The night before our I-Ching-dérive, we had three hours to set up. Six of us, working furiously, pulled together “the chamber of the spectacle” before the close of the library. Chengyu You, a.k.a. “Jerry” and Livia Xie had created large bold posters in the style of Mao’s “Big Character Posters” from the 1960’s Cultural Revolution, in black ink on large newspaper sheets as well as on smaller pages; they used a variety of calligraphic styles from the ancient to the modern; but rather than the sayings of Chairman Mao, these posters announced each of the sixty-four hexagrams from the Classic of Changes. Johanne Laache, meanwhile, fantastically illustrated with imagery identical to that used by Latin Quarter students from Paris ’68 May in anarchist black and revolutionary red on paper of various textures and sizes each of the hexagrams from the French translation of the “Yi Ching.” (These were supplemented by pages from the latest issue of Charlie Habdo with the prophet Mohammed on the cover holding up a sign saying “Je Suis Charlie.”) Alp Seyrekbasan had created a circular stencil that depicted all of the sixty-four hexagrams which made a stunning halo on the back wall of the room. Sam Goldstein consulted on how to show video for Guy Debord’s film “Society of the Spectacle” on two parallel television sets, disconcertingly out of sync. And with my son Thomas’s Beats pill portable speaker, Pierre Boulez’s haunting “Derive I” played on a continuous loop. To complete the chamber’s synesthetic discombobulation, someone put a globe on the turn table and sent it spinning. (Already standing in the room was a human skeleton!)
Scattered on the floor were crumpled squares of paper marked with broken and unbroken lines to signify yin and yang; there were more than 368, one for each line in all the hexagrams. Those seeking an answer from the I Ching picked up these squares, one at a time at random, six in all, in order to generate their hexagram. With hexagram in hand, the questioner then left the chamber of the spectacle to visit me in a sunnier corner of the library, where I offered tea and helped to interpret their future according to the I Ching.
While I consulted the oracle, I told them a little about the tea. It was a 2006 Spring Yiwu Mountain raw puerh, harvested among 400 yrs old trees from China’s Yunnan province. Timothy Hsu of the Mandarins Tea Room (http://www.themandarinstearoom.com/About-Us_ep_7.html) advised me on the selection. He explained that puerh tea has the wonderful characteristic of subtly changing taste as the water is replenished throughout the course of an afternoon. Thus implicitly puerh pairs well with the spirt of the Classic of Changes. A lesson Timothy taught me when I visited his tea room and gallery in New York was that the art of Chinese tea was not about the ritual (as it was, say, in a Japanese tea ceremony) nor was it only about socializing (as at English tea-time), rather it was about appreciating the tea with others. The ritualistic and the social were connected via the experience of the tea. There is a kind of insouciance, an unpretentiousness, and yet a connoisseur’s appreciation that Timothy brings to serving tea. It was this spirit of good humor and genuine thoughtfulness that I tried to bring to the brief encounters I had with each person individually over the course of the four hours that I helped them consult the I Ching.
The I-Ching-dérive in general and the chamber of the spectacle in particular was intended as a weird experience, an installation and performance to alter the ordinary everyday visit to the college library. The experience was multilingual (Chinese, French, and English), multimedia (words, pictures, film, and music, not to mention interior design and theatrical), and multi-sensory (involving sight and hearing, but also with the tea, appealing to touch, smell, and taste), and all was hopefully artfully uncoordinated to create a pseudo-mystigogic ordeal. I wanted to take the energetic spirit of 1968 and aestheticize it, divert it from revolutionary politics and put it to personal creative use. At the same time, I wanted to re-contextualize the I Ching and so trouble its Confucian hierarchies as well as its Taoistic harmonies. I wanted to give individuals a sense of intimate connection with ancient signs and symbols, the exotic and the esoteric, in order to open eyes and minds and so perhaps inspire them to consider how they might change their own lives for the better. Better to my mind is always more weird and more wonderful.