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January 11, 2020

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CAMLab link-up a boost to Chinese culture

ON initial observations there seems to be no link between Harvard University and a luxury hotel in Shanghai. However, last week CAMLab (Chinese Art Media Lab of Harvard University) announced Nan Shufang, sited in Amanyangyun Resort, as its first project base.

Sited in Minhang District, the story of Amanyangyun actually began 700 kilometers away in rural Fuzhou in the northeastern part of Jiangxi Province. Fuzhou, an ancient town, has nurtured several talented artists and literati in its deep cultural heritage past.

Due to plans for a much-needed reservoir, approved in 2002 in Fuzhou, the fate of a cluster of “Old China” remnants were to be destroyed, including 10,000 camphor trees and many old dwellings in the neighborhood.

Ma Dadong, the owner of Amanyangyun, and also a native of Fuzhou, made a bold plan to relocate as many Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) villas as possible, plus a forest of camphor trees to the suburbs of Shanghai.

His primary task is to save the “essence of ancient Chinese cultures” until Aman (a luxury hotel group founded by Indonesian hotelier Adrian Zecha) joined the restoration project in 2009 with the emergence of Amanyangyun.

Meaning “nourishing cloud,” yangyun is a reference to expanding the “cloud” of your mind with knowledge — a philosophy borne by the story of the trees and dwellings at Amanyangyun’s heart.

The ethereal camphor forest sets the tone for a peaceful, introspective retreat, where old and new, natural and man-made, coexist in perfect harmony.

Amid a flourishing forest of camphor trees near a tranquil lake, 26 heritage villas have been carefully moved brick-by-brick from Fuzhou to become an integral part of Aman’s fourth destination in China.

Nan Shufang, the spiritual heart of Amanyangyun, is named after the royal reading pavilion in the Forbidden City. The restored antique villa, which used to be a private school in 17th century in Fuzhou, is now a modern-day recreation of the scholars’ studio of ancient China’s literati.

Perhaps the charisma of Nan Shufang and its philosophy of letting people return to traditional Chinese scholar culture, by experiencing and spreading its heritage through study, unwittingly coincides with the philosophy and values of Harvard CAMLab.

Within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, CAMLab is led by professor Eugene Wang, with an aim to allow the integration between advanced Chinese academic research and creative media art.

“Peony Pavilion” is one of the highlights on the project list of CAMLab. It is “an object play,” — rather than the familiar Kunqu Opera — which integrates architectural modeling, craftsmanship and video mapping, constituting a conglomeration of media across the spectrum of materiality.

“This project hopes to introduce the inter-transformation of reality and illusion, which is central to traditional Chinese theater, into the 21st century prospect of artificial intelligence and virtual reality,” Wang said.

As if by fate, Tang Xianzu (1550-1616), the Chinese playwright of the “Peony Pavilion,” was also from Fuzhou. So the “Peony Pavilion” is a perfect choice for CAMLab and Nan Shufang to start with.

One of the future project bases of CAMLab will be implemented in the forest park within two years, opposite the Amanyangyun Resort.

Current projects at CAMLab include the production of an epic art film, many immersive installation designs, research-based curatorial projects and digital publications.

Eugene Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art. A Guggenheim Fellow in 2005, he is the art history editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004), and the author of many publications ranging from early Chinese bronzes to contemporary art.


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