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Script for an Asian Landscape

Richard E. Prince
Department of Fine Arts, UBC

p. 18. Design for a New Millenium, ed. E. Laquian (1996). Institute of Asian Research, Vancouver.

C.K. Choi BuildingScript for an Asian Landscape is a sculpture comprised of six separate but interrelated units which can be found outside the west entrance of the C.K. Choi Building as well as in five locations in the central entrance and stairwell of the building, and in the dome of the reading room.

It must be considered that Asia is not a unified entity and contains cultures as widely different as does any vast continent. Attempting to find one symbolic element to represent those cultures is an impossible task. This sculpture instead derives its imagery from that which is shared by all in Asia -- the land. Land remains throughout time and history. Its surface holds memory, the imprint of human habitations that have come and gone. As a metaphor, it represents our deepest yearnings for belonging to the continuum of life. Its beauty can provoke a profound response that carries us beyond our own lives into realms without borders and cultures, uniting us through a universality of experience. Hence, the sculpture takes the form of a journey in a landscape where elements are placed in six locations in the main circulation axis of the building and are encountered in different sequences as one walks into and through the building.

Perhaps the first element of the sculpture to be encountered is a large, rounded boulder on the floor of the eastern entrance lobby, placed as if left casually by someone on the way into the building. This stone is fixed to the floor and has carved on it, in Thai, the word for "granite."

An individual approaching the building from the west along the path between the Asian Centre and the Choi Building will find adjacent to the path, some little distance from the building, four similar rounded granite boulders in a grid arrangement. These boulders have works in four different Asian scripts, all giving a different interpretation of the concept of "granite stone." The scripts are Chinese, Japanese (Kattagana), Korean, and Hindi.

The third element of the work can be found on a support post next to the stairs as one walks up the central staircase to the second floor It is a small glazed box constructed of zinc and inset flush with the face of the post. In the box are engraved zinc images of the leaf, fruit, and seed of the gingko tree, identified with a label with the Latin botanical description, Gingko biloba L. The trees planted along West Mall in front of the building are gingko trees, an ancient species also known as the Chinese temple tree.

Upon reaching the third floor, and stepping through the door at the top of the staircase, there is an image of the Ganges River carved into the concrete surface of the hallway. This map-like rendering of the river has been filled flush to the floor level with a green colored epoxy and bronze powder mixture. Adjacent to the river, on the nearby wall, is an engraved zinc plaque in English: "The Ganges River"

In the reading room, there is a brightly colored yellow and black bird, a black-hooded oriole, Oriolus xanthornus, fashioned from epoxy plastic and metal, mounted upon the rim of the dome over the lounge area. This particular bird has a wide range in southern and eastern Asia and it is known for its beauty and melodious song. In the bird's bill is a small ring. If the viewer follows the natural inclination to sight through the ring, a similar larger ring, mounted on a perch-like metal device projecting outside beyond the rim of the dome, can be seen. Sighting through both rings one is looking out, day or night, toward Polaris, the North Star, an element of the landscape all of us in the northern hemisphere know and share.

There is a second 'artwork' consisting of five traditional philosophical stones with text in both Chinese and English. This grouping is located on the plaza at the south end of the building. This work is a distinct piece in itself and not part of the Script for an Asian Language.

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