes and fears for the future, their resignation towards an inevitable fate determined by others, their anger for the unnecessary destruction of their environment. These mixed feelings have taken up the shape of hundreds of white hands emerging from the soil in different parts of the village, menaced by the daily progress of the bulldozers: the villagers have recognized the hands and their elongated, gracefully curved fingers for those of the Buddha, reading their appearance as a sign of divine protection and taking the hands back home with them as a symbol of protection, almost as holy relics.

Lapo has conversely documented through photography the new houses and villas which now dot the periphery of Beijing, deliberately avoiding the presence of any human being to stress the absurdity of the architecture and the ‘emptiness of the places’, deprived of any soul, character, singularity and strikingly similar to any other 21st century bourgeoisie architecture to be found anywhere in the world. Lapo has played with this idea, and recreated an incredibly large map of this part of the city on the largest wall of the ArtChannel exhibition space, where he has placed photographs of similar houses taken in different countries, forcing the audience to reconsider the highly hypothetical originality of most modern architecture.

In this exhibition-project, full of social significance and complemented by the performances of local, equally sensitive Chinese artists, Sara and Lapo have expressed their thoughts and feelings on the enormous artificial transformations which are radically changing our urban landscapes. As artists, they have used at its best the creative power of the human mind to stir a reflection on the absurdity and ferocity of what is happening, of what we are doing to the world and to ourselves.

They have demonstrated that art can be a powerful tool for a new ecology of mind when considered not just the passive object of market speculations, but the creative arena of intellectual and spiritual speculations.

Art can improve the level of awareness of our dormant consciences.

And, for the sake of our future, let a hundred flowers blossom

Empty City / Mutant place – catalogo – Howeigou village, Beijing – Pechino (Cina)
Marzo 2008, Filippo Salviati