Remaking the Confucian Rites

2014 Hangzhou, China
Coauthors: Jeffrey Shaw, Sarah Kenderdine, Johnson Chang, Prof. Peng Lin

For this project the authors created both an interactive application and a linear three-screen video  re-enactment of the “Capping Ceremony of a Minor Official’s Son,” from the ancient Chinese Book of Li. The Book of Li (Etiquette and Ceremonial) is a Chinese classic text about Zhou dynasty social behaviour and ceremonial ritual.

Re-making of Confucian Rites is a coproduction of Jia Li Hall Digital Platform, Hong Kong; the Tsinghua University China Rites Studies Research Centre, Beijing; and City University, Hong Kong. It sets out to highlight our understanding of li studies as a system of awareness and practice; to reflect the rapid changes that have taken place in Chinese people’s sensibilities in terms of their physical bodies and ‘livingness’ in the course of modernisation; and to highlight the potential of art to act as a harmonising force in attuning these new sensibilities to society—a key mission of art in the context of social relations.

The underlying approach to the re-enactment of these rites is one of academic and historical accuracy in every aspect of the scripting, acting, clothing, props and environment. The work combines this with an analytical approach to the documentation that harnesses its dramaturgical narrativity to the rigour of an explicit, detailed examination that makes this project a benchmark future reference work for scholars and the general public. Advanced digital techniques, such as motion capture and augmented-reality annotation of movement, facilitate an analytical re-envisioning of the performances. While the three-screen video offers a linear exposition of the rite, the interactive application offers the user a hyperlinked database that enables deep exploration of the subject.

Confucian li is a concept that covers the realms of aesthetics, ethics and ideology; it is also a technique of the body, a skill that is learned and inscribed. This work seeks to demonstrate in concrete form the understanding that ‘re-making’ Confucian li is relevant today as an important alternative system of knowledge, and a shining example of ‘aesthetics as politics’ (rather than politicized aesthetics).

Exhibition Record

2014/1/17 - 2/15:  Hanart 100: Idiosyncrasies, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, China

2014/12/5 - 12/8:  Third International Symposium on Ritual Studies, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China

2015/2/19:  China Exchange, London, England

2016/6/3 - 9/18:  Beyond the Globe - 8th Triennial of Contemporary Art - U3, Moderna galerija, Ljubljana, Slovenia

2017/2/16 - 2/18:  Potential Spaces, Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design/ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany

2018/2/25 - 5/13:  Mirroring China's Past: Emperors, Scholars, and Their Bronzes, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, United States