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In Water Cube: Monkey King’s “Rebellion Against Heaven” 大闹天宫

work in progress –

whose banquets?

whose fruits and who can enjoy?

folk tales

Heavenly Peach Banquet [1]

Monkey travels to heaven to demand recognition of his new found power. There he finds seven fairies preparing a banquet for the birthday of the Queen Mother of Heaven. Incensed that he has not been invited, he begins to eat the Queen Mother’s magical heavenly peaches, and fights off each of her divine guests who try to prevent this. The Queen Mother then calls upon Buddha to deal with Monkey.

Rebellion Against Heaven
Rebellion Against Heaven

Monkey King’s (Sun Wukong 孙悟空)profile [2]

also called – Great Sage Equal of Heaven (Qi Tian Da Sheng 齐天大圣)

When he returned to Flower Fruit Mountain after leaving his post as Bi Ma Wen, two single-horned demon kings came to him and suggested that he take the title of Great Sage Equal of Heaven. Wu Kong was very receptive of this idea and called himself by that title from then on. Afterwards, when he defeated all the Heavenly generals sent to capture him, the Jade Emperor (ruler of Heaven) gave him the post of Great Sage Equal of Heaven to placate. It was, of course, an empty post with no work for Wu Kong to do.

About “As-one-wishes” Rod 如意金箍棒 [3]

如意金箍棒 is pronounced as Ruyi Jingu Bang, literally meaning “As-you-will Golden-bound Cudgel”, is the poetic name of a magical weapon wielded by the Monkey King in the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West.

Monkey King's "as-ones-wishes" rod
Monkey King's magical weapon - "As-one-wishes" Rod
rather than changing sizes, varied patterns are emitted from the rod - as my wish!
rather than changing sizes, varied patterns are emitted from the rod - as I wish!

It is an iron rod whose size changes “as-one-wishes”, once used by Da Yu to measure the depth of the flood waters destroying ancient China, which Wukong obtains from the undersea palace of Ao Guang, the Dragon King of the East Sea. It is immensely heavy; in modern measurements, it is slightly weightier than 7.5 metric tons. When it is not in use, Wukong shrinks it to the size of a sewing needle and keeps it behind his ear. It is often depicted as red and having gold bands near the ends. In other depictions, it is shown as a silver staff with golden ends, or as a solid gold or copper staff. In some forms of the legend Journey to the West, Ao Guang is shown to have believed that the cudgel was hardly worth anything, until Wukong commanded it to both shrink and grow, showing its extreme worth to his dismay, because he did not particularly like Wukong.

a new project about “utopias’ realities”

Rebellion against Heaven is one of the most popular animated films when I was a kid. It was adopted from Journey to the West as a propaganda program convincing people that “rebelling is reasonable.” It’s a beautiful film with visual style mimicking colorful Chinese woodcut print, and the exciting narrative based on the Chinese classical. All children love Monkey King, and admire his power with “72 transformations” that defeated generals and army from heaven, especially  the unbeatable “as-one-wishes” rod, which perhaps symbolizes his “revolutionary spirit.” I guess all of these have moved me deeply, that I decide to make a new machinima covering “climbing cloud ladder to reach heaven” and “rebellion at heavenly Peach banquet.” Former was completed on  Jan. 31.2009. As for the latter, I built a “water cube” (the swimming stadium in 2008 Beijing Olympic Game) suspending right over the “cloud ladder” with a banquet inside; then myself has been transformed to Monkey King, the owner of “as-one-wishes” rod, which starts the stories.

Monkey King in Water Cube
Monkey King in Water Cube

Last week I was in half way building “drifting inspirations”(adopt Qu-Shui-Liu-Shang drink game in ancient China) disseminating recluse culture of China. Peach Blossom Shangri-la was the title by then. I thought it’s important to use “Shangri-la” because the work is interpreting independence and solitude. Things went smoothly with filming on Winter Blossom Dance and Monument ’08 – climbing and falling.

Then I started worrying a little that the theme appears too aloft to be understood by audience. At this point, Honglei came to talk about his research on folk opera about Monkey King, and how this could be a perfect theme discussing religion and values lost during globalization and economic development of China. What a backward since ’89! Does the openness only mean being slaves for the global market, or showing off their vanity? and their belief and confidence resulted by the economic success have led them to extend ambitions in some dangerous directions… Yet we don’t want to see riot, “I just hope the country is alright, not too good neither too bad, so others will leave it alone.” Honglei said. I agree. And I signed 08 Charter. It’s alright. The shoe missed the goal again. It’s not a bad thing to know that many “(con)temporary Chinese artists” are thinking of new occupations under the stress of financial crisis.

Water Cube susbanding in Land of Illusion - reach it with cloud ladder
Water Cube suspending in Land of Illusion - reach it with cloud ladder

Yes, things are changing. One of my blogs needs to be closed, because I don’t care a “public service;” then it’ll be merged into my personal blog, for making voices in a more real and enjoyable way. Same to my teaching – I declined an offer in Boston, simply consider it’s worth nothing to my creative self. We’re moving to NYC, where I will be a recluse again. People come to suggest, hey Lily let’s collaborate on something about new media, it’ll be exciting… no, it’s in fact boring. We all get a point that technology has become so sophisticated that any artist can use computer to produce work, and not bothered by much coding. When technology is advancing, it becomes more unnoticeable, naturally taking part of artistic creativity. “Science and art” likely begin breaking apart again, relatively I mean. They’ll walk on their own track as usual. I don’t believe most scientists can be artists as well, vise versa. And I promise you academia will pull you back as an artist – you think anyone can teach you to be creative? Coding won’t help. It’s simply not the way resulting great art. It was an exciting concept or motivation barely fruiting, mainly because science is dominant in this trend which results conservative work in terms of getting in touch with our innermost feelings. Ha! Clearly I’m out of the cage already, saying something that I believe – learn from the real life rather in lab or studio! And if you are a real artist, nothing can stop you.  If you are driven by profit, it’s a bad time. Don’t show me your project only with empty big names and work with big budget, that proves you can’t see anything through your own eyes. Have you seen Rikoko’s dairy? The Japanese girl’s journey in Second Life is admirable for its freedom, beauty, independence and loneliness! You may argue it’s something else than contemporary art. Who cares.

Lily Jun checking Man's Dream Umbrella at RMB city's People's worksite
Lily Jun checking Man's Dream Umbrella at RMB city's People's worksite
the realities of utopias - this could be the theme for upcoming SL presentation in Boston Cyberarts 2009
the realities of utopias - this could be the theme for upcoming SL presentation in Boston Cyberarts 2009

Dream Umbrella and “As-one-wishes”

Taking Honglei’s suggestion about Monkey King distroying “heavenly peach banquet” instead of yinshi (recluse) in Peach Blossom Shangri-la this time, I set the background at Water Cube of Olympics 2008, and truly feel the rebelling Monkey is waking in my soul.

It’s in fact the point we are going to organize a SL presentation for Boston Cyberarts. UMass design gallery provides professional setting up for new media work. I’ll need to test the Internet speed for live SL performance. If impossible, still we can show machinimas based on a few sites with intriguing inputs. I’m adding a map directing visitors to these stops: Land of Illusion (lily & honglei), Arena (upbar), a place for “dream umbrella”(patrick). Those sites/artists alway have some new work to show. Their latest experiments are exciting.

dream umbrella by Man Machinaga - in Land of Illusion
dream umbrella by Man Michinaga (Patrick) - in Land of Illusion

After a conversation with Patrick, I paid a visit in RMB city People’s Worksite, as I first saw “dream umbrella” there. Luckily Patrick was online and responded my request with a cutely designed lady’s umbrella. I like the whole idea that once you type in “/7show”, the list of  available items appear, then type /7xxxx, one expects image or object to be emitted, while the umbrella tells the dream related to the item….

I adopt the script from “Dream Umbrella” (Patrick Lichty or Man Michinaga) to make my “as-one-wishes” rod. It’s fine as long as you’re not selling them. The script image/object emission is actually not new  in SL and can be seen in many locations.





By Lily Honglei

Lily Honglei, artist collaborate from Beijing, is currently base in United States. Their creative projects integrate digital imaging technologies, such as Augmented Realty, Virtual Reality and digital animation, with traditional art mediums to comment on current global societies as well as the relationship between Asian cultural heritages and globalization. Their projects received awards and grants from Creative Capital, New York Foundation of Arts Fellowship and Fiscal Sponsorship, New York States Council on the Arts, Queens Art Council, among others.

2 replies on “In Water Cube: Monkey King’s “Rebellion Against Heaven” 大闹天宫”

Honglei and Lily are two important contemporary artists of our generation who represent the future direction of contemporary mixed media and multi-media arts for our time. They bring a refreshing vision to the ‘repetitive’ and at times stagnant place of the ‘status quo’ commonly seen in the mainstream. Their work though underexposed, currently burns it’s way into the consciousness, consciences and thick fabric of the most complex and cutting edge conversation that our generation is currently engaged and yearn to participate with more authenticity as they ongoingly interact and learn to clarify issues. We as a society more than ever -who struggle to reconcile differences, artificial and real; which now unquestionably exist in both eastern and western and southern aesthetics. Thus Honglei and Lily’s work will in time, impact the transformation of our current socio cultural consciousness on a global scale for this generation and the one to come not too long from now.

Bryan McFarlane
Professor of Drawing and Painting.
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

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