Its Marxs Das Kapital—Except Its a Giant Sculpture

VICE: The Creators Project Interview by Kevin Holmes

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Karl Marx's Capital: Critique of Political Economy is one of the most influential books of the modern age. Published in the 1800s it theorized that capitalism was founded on exploiting unpaid labor, critiqued the concept of private property, and laid the intellectual foundations for modern communism and the Communist states and nations of the 20th century.

It's also been used as the source for a new alien-looking sculpture by Chinese artist Wang Yuyang. Yujang's Identity is 20 feet tall and composed of folded layers of various materials including brass, copper, iron, fiberglass, concrete, marble, and steel—all interwoven as arcing contours that look both organic and like some otherwordly samurai armor. The piece is on show, along with 17 others, at the CASS Sculpture Foundation in Chichester, England as part of their A Beautiful Disorder exhibition showcasing contemporary Chinese sculpture.

Beyond its striking form, what's remarkable about Yuyang's piece is that, when you look at it, you're actually looking at the text for Marx's Captial: Critique of Political Economy. Yuyang converted the words themselves into binary code, then visualized it all using 3D rendering and modelling software, which determined the material, the color, and structure.

It forms part of a series of texts converted to binary then sculptures called Untitled, which began in 2011 and has seen a short Mahayana Buddhist text known as Heart Sutraconverted into a sculpture, Cheating (2013), along with the Bible. For Identity, the binary code was input into 3ds Max and a 3D printer for a visual output, with the program "reading" the order of the text to form the installation.

"The shapes of the sculpture are the twisted rectangles or circles function in the program," explains Yuyang to The Creators Project. "The title of the work is also a selection by the computer (selected from a dictionary pack when we ‘save’ this file) and the color by reading the code again."

The idea, says Yuyang, is to give the making over solely to the computer so it can objectively visualize the text. While Marx writes about how exploited labor underpins capitalism, Yuyang hands the labor of the creative process—outsources it—over to automation. 

"It shows my curiosity with these texts," notes Yuyang. "Das Kapital has been grouped into different chapters when I was reading it in school. Different chapters are taught in primary, elementary, and high school, it's the topic of exams [in China]. The book was with my generation all the time when we were growing up. So I am deeply familiar with it and now I would like to see it differently. Turning it into a visual work is a different way to look at the text again."

Kevin Holmes