“I like the traditional Chinese philosophy,” says Wang Yuyang, “Because it talks about the relationship between 1 and 0, on and off, black and white, something and nothing…”
You have to imagine that the thirtysomething artist would also like the branch of post-structuralist theory known, confusingly, as deconstruction.
If deconstruction itself has been sparked into life by any one opposition, that might well have to be the porous distinction between speech and writing. The former present, the latter absent.
Wang Yuyang shakes up this distinction by animating the a selection of Chinese books from the neo-gothic university-linked library in Manchester, John Rylands.
The books have been flawlessly recreated in silicon rubber and thank to a regular pulse of air, they now appear to whisper or breath. They are more ‘here’ than ever.
But as anyone who has ever loved a book can testifty, your personal copy can take on a charge after you’ve worked your way through it page by static page. It lives for you.
As such, Wang Yuyang has revealed a truth about the written word. And in another move you might call deconstructive, he has privileged East over West in his choice of volumes.
Theoretical babble aside, only the most casual passerby will not be stopped in their tracks by this installation. See how ghostly those old books are. Even the chairs breathe.
They might remind you that the entire building is a memorial, built for Mr Rylands after his passing by wife Enriqueta. The historical context here is a 19th century death.
Not that we should dwell on that. Rather more pertinent are the loving couples’ respective fortunes. His came from the cotton mills, hers from the sugar plantations.
One could argue that books, certainly written ideas, hastened the end of those particular positions. Down the road in Chetham’s Library Karl Marx would meet with Friedrich Engels.
So it only appears to be a supernatural manifestation or the effect of a cool hallucinogen. Those books you’ve read and believed every word: they’ll still be breathing long after you stop.
Breathing Books can be seen at The John Rylands Library as part of Harmonious Society, the UK’s largest ever exhibition of contemporary Chinese art.
Show runs for the duration of Asia Triennial Manchester which is on until 23 November 2014.