What does an imaginary wedding ceremony based on ancient rituals tell us about China today?
Why is China’s most epic artist inventing a new imaginary dynasty, with complex rituals and evocative music of its own? Bingyi, an avant-garde thinker, designer and artist, whose monumental ink paintings sometimes cascade down entire mountainsides, will tell us how, in China’s chaotic, consumer culture, the past holds surprising and vital lessons. Join us and enter her world for an immersive evening—a “Lotus Dynasty” wedding extravaganza featuring music, art, and breathtaking couture costumes, followed by a conversation between Bingyi and Curator Susan Beningson about what it all means.
Bingyi (冰逸) is an artist, writer, film-maker and architectural designer based in Beijing, China and Los Angeles, CA. Over the past decade, Bingyi has developed a multi- faceted practice that encompasses land and environmental art, urban planning, site-specific architectural installation, musical and literary composition, ink painting, performance art, and filmmaking. Adopting a non-anthropocentric perspective and channeling nature’s creative agency, her work is centrally concerned with the themes of ecology, ruins, rebirth, and poetic imagination. After pursuing university-level studies in biomedical and electronic engineering in the United States, Bingyi earned a Ph.D. in Art History and Archeology from Yale University in 2005 with a dissertation on the art of the Han Dynasty.
Susan L. Beningson is an independent curator based in New York City. Her most recent exhibition We The People: Xu Bing and Sun Xun Respond to the Declaration of Independence was part of the Asia Society Museum Triennial (2020-2021). From 2013 through 2019 she served as a curator of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Her curatorial projects during this tenure included the exhibition One: Xu Bing and the reinstallation of the Arts of China galleries. Previously, Dr. Beningson taught Asian and Islamic art history at the City University of New York, Rutgers University, and Columbia University and worked at the Princeton University Art Museum. She has lectured and published widely on both contemporary and historical Asian art. Dr. Beningson received her doctoral degree in Chinese art and archaeology and master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a master’s degree in Business Administration from New York University.
The Grand Wedding Ceremony: On Bingyi’s Lotus Dynasty
The Grand Wedding Ceremony is the New York City presentation of a wedding ritual created by artist Bingyi (b. 1975) and calligrapher Lin Xiao. The piece was designed as a part of Bingyi’s historical speculative research project known as the Lotus Dynasty. Bingyi imagined this counter-factual dynasty as an alternative history to China’s cultural and artistic development during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368). As a trained academic in Han Dynasty studies, Bingyi assumes the dual roles of contemporary archaeologist researching this lost dynasty today and the official historian for the Lotus Dynasty working in the 13th-14th Centuries. In her roles as artist, archaeologist and historian, she composed the national symbols and imperial seals for the Dynasty, as well as its constitution and national laws. She created the painterly and architectural styles for the Dynasty and even invented the mounting format for the paintings and calligraphies of this mysterious but brilliant era. According to Bingyi, the Lotus Dynasty used poetry as the means to resolve any conflict, as its weapon to fight even its wars—the nation that produced better poetry being deemed the winner of such bloodless contests. Bingyi’s Lotus Dynasty constitutes a utopian time and space that challenges our understanding of the linear chronology of human history. Moreover, her recreation of the visual and material cultures from this unknown dynasty has turned the project into an all-encompassing search for the essence of Chinese culture.
The wedding ceremony is loosely based on The Book of Rites and The Book of Odes, with inspirations taken from poetry and literature dated to the Han (202 BC – 220 AD) and Tang (618 – 907) Dynasties.
The theme music composed by Zhang Jian is based on a Yuefu poem entitled By Heaven!
《上邪》, from the Han Dynasty.
I shall be with you,
Forever without end!
Even when mountains flatten and riverbeds run dry,
And the earth moves to become one with the sky,
Even when winter has thunder and summer has snow,
Never will my feelings do anything but grow.
This choice of song shows a conscious move away from social expectations, rather to focus on forces of nature as evidence of eternal love. In this wedding ceremony, love and eternity are expressed through various rituals that included “serving tea to one’s parents,” “holding a wooden goose in procession” and “weaving one’s hair”. These rituals enact metaphors of sharing food and body together. The couple becomes one as they participate in the metaphor and expand on it. The religious and spiritual meaning of painting, music and poetry becoming one in beauty. As the music prays to heaven as symphonic act, it carries the depth and power of profound love.
Lin Xiao, as the ritual master and director of the performance, designed and staged the ceremony as a divine act. Bearing little reference to the institution of secular marriage, it concentrates instead on time, eternity and the long history of China. Lin Xiao’s version of the wedding ceremony delivers a calling from the deepest source of nature and from the most admired moments of ancient times; he treats love as a symbol that exists in the vast wilderness of an ultimate landscape. Lin Xiao manifests a philosophy through this design: Love is a force of nature and “Mountains and Waters” or Shanshui is the god of China.
Ma Defan’s traditional Chinese clothing or hanfu feature rice paper and classic embroidery that she has collected over time. Time plays an important role in the material and expressive dimensions of her designs. In her mixture of materials and ornament, she evokes an imaginary wholeness that floats timeless in the face of a contemporary reality that surrounds it. The rice paper and fabric are both aged and aging as she puts together a universal cut that could fit almost anyone in any time. The ritual that seems to defeat time happens through time and in so doing it makes love immortal through art. This wedding ceremony is not just a performance: it is mutually participatory; it invites people to be part of a real wedding and real love.