Fear not: The massive (14 meter/45 foot) golden money invading Sanlitun is on a mission of peace. Designed by Australia's Lisa Roet with support from the Australian Embassy, Creative Victoria, Asia Link, and the Australia-China Council, the inflatable installation is woven of golden thread and rises September 22. Roet sat down with City Weekend to discuss her lifetime's work, Michael Jackson's nose, and the beauty of orangutan skin.
City Weekend: How did you make it and how does it stay up?
Lisa Roet: It’s put together in a very small workshop in Melbourne, [with just] a couple people sewing it. It’s a very contemporary process to design it using 3-D models and a very cottage industry to produce it, using Singer sewing machines.
With [the installation in] Melbourne, we had hooks [to keep it suspended], but because the walls here are glass, we can’t do that. Here we’ll have six suction cups strategically placed and connected to a motor, so they’ll continuously be suctioned. These are the same that are used to hold giant plates of glass in construction [projects]. If there’s a big wind, it’s designed to deflate in one minute until the wind passes, then re-inflate. Even if a wind comes through, there’s very little chance of it flapping around. In Australia we have such a frustrating level of safety standards…
CW: What brings your work to Beijing and to The Opposite House?
There’s a whole range of reasons to be here: It’s an incredible piece of architecture. It signifies contemporary Beijing. Worldwide, it’s known as a hub of creativity and a hub of design and excellence in taste. The green color will work fantastic with the gold of the monkey. I’m also showing jewelry in The Opposite House. And also Peter Wynne [the previous General Manager of The Opposite House] was very excited about the project. It always great to have someone who’s on board and excited about it. The second I started talking about it, with The Opposite House and the Australian government, it just started to flow.
We’ll do a great event during Golden Week — it’s the year of the monkey, after all. There will be an online catalogue as well, which will include [my] jewelry [also on display at The Opposite House]. Many pieces have the texture of orangutan skin, taken from rubbings from old archives. This bracelet is from an orangutan collected during one of [Alfred Russel] Wallace’s expeditions that was used in Darwin’s Origin of Species, using alginate casting, a very non-invasive form of molding. I turn [the skin texture] into jewelry: It’s about skin on skin. It’s about connecting.
CW: What kind of monkey will be climbing the side of The Opposite House?
The monkey is actually a species that is newly discovered, but already on the endangered species list, named the Sneezing Snub-Nosed Monkey. When villagers [in Myanmar] went to the forest, they could hear it sneezing and thought it was [ghosts of] their ancestors. Researchers found their nose actually fell off over hundreds of years. Now it sneezes when it rains because water gets into the little cavity. It was discovered the day after Michael Jackson died and spiritualists think it’s some sort of reincarnation.
It’s a big story—a lot of layers to it. It’s really 30 years of working on the project. It’s a bit like the King Kong story, bringing nature into the city. It’s an awareness of this monkey in the year of the monkey. There’ll also be a sound piece — very subtle sneezing noise. It’ll be fun. It’s a bit left of center.
CW: What inspired you to work at this massive scale?
I seem to work either very small or very large. I think it has somethings do with my height. [Early in my career] they accused me of painting like a women: little, more intimate things. Then I started doing very bold. I do think it’s a reaction to my own physicality: a “little woman’s complex.” It’s always shocking (in a nice way) for people to meet me and to see my demeanor.
It [the 14-meter monkey] dwarfs a human—it suddenly disempowers the human and empowers the monkey, in a way I like. Symbolically, this is so much bigger than us. Not in a threatening way, but to make people think of the environment. That part’s getting smaller.
With the Olympics, there’s this tiny monkey called the tamarin. They live in the streets of Rio—they have to coexist. I don’t know if it’s beneficial.
I do think it’s beneficial to maintain national parks. It’s essential for our oxygen; it’s crucial to sustain those pockets of pristine environment. I’ve seen so many things in this project, such a range of environments. It’s an evolution of where we’re going; we can still make choices about how we coexist.
This Skin on Skin [jewelry] project really speaks to that—embracing our skin as it is, whether old and wrinkled, white or black.
CW: What can we learn from our primate cousins?
We are linked by common ancestors. We have this connection with nature. Whether we like it or not, we’re connected. I see a beauty there. If I was called a monkey, I would find it a compliment.
I’ve grown up in an environment where we’re very much separated, very much above nature. But I don’t see that: We’re all equal, in the way we’ve been designed. I was reading in New Scientist that in the Genome Project, they’re finding it’s a tiny, tiny difference that causes us to have thumbs.
Even though we’re 99% the same as chimpanzees—you can even get a blood transfusion from a chimpanzee, if you’re the same blood type, and you’d be fine—there is something unique to us that lets us build rockets, statues. It’s just this tiny bit of our DNA that makes us different.
Where: The Opposite House
When: September 22 - October 30
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