Weighing over 12 tons and measuring more than 90 feet ( 30 meters) long each, the pair, called Feng (male) and Huang (female) hang from the ceiling of the nave at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
The Cathedral, located in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood north to the Central Park, is the fourth largest Christian church in the world. I wrote about the cathedral in one of my posts.
The Cathedral’s stunning stained glass windows provide the perfect backdrop the glittering and colorful giant installation. Thousands of little lights and vibrant colors give soul to the cold, heartless steel, making the birds look absolutely stunning.
“The Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral,” installation opened March 1 and runs through January 2015- so you have time to visit it.
The birds are made of unexpected materials: layered shovels form the feathers, crowns are made of weathered hard hats and birds’ bodies sculpted from salvaged construction debris.
Born in 1955 in the China, Xu Bing was exiled to the countryside as part of Mao’s “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution. In 1990 the artist moved to the U.S. in 1999 he received a MacArthur genius grant. He has since taken up partial residence in China, maintaining studios in both Brooklyn and Beijing.
New York Time wrote: In 2008, Xu was asked to design an art piece for a new building in Beijing’s central business district. When he entered the construction site, he was faced with a camp of migrant workers whose work conditions left a lot to be desired. The phoenixes are the artist’s direct response to what he saw there—the human face of China’s rebirth: Poor people who are building luxury buildings while being treated like scrap metal.
When asked about the birds’ placement, one in front of the other inside the massive Gothic-style church, the artist said “The girl is closer to God.” Both Feng, the male, and Huang, the female, faced the decoratively carved bronze doors, as if poised to take flight in the middle of the night. “If they faced toward the church,” referring to the altar, Mr. Xu explained, “it would have seemed too religious.”
Throughout China’s history, every dynasty has had its form of phoenixes. In ancient and modern Chinese culture, these birds an often can be found in the decorations for weddings or royalty, along with dragons. Chinese considered the dragon and phoenix symbolic of blissful relations between husband and wife, another common yin and yang metaphor. It was believed that the phoenix's song controlled the five tones of Chinese music. The song includes all five notes of the traditional Chinese musical scale.It's flight represents the capacity to leave the world and its problems behind, flying towards the sun in clear pure skies.
The Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral is the second presentation of these works in the United States. They were previously on view at MassMoCA, North Adams, MA, and have been exhibited in China at the Today Art Museum, Beijing, and Expo10, Shanghai.