Winter to Spring. Ancient and Contemporary. Science Art for Happy Chinese New Year!

February 7, 2016 § 1 Comment


The marking of season’s or year’s change is possibly the most global and ancient manifestation of human “culturetech,” or integrated science and art. Tracking the patterns of lunar, solar, and seasonal cycle was among the earliest “scientific” works of man, yet also a key prompt for cultural sense-making and expression, from monuments to festivities.

Three days ago was Lichun (立春), or Start of Spring, the first of 24 Solar Terms on the East Asian lunisolar calendars. (For those scientifically-inclined, it is when the Sun is at the celestial longitude of 315°.)

Tomorrow Spring Festival(春节)will arrive, marking the beginning of a new lunar year, this time welcoming the Monkey.

As my family and I rush to finish house cleansing and get ready for dumplings, red lanterns, New Year’s Eve TV show and WeChat greeting storms, I would like to share the festivities with you by presenting a group of unique arts, courtesy of creators around the world.

Individually, they may not strike you as quintessentially Chinese or bear any resemblance with what you are used to seeing, symbolizing the occasion.

Together, however, they resonate with the essence of this most important holiday for Chinese around the world– changing of seasons, cycle of life, negotiating with Nature; celebrating in ice and snow while anticipating re-emergence of tender green and outburst of new life; finding joy and persevering in harsh environments, while looking enthusiastically towards a new beginning – even though that spirit might be shrouded in myths and age-old Agrarian traditions, and expressed with better-known customs such as fortune gods, red envelopes, firecrackers, and lion dances, seeking blessings and fending off evil spirits.

今年新春,让我以几组来自世界各地的独特的艺术作品向Essinova的朋友们贺岁, 目送冰雪、寒冬中的辛苦和美丽,迎接春暖花开、万物复苏的新开始。 这些作品大多数尽管不是传统的中国艺术或年风,但同样体现我们过年的精神。

Harbin Ice & Snow Festival, by Chinese and international ice and snow sculptors and landscape designers | 哈尔滨国际冰雪节


Visitors take sleighs past snow sculptures during the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin. Photo by Wang Zhao

See more images in Essinova | Art+Science gallery 参观Essinova网上科艺画廊流览更多图片

Since 1985, Harbin, the northern-most capital of China’s Northeastern Provinces (my home region) has been hosting an annual International Ice and Snow Festival, featuring magnificent ice and snow sculptures in a dream-like landscape. The vast winter wonderland is made up of several themed zones including a sculpture art expo and a lantern fair. The 2016 edition has been the largest ever, the size of 112 football fields.

The attractions are white and pristine during the day, but are colorfully illuminated at night, and visitors can climb and play on some of the structures.

The 2016 festival opened on January 5, and will run through the end of February. More than a million visitors are anticipated.


Snow Artby Simon Beck, U.K. | Simon Beck(英国)的大型雪画



Photos copyright Simon Beck

See more images in Essinova | Art+Science gallery 参观Essinova网上科艺画廊流览更多图片

Trained in engineering at Oxford University, and later becoming a cartographer, Simon Beck invented his unique art form when he spontaneously drew a star on a small frozen lake after a day of skiing in December 2004. The day after, looking down from the ski lift, he was impressed by the result. Ever since then he has been creating more and more complex drawings, reviving his childhood fascination with geometrical forms, and combining with a passion for outdoor and physical activities. His drawings today cover an area of 1 to 4 hectares (2 to 8 football fields, 2.5 to 10 acres), take up to 12 hours to complete, and require walking 20-30 kilometers in the snow, wearing snowshoes. Hence, his creations are both artistic and athletic performances — truly unique creations shaped by the varying and challenging conditions of the environment.

Simon Beck在牛津大学完成工程学业。 由于喜爱运动和户外,他放弃坐办公室的工作,成为地图师。2004年12月滑雪一天下来,他心血来潮地在家门外结冻的小湖上画了一颗星,然后把它完成为一幅雪画。第二天从滑雪缆车上往下看,觉得很不错,从此开始了雪地作画生涯。 童年时爱画几何图形的爱好被唤醒并得以发展,作品越来越复杂,规模越来越大,现在能达到1-4公顷(2-8个足球场)的面积,需要在雪中穿雪鞋走上20-30公里,花长达12小时的时间。 因此他的作品堪称艺术和体育合璧的表演,并由变化莫测、极具挑战性的环境共同缔造的独特创作。

Snowflake Macrophotography, by Alexey Kljatov (Алексей Клятов), Russia | Alexey Kljatov (俄罗斯)的雪花微距摄影

Leaves of Ice

Icy Jewel

Photos copyright Alexey Kljatov

See more images in Essinova | Art+Science gallery 参观Essinova网上科艺画廊流览更多图片

Russian amateur photographer Alexey Kljatov recalls his amazement when he first saw photographs of snowflakes by professor of physics Kenneth G. Libbrecht at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Inspired by that work as well as that of other excellent photographers such as Don Komarechka, he decided to try shooting snowflakes, without any experience or expensive microscopy equipment. Revealing a remarkable ingenuity in both tool-making and artistic exploration, he figured out how to create high quality snowflake photos using low-cost variations of well-known lens-reversal macro technique, which he documents generously on his blog, The Keys to December (named after a sci-fi story by one of his favorite authors, Roger Zelazny).

.He discovered that for capturing interesting and beautiful snowflakes, it is patience, persistence and luck that matters the most, more than any expensive photo techniques.

His works have been featured in major media such as NBC News, and used in many contexts ranging from  science education to music album cover art.

莫斯科的摄影爱好者Alexey Kljatov 第一次看见 加州理工学院物理教授Kenneth G. Libbrecht 的雪花摄影时,深为其美丽所震撼。LibbrechtDon Komarechka等杰出摄影师成为他的偶像,他也想拍出那么优质的雪花作品。既没有经验又没有专业显微设备,他经过无数次尝试找出使用市面普及的名牌镜头反向宏观技术低成本拍出高质雪花的办法,并把技巧详细表述在博客上 (中文译文)。他的心得是:要想捕捉到有趣、美丽的雪花,耐心、毅力和运气胜过昂贵的设备。


Leaf Cuttings, by Hillary Winters Fayle, U.S. |Hillary Winters Fayle (美国)的树叶刺绣



Photos courtesy Hillary Fayle

See more images in Essinova | Art+Science gallery 参观Essinova网上科艺画廊流览更多图片

The first time I saw Hillary Fayle’s “of trees” series, I could not believe they are made of live botanical objects – leaves, seedpods, and branches – which she embroiders with needles and threads. Such fragile material! Such intricate cutting and threading!

For Fayle, this is how she explores the human connection to the physical world.  By combining these organic objects with the rich traditions of needlecraft, she binds nature and the human touch.

She comments: “both tender and ruthless, this intricate stitch work communicates the idea that our relationship with the natural world is both tenuously fragile and infinitely complex… It is about noticing cycles and connections. It is about regarding a familiar object in a new way. It’s about seeing things and considering their connection to you, their potential futures and possible pasts.”

“I am a cartographer, drawing and plotting an imaginary map, from one object to the next, intervening with each. These objects naturally fit into categories, which relate to my own experiences, but also to their origins and how they came into my hands.”

Very much like how I am seeing the relevance of these remarkable arts, to the Chinese Spring Festival!

第一次看到Hillary Fayle的“树之”系列,我没有想到她是用针线在真正的植物上刺绣 -树叶、种子荚、树枝等等。多么脆弱的材料!多么精湛的切割和绣制!



Papercut sculptures of organisms, by Rogan Brown, Anglo-Irish residing in the wilds of Southern France | Rogan Brown (爱尔兰, 现居法国南部)的生物剪纸



Magic Circle Variation 5 Detail. Photos courtesy of Rogan Brown

See more images in Essinova | Art+Science gallery 参观Essinova网上科艺画廊流览更多图片

Rogan Brown’s paper sculptures evoked a strange sense of nostalgia when I first came across them. The medium immediately reminded me of Jianzhi (剪纸), or Chinese Paper Cutting, one of the important art styles in Chinese folk culture, since Cai Lun invented paper in the Eastern Han Dynasty.  Decorating doors, windows, beds and ceilings, Chinese paper-cuttings are used for festivals, weddings, childbirths and prayers, symbolizing luck and happiness.  I still have a few sets of paper-cuttings in a small collection of souvenirs from China, that I brought to the U.S. many years ago.  In 2009, Jianzhi was inscribed on UNESCO’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

Chinese papercuttings_butterflies

Chinese papercuttings_Peking Opera faces

Chinese Jianzhi I brought to the U.S. many years ago

I so rarely see paper-cuttings outside of China, that Rogan Brown’s works felt immediately familiar — that sense of  incredible intimacy and intricacy. At the same time they are absolutely fresh and intriguing, as they are all white, unlike Chinese Jianzhi, which are always red or brightly colorful; and the subject matters are obviously different: cell structures, microbes, pathogens, vegetal forms, coral, fossils, insects, shells, the body’s organs and orifices, geological structures, relief maps, petri dishes etc…

Brown writes about his work, “by mixing science and art, observation and imagination I hope to elucidate both, the breathtaking detail and complexity that exists at every level of scale in nature transformed by the eccentricity of the individual imagination. A recurrent theme in my work is the limitations of science when confronted by the vast scale and complexity of nature, science’s goal of containing and defining nature is constantly subverted and fractured by the sheer volume and variety of data that needs to be observed, analysed and classified. My work similarly attempts to frustrate categorization.”

Something I am frustrating people with as well!

在国外很少看到剪纸艺术,因此第一次看到Rogan Brown的纸雕,产生了一种奇怪的怀旧感。我马上想到了那么熟悉的中国剪纸,从中感到亲切;但其全白色和立体感又很新鲜、让人好奇,其题材更是和中国传统剪纸迥然不同:细胞结构、微生物、病原体、植物形态、珊瑚、化石、昆虫、贝壳、地质构造及培养皿,等等。



*     *     *

I hope you are amused by my Chinese New Year greetings with science and nature art, and I certainly wish you  great  bounty, luck, fortune and happiness for the Year of the Monkey!

Thanks to Amy, Suzanne and Tim for recommendations of artworks.

This article is dedicated to migrant workers in China who must endure the massive and difficult Spring Rush journeys to reunite with their families for the holidays.



Edited by: Tim McCormick


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§ One Response to Winter to Spring. Ancient and Contemporary. Science Art for Happy Chinese New Year!

  • Jim Hawley says:

    Wow, beautiful and well written as always Beibei. I particularly liked the quotes by Rogan Brown regarding the challenges of representing nature given the intrinsic boundaries of science. I especially enjoyed and connected with his quote, “My work similarly attempts to frustrate categorization.” The same could be said for your work. Nicely done.

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