Cube Tower

Artist: Ralfonso Gschwend
Location: Changchun Sculpture Park, Jilin Province, China
Year of completion: 2012
Researcher: Leon Tan

Ralfonso Gschwend was one of the winners of the 2012 Changchun International Sculpture Competition, meaning that he was commissioned to permanently install Cube Tower, a kinetic sculpture, in Changchun Sculpture Park in Jilin Province, Northeast China. In fact, Gschwend was also one of the winners of the competition in 2011, so Cube Tower joined another kinetic work of his called Union in the 92-hectare landscaped garden. Developed in conjunction with a landscape architect, park officials and the municipal government (commissioned by the Government of Changchun City), Cube Tower measures eight meters in height, and takes the form of five reflective cubes stacked atop each other on their edges, with the cubes progressively reducing in size towards the top. The structure is made of stainless steel, and each cube counter-rotates, driven by the wind. According to the artist, it is one of only a handful of kinetic wind sculptures in existence in China.

The artist Paul Klee once remarked, “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” We might understand Gschwend’s kinetic sculptures in these terms insofar as they do not necessarily represent anything, but rather, render visible invisible forces. As an abstract form, Cube Tower is interpretively open-ended, leaving symbolic interpretation in the eyes of the beholder. What the audience registers, however, is precisely the invisible: the passage of air caused by uneven heating of different parts of the earth’s surface by the sun. Set within a meticulously manicured garden by the edge of a lake, this registration of the invisible contributes to a sensation of natural harmony, that is to say, a harmony of different invisible forces such as heat and wind, and visible material, such as earth, water, and steel. Cube Tower is a skillfully executed public sculpture, which appears well integrated with the park’s numerous other sculptures. Its excellence consists of its ability to generate contemplative experiences through encounters with an invisible force.

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Such experiences of nature and encounters with natural forces, arguably belong to an ancient Chinese aesthetic tradition, that of landscape ink-painting, even if the form of the sculpture itself is more derivative of Western (specifically Greek and American Modern) aesthetics. This strange conjuncture of two divergent aesthetic lines, both equally lengthy (each approximately 5.000 years), makes Cube Tower an interesting work. This project contributes to a sense of place by creating harmony in the sculpture garden, providing the public meditative or reflective encounters. The site itself is also worthy of mention—it is one of the world’s largest sculpture parks and possesses works by artists from around the world. It provides to Changchun residents and visitors a striking contrast to the urban landscape of high rises, cranes, and traffic.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency