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Return of the Avant Garde

Wenda Gu hair installation to be unveiled June 6

In 1934, José Clemente Orozco, the Mexican social realist muralist, completed his frescoes, The Epic of American Civilization, in the basement of Baker Library; it was a bold, challenging work that became a lasting source of both pride and controversy at Dartmouth. On June 9, Dartmouth will once again make itself a canvas for the avant garde when Chinese artist Wenda Gu will install his work, united nations: the green house, in Baker-Berry Library.

Wenda Gu
Artist Wenda Gu's assistants in Shanghai, China, assemble a hair panel for the Dartmouth exhibition, the green house, which opens Wednesday, June 6, in Baker Library. (Photo courtesy Wenda Gu)
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Over five miles of neon-dyed hair braids will be hung in Baker-Berry Main Street. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

The installation, commissioned by Dartmouth and the Hood Museum of Art, will be constructed almost entirely from human hair, more than 430 pounds of which were collected directly from College and local community members. It will feature two giant, floor-to-ceiling hair panels that will hang in Baker Main Hall.Written on the panels using green-dyed, matted hair, will be the words, "educations" and "advertises," superimposed on each other.

Hanging in Berry Main Street will be more than five miles of neon-dyed braided hair. Each length of braid will be connected with a metal tag bearing the name of a country in the United Nations. Several blank metal tags will represent the rate at which new countries are delineated around the world. The work will "transform the library into a space for artistic exploration and catalyze dialogue about art and its place in education and society," says Brian Kennedy, director of the Hood.

The piece is part of Gu's united nations series, which has appeared in galleries and museums around the world. The Dartmouth exhibition, however, will be the first of Gu's hair sculptures to be installed in a library. According to Gu, the series arose from his dream that through his art he might unite humanity and encourage international understanding. "The united nations art project is committed to a single human body material—pure human hair," says Gu. "Hair is a signifier and metaphor extremely rich in history, civilization, science, ethnicity, timing, and even economics."

The installation in Baker-Berry, says Kennedy, represents a new direction for Dartmouth and its relationship to art and, in fact, will be located directly over the Orozco murals. Like the Orozco murals, the green house is meant to be provocative and inspiring, beautiful and unsettling.

A companion exhibition, Retranslation and Rewriting Tang Dynasty Poetry, will be located in the Hood. The first in a series of large books by Wenda Gu, this newly completed work on paper explores the effects of globalization on intercultural understanding and language by illustrating what happens when poetry is translated from one language to another and back again. The resulting texts are wry, witty examples of the misreading of language over time.

Opening events will be held on Wednesday, June 6, at 5:30 p.m., when Wenda Gu will unveil the project in Baker Library. The festivities will continue with a reception across the Green at the Hood Museum of Art.

Retranslation and Rewriting Tang Dynasty Poetry will be open through September 9, 2007, and the green house will be open through October 28, 2007. The exhibitions were organized in partnership with the Dartmouth College Library and generously funded by a grant from the LEF Foundation, the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Hall Fund, the Eleanor Smith Fund, and the George O. Southwick 1957 Memorial Fund.

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08