Since the 90s, Weng Ling has been involved in numerous interdisciplinary
collaborations. With friends and colleagues in the world of art, design, architecture and
science, she has created forums that have led to new ideas and progess that will ultimately
benefit the planet.
YOU ARE OFFICIALLY BASED IN BEIJING. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE THIS PAST YEAR?
I normally live between Beijing, Shanghai and New York, and pre-COVID I would always be travelling, but the world has now changed into a divided one. During the pandemic, I have remained in constant communication with my friends who are scientists and doctors on the frontline, as they work diligently in supporting the vaccine and medicine research. As we see the virus raging on, it is vital that we are able to reflect and learn from the past period of time. I am distraught by the destruction of our shared planet, perhaps this is nature’s calling for awakening, and we need to act now. Hence, it is more important than ever that our projects have integrity. We were fortunate enough to invite many people to collaborate on projects, all masters in their fields, because we all share a firm belief that we must develop a symbiotic relationship with nature. Our latest project Pavilions by the Seaside will reflect the concerns and thinking of these masters, hopefully inspiring the younger generation. I have a feeling that there will a new way of working post the pandemic.
DO YOU FEEL THAT CROSS-POLINATION IS ABOUT MAKING SURE THAT WHATEVER TYPE OF WORK IS BEING CREATED MUST HAVE A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY?
Over the past years, my work has always been carried out in the form of interdisciplinary collaborations. The Haikou project is not only a continuation but also a new beginning. In 2002, I first introduced architecture and urban themes to China's most important international art exhibition. In 2014, I founded the Arts China Union and Jade River Talk as platforms for exchanges between pioneers and thought leaders around the world. Many of them have now become good friends. Fundamentally, we all have a long-term vision for the world, one that allows us to keep gathering and collaborating over different causes. As a new chapter, Pavilions by the Seaside will be a new model for the ideal cohabitation with nature moving into the future. I foresee there will be more experts in various fields to join us in this project consisting of world-class architects, artists, designers and other creatives. After the completion of the pavilions, Arts China Union will continue to develop cultural content and engage professionals across industries for further urban development. This will be a positive cycle for promoting social responsibility.
BECAUSE THERE HAS BEEN SO MUCH GLOBAL CHANGE, WHAT ARE THE CONVERSATIONS THAT YOU’RE HAVING AS A GROUP OF THINKERS?
We all bonded over a common vision. I have been fortunately surrounded by friends who have a pioneering vision, and we are able to exchange ideas earnestly. The global pandemic has also interestingly brought us even more closely together. When I called on these friends during the outbreak, I found out that they were all thinking about the same issue I was. When I proposed the Haikou project, everyone enthusiastically joined us without hesitation. The global pandemic has also brought a lot of unexpected challenges and difficulties because we all now have to work remotely, and I was awed by each of their dedication and professionalism. For example, I was touched by Winy Maas's Green Dream project vision and Thomas Heatherwick has not only given me an astonishing proposal, but he continues to refine the concept and details. Ma Yansong and Sou Fujimoto were the first two participants with their concept already in construction. Sakamoto Ryuichi managed to keep close contact with us despite of his health condition; he will be collaborating with Kengo Kuma’s to create the pavilion. In addition, Shen Wei, Anish Kapoor, and Bjarke Ingle all have been working closely with us despite their busy schedules and other commitments.
THE GALLERY SYSTEM HAS HAD TO ADAPT OVER THE PAST YEAR. WHAT HAVE YOU NOTICED AND WHAT IS GOING TO BE BETTER FOR THE LONG TERM?
Since the beginning of my career in the 90s, I’ve never really tried to comply with the institutional systems. I believe every system has certain set of boundaries that confine us, rather I wish to push the boundaries. I feel that in any system your life is limited due to its parameters, therefore I’ve never joined art fairs but instead chose to try and hurdle traditional boundaries. For our project in Haikou, there are 16 pavilions along the 32km winding coastline, where the public is invited to interact with each of these pavilions. It is not a huge project in terms of scale, but it is unique in its cultural significance. Pavilions by the Seaside will be a mobile arts platform for people to enjoy a creative cultural program and inspire a new way of thinking in the post-pandemic era.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE ARCHITECTURE PROJECTS YOU’RE WORKING ON?
I am currently working on serveral projects with Winy and Kengo, – both great friends of mine. They are both so incredibly talented, so it is very exciting. Their ideas often lead me somewhere I may never have been. Winy did a talk at our Beijing think tank last year, entitled Green Dream, and from that conversation we decided to partner on a project to develop a new area in Hangzhou, along a grand canal and old steel factory. We worked on the masterplan and strategy, looking at how we could build up the new part of the city to sit harmoniously alongside the old part. It’s such a beautiful city for both nature and history, it’s very traditional and elegant. Of course, I think designing and developing new areas of the city is important. I live in New York, both in the Upper East Side and also in Soho, so I see how downtown area has come up through the effort of the creatives over the years. I feel that creatives can look at new values and change the quality of an area. That means we can help a city, especially where they have such lakes and mountains. We’re creating something to compete and complement with 1000 years of history. That’s important that we do it with effort and care. Winy works with such passion and logic. Another example is O2 Park - the Hertzog & Meuron-designed complex of museums, public and lifestyle space in Hangzhou - because we both believe in the connection between art and science, we’re creating 30 cross-disciplinary labs within the project to bring together experts of different disciplines to collaborate and create together. This will be the core of the ambitious project.
WHAT LED YOU TO THE HAIKOU PROJECT, WHICH OPENS THIS YEAR?
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, officials from the Haikou government leaders invited me to participate in the construction of Haikou Free Trade Port. My work over the past two decades has revolved around the introduction of art into social, urban and environmental development, and my organisation Beijing Center for the Arts has gradually become a platform that facilitates interdisciplinary cooperation across the fields of art, science, sustainability, architecture and design. Through the projects I have been involved in, I have become more acutely aware of the social problems and have developed a strong sense of mission to think about what constitutes a good and sustainable way of living. In recent years, I have led my team in researching and developing urban renovation projects, transforming creativity into energy that brings change to the world. From the old city centre in Beijing to an old factory in Hangzhou, from Shanghai to Chengdu, from Venice to Milan, from New York to London, my team and I have been very involved in the cultural development of many cities. Haikou, like many other cities I have been involved with, has a rich natural and cultural resources. As soon as I arrived here, I could feel its potential. Once my team had begun to discuss sustainable development with the government, my friends from all over the world, who are masterminds from different fields, have become interested and engaged in the project as well. This is how Pavilions by the Seaside came about. It’s the world’s first public, integrated, open, and natural seaside cultural corridor. We hope to explore the potential of Haikou city, find a symbiotic balance between the old town and the new city centre, and examine the relationship between human and nature in a post-pandemic era. We need to think about how we move forward as technology and the global sociopolitical landscape change so rapidly. Hainan feels like the right place to talk about human beings living with nature.
WHAT ARE THE RULES YOU LIVE BY AND DO HOW YOU CHOOSE PROJECTS?
I firmly believe that art is a force that can change society and that the return to nature and humanity is the trend of urban development in the future. Projects like Pavilions by the Seaside, by emphasizing the connection between people, and between people and nature, sets the tone for sustainable development in the near future. Also, projects like this will continue to inspire discussions about the ultimate ideals and purpose of humanity. Especially through the dark times of 2020, public art projects should provoke critical thinking among visitors and creators, how we should interact with Mother Nature and respect our world. I also enjoy learning from the master creatives on the project, the essence of my work is building platforms—let it be a gallery or urban planning development, but a platform for creativity and sharing of ideas, where I can help develop a community for the next generation to grow.