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LIYU GAO, MA Digital Arts, University of the Arts London, Camberwell, 2012 Email:

Ideas of Chaos and the Cultures of Eastern & Western Thought in Ai Weiwei & Antony Gormley: A study of Ai Weiweis 1001 Chinese Visitors and Antony Gormleys Another Singularity.


This research paper summarises the ideas of chaos from Eastern and Western culture through the themes of history, philosophy and some religious studies. Focusing on two art works Ai weiweis project 1001chinese visitor for Documenta 12 Kassel,Germany, and Anthony Gormleys work Another Singularity displayed in Beijing, China. It will explore these works through the lens of chaos, analysing the making process and the theme of these works. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei used Western ideas of chaos in his work which was exhibited in Germany, and the British artist Antony Gormley applied a Eastern ideas of chaos in creating his sculpture work in China. Both artists attempt to break the boundaries of local culture and benet from the cultural exchange. This paper will show that this Eastern and Western culture exchange can result in amazing possibilities for art.

Key Words Chaos, Ai weiwei, Anthony Gormley, Culture, East&West



Pg 2.......................................................................................................................Abstract Pg 3......................................................................................................................Contents Pg 4..................................................................................................................Introduction Pg 5..........................................................................Chapter 1: East&west ideas of chaos Pg 8................................................................Chapter 2: Ai weiwei 1001 Chinese visitors Pg 11.......................................................Chapter 3: Antony Gormley Another Singularity Pg 14.................................................................................................................Conclusion Pg 15......................................................................................................Image Source List Pg 16...............................................................................................................Bibliography


As there is a culture difference, a same word may have different meanings in the Eastern and Western world. Chaos, a word which has been commonly used for a long time in human history, both the Eastern and Western cultures give chaos a diversity ideas based on each culture background. Also this kind of culture differences appear on several art works. This paper is going to explore ideas about chaos from the sight of the Eastern and Western cultures. Those research are based on history, philosophy, cosmology and religious study. Looking at Ai Weiweis 1001 chinese visitors and Antony Gormleys Another Singularity through the lens of Chaos to nd out what kind of different ideas of chaos has been applied on their works. Figure out how do these different ideas affect on artists creative processes. This paper is formed by three chapters. In the rst chapter the differences and similarities between chaos in the eastern and western culture will be shown by exploring and demonstrating these ideas. The second one will focus on analysing Ai Weiweis 1001 Chinese Visitors from the project Fairytale for Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany, 2007. Chase down what kind of ideas of chaos that Ai Weiwei has been applied on the exhibition in the Western world. Especially focus on the stage of selecting participants to nd what chaos means to Ai weiwei in this specic stage of this work.The third one will talk about Antony Gormleys Another Singularity which has been exhibited in Galleria Continua Beijing, China, 2009. Exploring what kind of ideas of chaos will a British artist choose to use for a exhibition in a Eastern country. Talk about how Eastern idea of chaos appears in this piece of a British artists work. And compare to Ai Weiweis idea of chaos in his creative process. Examining the phenomenon of the Eastern and Western culture exchange, and nd out what can artist benet from it.


Chapter 1: East&West Ideas of Chaos

This is how the Western culture denes chaos in dictionary: Chaos (kes) -n. 1.Complete Disorder; Utter confusion. 2. (Usually Capital) the disordered formless matter supposed to have existed before the ordered universe. 3. an obsolete word for abyss. (chaos. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, from

The Holy Bible has a lots of descriptions about chaos. In the bible chaos is often written as a place of disorder", the state of formless, of utter disorder and confusion, the condition of emptiness, unreality, and desolation, a meaningless existence". In the beginning, god existed with chaos, as god decide to create the world and human,then he brings order to the diorder, ended the era of chaos. (Baike Baidu, 2012)

The ancient Greeks suggested that chaos is a disordered order, A kind of order without periodicity (Sardar, 2004 p. 9). Chaos is the origin of the stable and ordered universe. The ancient seems to have accepted that chaos precedes order, in another words, that order comes from disorder (Sardar, 2004 p. 4).

In Eastern culture chaos usually has meanings of ambiguous, boundless, confused, and unsophisticated. Especially in China, chaos has been commonly used in a positive way. Ancient chinese philosophy Taoism suggested that, chaos is the origin of everything, including the universe. In chinese folklore stories , the Yin&Yang, the male and female principle, were emerged from the primeval state universe, the chaos. Then, they are proceed to organise the ordered natural world from chaos. (Sardar, 2004 p. 3). To some


extent, the idea from the ancient Greeks is quite similar to what is the Taoism considered, they all believed there is a relationship between chaos and order.

Unlike the Western, Chinese considered that chaos is a state of fascinating beauty, it is untouchable and invisible. Formless, limitless and emptiness are crucial facts of chaos, They gave chaos the meanings of the highest mental status and the aesthetic realm,which the ancient chinese philosophers and saints pursuing. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, written in Tao Te Ching: A semblance great, the shadow of a shade. (J.Legge, 2008 p. 23), it means the most magnicent form is chaos. In another word, chaos is a kind of beauty beyond the human vision, a mental state beyond the spiritual realm. Chaos also has been described as a uncertainty and unpredictability in Taoism as well, at the process of forming the order of the universe ,everything was unpredictable and unstable.

Both the Eastern and Western considered chaos as a myth. We can easily nd that kind of myth in some ancient philosophies, folklores or religious stories. Using chaos to explain something they can not understand until modern science appeared.

As the modern science is developing, scientists are trying to reveal the myth of chaos, they insisted that chaos is complicated system running under some kind of rules. Inside chaos there is a power can make simple things a unpredictable consequences.(BBC,2009). James Gleick in his book Chaos suggested that Buttery effect is an emblem of chaos. (Gleick,1998). It was discovered by Edward Lorenz by accident, but the impact of it was enormous. The progress of science research on chaos and the study of chaos theory, made the impact of the chaos ideas expanded much wider than ever.


Through out the history Eastern and Western cultures showed a great interest in chaos. We can see from ancestors, Both Taoism from the east or the ancient Greeks, agreed that the world now we live in comes from chaos. In another words, the idea, chaos has became a common understanding of the origination of universe, and has been accepted by the human culture all over the world.

Although there is similarity about the idea of chaos between East and West, also there were some differences as well. By the progress of human civilization, especially the development of religious culture. The denition or explanation of chaos began to expand to different direction under the impact of local culture. In eastern culture, Chaos has been regarded as the supreme realm of mental state owned by the saints. But in Western culture, as the holy bible described, chaos is negative, the god ended the chaos by bringing order to the world. That is a massive contrast on how the religious culture dene the meanings of chaos between the east and west. This kind of religious denition also draws a enormous impact on the mainstream culture. Further more, those different ideas also reects the difference between Eastern & Western cultures.


Chapter 2: Ai weiwei 1001 Chinese visitors

1001 chinese visitors is a part of Ai weiweis project Fairytale for Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany, 2007.

Image 1 Fairytale (2007) Ai Weiwei poses with some of the 1,001

Chinese people who traveled to Kassel, Germany as part of his artwork Fairytale from

In this project there were 1001 chinese were invited to visit Kassel for several weeks without any charges, Ai Weiwei said his main standards in choosing the candidates are those who are not able to travel overseas under normal conditions, or those to whom traveling overseas has a very important meaning, The participants will stay in a two-level dormitory house converted from a factory workshop of Volkswagen. Men and women will each occupy one level, and each level will be divided into small booths that can accommodate eight people. (China Daily, 2007 p.18). Fairytale is one of largest scale art works Ai Weiwei has done, his gallery owner Urs Meile raised t nearly 3.1 million Euro through two Swiss foundations, and the most part of the fund were spend on travel tickets and accommodation fees. (China Daily, 2007 p18)


Since the formative stage of the concept, I was thinking about several matters, such as: how to announce it, how to get the response and reaction of people and through which channels, what kind of process to adopt, what kind of information to release, and how this would entail answering questions, lling up forms, applying for the program. Ai weiwei said in an interview. (Colonnello, 2007)

The first stage of this project is how to release the invitation and select 1001 people to be participants. Ai Weiwei announced the invitation on his personal blog on February 26, just three days after, he had received 3000 applications.(China Daily, 2007 p18). It reected he boost of information expanding under the age of internets domination.

The internet social network could be an example of chaotic system. In the system, every individuals should be seen as irrelevant and isolated, but at the same time, they could choose to be linked to a group of people on internet, because of the interest of a certain issues or information. It will forms some groups focused on one specically subject.

Morphogenesis, discovered by Alan.M. Turing in 1952.(BBC,2009). It mentioned that a chaotic system has a feature of self organisation. There is possibilities that every information in this system could be an attracting issue and draw a majority impact. Based on the view of the whole internet, the action Ai Weiwei put the invitation on his blog is a tiny movement, and it gained 3000 applications three days later as the consequence of this action. A small action will cause enormous consequences, a individual can affect thousands, even more. Like the buttery effects, Dose the ap of a butterys wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas? (Sardar, 2004 p. 54).

The way that Ai Weiwei deals with the phenomenon reectes the idea of chaos as well.


As Ai Weiwei is a famous artist, there is a group of people pay a lot of attention on him, every information released by him would spread out easily and the effect will be doubled because of his reputation.

We can nd a typical Western idea of chaos in this process, like the Holy Bible described, chaos is negative, the world with chaos is full of disorder, it has to be controlled and avoided. As the demand already exceeded Ai Weiweis expectation. He said Ok, now it is time to stop it, we have to set a deadline, we have to shut the door otherwise soon tens of thousands of people will submit their requests, and we will disappoint a lot of candidates. (Nataline, 2007)

Ai Weiwei setup to whom will never be able to go abroad (Nataline, 2007) as a requirement to select participants. By this mean to avoid the unpredictable problems may occur. Applying restrictions to to the process to avoid chaos happen, and makes the system running toward the direction which the creator wanted.In the process, the constantly growing numbers of appliers is Chaos, the whole project may failed by the consequence of chaos, thus chaos must been avoided and the process has to be controlled.

In this project Ai Weiwei aims presenting Chinese culture to the Western. It is that a Chinese artist using a Western idea of chaos for a project which exhibited in the Western country. Moreover, as the unique feature of this project, there are literarily real Chinese people consisted of this work, a individual Chinese people can represent a part of the Chinese society, a group of them can be regard as a Chinese culture. It is interesting we can nd idea of chaos from the Western culture take apart in this project.



Chapter 3: Antony Gormley Another Singularity

Another Singularity is a body-zone constructed from a matrix of packing polyhedral that conforms to the geometry of the bubble matrix. The skin of this zone is connected to the inner skin of the building by 682 radiating trajectories that complete the tetrahedral node pattern of the rest of the matrix (Galleria Continua, 2009 p. 8)

Image 2 Another view of Another Singularity (2008), by Antony

Gormley Photograph: Oak Taylor-Smith, from artanddesign/2009/oct/23/antony-gormley-china-sculptures

This piece of work was from Antony Gormleys rst solo exhibition in Galleria Continua ,Beijing, China, 2009. The title comes from cosmological moment of the origination, the big ban is a singularity (Antony, 2008) Antony Gormley said. We can regard the singularity happened in a space of chaos, and a human form merged from sprawling constellation of cords(is sue issue no.7, 2009 ), like the ordered universe forms after the chaos of big bang. As Adilson E. Motter, the physicist form Northwestern University, he also conjectured that at the time of the big bang, the expansion of the universe was highly chaotic.(ScienceDaily , 2010). This piece of work reproduced this kind of idea which merges from the cosmology, it is combination of art and science.



Gormley describes it as a body matrix made of rope and as a cosmological moment of explosion and origination.(Martin, 2010 p. 106). This work was focused on the turing point of order start to merge from chaos, at the time, the universe is full of uncertainty. Look at this work using a religious aspect. It refer to the Holy Bibles idea of chaos, it is the moment that god starts to build the order of the natural world.

In the gallery space a matrix of the human body ve times larger than life, made out of 682 bungee cords radiating from the walls, oor and ceiling. (Guardian, 2009). Gives people a feeling of formless and disorder. Confusion dominated the space. It is very hard to identify the human body from those interlaced strings when you standing too close to this sculpture because of its enormous scale. Chaos often seems complex because of the scale and changeable diversity. Observe it in a big scale you may nd it full of confusion and disorder, but when close up to the details,or change the angle of view, you will nd the confusion is consisted of different well organized orders.

Looking at those 682 ropes which go across the gallery space, the human body inside the ropes was surrounded by a kind of uncertainty merged from the emptiness of the body gure. Instead of images of power and solidity, Gormley has created a selection of sculptures most of which are new that surrender to uncertainty.(Guardian, 2009). Visitors can strum the cord turning the structure into a vibrating and unstable state. The uncertainty of the structure and the ambiguity of the boundaries showed on this work is a kind of chaos.This idea of chaos in this work comes from Eastern culture which used to describe the highest aesthetic state.

There is another point which should be mentioned, as the unstable structure of the body matrix , it merged from the chaos also could vanish into the chaos. This could be


understood as the order turing back into chaos. As the Eastern philosophy Taoism suggested, Yin& Yang were merged form chaos and keep the balance of energy to organise the order of the world, but Yin & Yang still retain the qualities of chaos. Too much of either brings back chaos. (Sardar, 2004.p. 3). It is a typical Eastern idea of chaos as well.Gormley used those ideas perfectly with the unique form of his work.It is interesting we can nd chinese ideas of chaos in a British artists work.

It represents the collapse of content and context, individual and collective. Nothing lasts; we are temporary coordinates. Gormley said about the work. (Guardian, 2009). It represented a another idea of chaos. in the chaos system, because of the uncertainty and confusion, nothing is xed, because any little movement will affect a unpredictable consequence. as we strum the cord of the sculpture, will driven the whole structure into a unstable vibration. The instability is chaos, there is no answer what the chaos will look like in the next second after the vibration, as we are just a coordinate in the space, the consequence our movement may lead to will never be known in advance.

This piece of work not only demonstrated Eastern ideas of chaos from Taoism, but also Western ideas. The combination of Eastern and Western ideas literally help the artist dig the theme of their works deeper than using a singel idea. Therefore, the form of the art works will be more open and variable than before, which is under the inuence of multiple cultures.



Through the research it is obvious that there were some differences of the ideas of chaos between Eastern and Western cultures , like the Holy Bible and Taoism expressed the ideas in two totally different extents. Also we found the Taoism regarded chaos as the origin of the world and order is similar to what the ancient Greeks thought. We saw by the development of the modern science, scientist discovered the myth of chaos, enabled people using chaos to solve problems in real life.

By looking at the work of Ai Weiwei and Antony Gormleys work through the lens of chaos. It is fascinating that Ai Weiwei s 1001 chinese visitors in germany, which contains Western idea of chaos. Ai weiwei found that chaos is a negative trends and has to be avoid. Antony Gormleys work another singularity from his frist China solo exhibition in beijing then expressed a kind of Eastern thinking of chaos. The phenomenon of East and West cultural exchange we observed from Ai Weiwei and Antony Gormleys work, it will brings a variable possibilities and ideas of art forms and creative themes. Artists can benet from the culture exchange and creating amazing art works.



Image Source List

Image 1. Fairytale (2007) Ai Weiwei poses with some of the 1,001 Chinese people who traveled to Kassel, Germany as part of his artwork Fairytale from 2009/04/26/lang_enai-weiwei-the-iconlang_enlang_zhlang_zh/langswitch_lang/en/

Image 2. Another view of Another Singularity (2008), by Antony Gormley Photograph: Oak Taylor-Smith, from



Books Sadar, Ziauddin (2004) Introducing Chaos. Royston : Icon Books Gleick, J. (1998) Chaos : making a new science. London : Vintage Lao-Tzu,J.Legge. (2008) Tao Te Ching. Forgotten Bools Galleria Continua. (2009) Antony Gormley. Galleria Continua Caiger-Smith, Martin. (2010) AG: Antony Gormley. London : Tate

Newspaper Articles Mu Qian (2007) Once upon a time, China Daily, 29th May 2007, p.18.

Video The Secret Life of Chaos (2009) [U.K.]:BBC Four, 60min [videorecording DVD]

Websites & Internet Sources Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, from, Chaos [Internet], [Accessed on 13 March 2012].

Baike Baidu, Chaos, [Internet] [Accessed on 9 March 2012].

Jonathan Watts, From plinth to People's Republic: Antony Gormley invades China, [Internet] [Accessed on 10 March 2012].


Antony Gormley, Another Singularity, Galleri Andersson Sandstrom, Umea, Sweden, 2008, [Internet] [Accessed on 22 March 2012]

Nataline Colonnello, An interview with Ai Weiwei, [Internet] display_vol_aid499_en.html [Accessed on 10 March 2012].

Peter Kupfer, Comment: Documenta 12, [Internet] comment/documenta_12.html [Accessed on 7 March 2012].

ScienceDaily, Big Bang Was Followed by Chaos, Mathematical Analysis Shows [Internet] [Accessed on 20 March 2012]

Antony Gormleys Another Singularity at Galleria Contin, is sue issue no.7 [Internet] [Accessed on 12 March 2012]