The Setouchi Triennale 2022 summer session started on August 5. Zero, a new work in the Nakayama district of Shodoshima, was recently unveiled by artist Wang Wen-Chih, whose enormous bamboo structures have been displayed in many countries. The work, which is woven from around 4,000 bamboo, merges with the landscape of terraced rice fields that rise up the slope in front of it. I interviewed Wang on a hot day in June as he worked on the project.

Wang Wen-Chih’s work Zero reaches a height of over 20 meters at its tallest point.

―What is the concept of this work?
This time, I focused on returning to the starting point. I began creating works here in 2010 at the first Triennale. This is my fifth time building on this spot. I wanted to use that first work, House of Shodoshima, as my starting point and then add all the experience I have accumulated since then.
Visitors walk up a bamboo slope to enter the structure and experience the healing space inside, then leave again. For the fifth Triennale, I want to return to the origin and make a new start from there.

“Working in the heat is tough,” says Wang. Team members working with him in the heat.

―What is the meaning of the work’s title Zero?
My inspiration was the Chinese character 霊. This character is pronounced “rei,” which is the same pronunciation as the character 零, which means “zero”. The concept of healing and primal nature, that feeling of being held in our mother’s womb, is very important to me during the process of creating a work, and it was with that idea in mind that I chose to call this work Zero.

“I hope this work will make the Nakayama district famous,” Wang says.

―What’s difficult about creating large works of art?
I don’t find anything difficult when creating art. However, there was one practical challenge in making the first Triennale work. My works need a foundation erected on the ground, but I had no way of knowing what the ground or soil conditions of Shodoshima were like. I told a local contractor what I needed, and he built it for me.

The bamboo frame stretches toward the sky. Thin bamboo strips are woven over the frame to form a sphere.

―Did the pandemic impact your project?
Usually, we come to the island in February and start building to be ready for the spring session in April. This year, however, we decided not to come then because of the pandemic. We really wanted to present the work in the spring session, but we need to bring in a team of about fifteen people from Taiwan to build it. We didn’t want to risk spreading the virus to the local people or any of the team members, so we reluctantly decided to delay the project.

Bamboo pieces are cut to the required length and assembled by hand.

―Did the delay affect the work?
The local people prepared a lot of bamboo for us before we arrived, and the local contractor built the foundation. Thanks to all this support, the work has proceeded smoothly since we got here.

Large quantities of bamboo prepared by local residents

A special tool used to split the bamboo into thin strips for weaving.

―Finally, please share with us the highlights of your work.
The work is designed with a bamboo slope that leads into the dome and a spiral corridor that leads out again. Inside the dome, which was woven by hand, you feel safe and secure, as if you were in your mother’s womb. A window looks up towards the local diner which supplied our team with tea and sweets every afternoon at 3:00. We were so grateful for this. We were able to complete this work thanks to the support of the local people.

The work resonates in perfect harmony with the surrounding scenery of terraced rice fields.

Wang kindly agreed to be interviewed despite the extreme heat, and I’m sure his friendly, approachable personality is one reason the local people support his project every time. I was particularly moved by this comment: “The terraced rice fields and this work are one. I want everyone to experience the landscape, including these fields, through this work.”
Zero is located in the Nakayama district of Shodoshima. It can be viewed during the summer session (Aug 5 – Sept 4) and the fall session (Sept 29 – Nov 6).
(Interpretation: Eiko Hirai)

Japanese article「王文志さん約4000本の竹を編む巨大アート 地域住民と共に制作【瀬戸芸2022】」