At international stone exhibition Marmomac 2017, Chinese firm OPEN Architecture has created a transient installation titled "The Eternal & The Ephemeral" that allows visitors to transform a cube of stone tiles into new, unplanned forms. The project responds directly to the theme of the event, "Soul of City," which asked designers from across the globe to collaborate with Italian stone manufacturers to create pieces built entirely from stone. OPEN's concept focused on the relationship between transience and heaviness in the material, prompting the installation to gradually "disappear" over the 4-day event.
Project description provided by the architects. OPEN’s conceptualization of “Soul of City” was based in turn on the concepts of eternity, time, sharing, memory, and collectivity. OPEN’s founding architect Li Hu used this most ancient building material, stone, to ably design a crossover art installation. A giant block of limestone measuring 1.5m x 1.5m x 1.5m was sliced into 8000 small cubes of 7.5cm x 7.5cm x 7.5cm each; every micro cube was thereupon engraved with the words “Soul of City”, as well as a serial number from 1/8000 to 8000/8000. Each micro cube was totally unique, with its own memory and texture from the ancient time of its formation, as well as a newly assigned serial number; yet joining together, they form a larger collective whole. Every visitor to the exhibition was invited to take away a small fragment of the giant, originally perfect marble cube. The micro cubes are thus individualized and yet forever linked by the memory of this exhibition, wherever in the world they might have gone. As the micro cubes were taken away, the geometric form of the installation continued to change, from the initial large cube to the ever changing silhouettes much like morphing city skylines; meanwhile, visitors became performers, their actions contributing to the art work, all recorded by time-lapse cameras set up around the cube.
The skyline of this stone-made transient city was constantly in flux over the course of the exhibition. The ways in which the audience could go about removing the stone blocks were diverse – some would randomly extract, some would pick out their own lucky number, some wanted to preserve the skyscrapers, and some would even design their own architectural forms. Thus, while happily partaking in this “city,” participants were also freely molding it themselves. During the exhibition period, the surroundings of this installation were lively beyond the host’s anticipation, assembling large crowds from beginning to end.
This installation jointly brought to completion by the architect, the stone manufacturer, and the audience, is an analogy perfectly embodying OPEN’s ideal state of affairs for a city – in which everyone has a share in transforming the city and addressing its problems. A city has both the historical reverberations of eternity and a more current context of constant change; most importantly, a city should be ever more tolerant of its inevitable growth in line with changing times, allowing and encouraging different groups of people to coexist harmoniously and happily.
One should never regard a stone block as a mere unfeeling block; indeed, stone can be the link of emotion between people. In this installation, the architect merely designed an original infrastructure, and delivered it to the audience to complete the artwork. Similarly, in a real city, people are always the dominant factor of any space; it is their activities that imbue the architecture and its building materials with warmth and life. Eternity exists in every touching moment, however fleeting it might seem.