Tectonic Melange

Public art and a permanent Installation at
Woh Hei Yuen Recreation Center and Park
Corner of Powell Street and John Alley (Near Jackson Street), San Francisco
Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission
Collection of the City and County of San Francisco, California
Designed by Lampo Leong
with the design team of Herby Lam, Wenyu Xu and Clayton Shiu

The Concept behind the Medallion Design

by Lampo Leong

The title of the medallion is Tectonic Melange. It tells of the geological dynamics with the local land mass in motion and under tension as well as the cultural fusion of Chinese and Western art, blending contemporary concepts with ancient spirit. This design presents Chinese culture in a postmodern form, synthesizing the vision of contemporary Chinese-American artists. I wrote the Chinese calligraphy using the style of wild cursive script, or Chaoshu, from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.) as the starting point to rearrange a more abstract pattern in which the Chinese characters and rhythmic strokes could play. The calligraphy in black granite superimposed on a warm and textured granite resonates with an archaic spirit of the earth. All characters are arranged around and facing the central red seal. The circular red symbol provides a focal point to the whole design.

Chinese calligraphy expresses the evolution of Chinese civilization from the Neolithic period to modern times. The seal symbolizes endorsement and completion in Chinese culture. The red seal, He or Unity, at the center of the courtyard is a commemoration of the completion of this park and to those who contributed during the past 20 years in the park project. The eight Chinese characters here come from the poem written by Wang Bo (650-676 C.E.) of the Tang Dynasty: "This Land’s splendor spills from Heaven’s treasure, its remarkable people thrive on Earth’s bounty.” The meaning and the lines of the cursive calligraphy naturally blend into the cultural character of the park and the San Francisco Bay Area. With this concept and design, we won the San Francisco Arts Commission’s open design competition for the courtyard in 1994.

The Chinese characters were first written by me on rice-paper. They were arranged to face the center and purposely cut and intersected by the rectangular woven pattern. Then, the characters were scanned into the computer, which controlled a waterjet machine to cut out the complicated shape of the characters in black granite and the background in Giallo Veneziano - the golden color granite. This technique allowed me to successfully transfer the rhythm of calligraphic strokes onto the more permanent material -granite. The center seal is traditionally red. I chose imperial red for the crescent pattern on the outside edge to echo the color of the seal. The granite we used is 2’’ thick. The more than one hundred pieces of granite cut by the waterjet machine were shipped to the park. They were put together on location over a 6” sub-slab of cement. The diameter of the whole granite inset medallion is 26 feet (almost 7.93 meters). The square shape is 17 feet (about 5.17 meters) in length and each of the character is 75” x 53” (about 1.9 x 1.35 meters).

This design is a continuation of the concepts and technique that I use in my work on paper and canvas. Since my Dancing Ink series in 1992 and my recent series - Contemplation • Forces, I have been trying to create a new visual language that incorporates the rhythm of Chinese calligraphy and the dynamic quality of Western abstract painting. Traditional Chinese calligraphic characters are cut, broken apart and re-organized. But the strokes and energy remain, serving as a solid, though hidden, structure for the paintings and keeping the sense and spirit of a traditional culture ever-present beneath the images. At the same time, the complex backgrounds recall powerful landscape paintings. I use calligraphic elements and atmospheric qualities in a new way to express my particular vision.

My images celebrate the live energy underneath the visible world and within each living being. In my recent series, I integrate Eastern and Western art by breaking them apart and rediscovering the core elements and essence of each culture. I put them back together to create a totally new and unique visual experience for the viewer, one that hopefully captures the sense of wonder and discovery I find in the two traditions. This is what I attempt to contribute to the world of postmodern art.