Cities are “a crystallization of the wisdom of human beings, culture, nature, history and geography.”

Born Yixing City, Jiangsu, 1977

Looking at the patterns revealed by Google Earth views of cities around the world, Lu Xinjian was fascinated by their combination of uniqueness and uniformity. Sitting in his apartment in South Korea, he began sketching the patterns he saw, distilling them into minimalistic arrangements of lines, curves, xes and os that he called—borrowing a term from urban planning—“city DNA”.  Scanning the results into his computer, he used Adobe Illustrator and a cutting plotter to create vinyl stencils of each city’s pattern, then painted over them in colours drawn from national or civic flags. Despite distinctive landmarks—in City DNA: Beijing (2010), the Forbidden City and the three lakes outside it—and differences of form and colour, Lu Xinjian’s boiled-down cities look remarkably similar: random servings from an increasingly homogenised global soup. That, in a way, is the point. The artist says his main influences are Piet Mondrian and architect Rem Koolhaas, who has said: “We all complain that we are confronted by urban environments that are completely similar. We say we want to create beauty, identity, quality, singularity. And yet, maybe in truth these cities that we have are desired. Maybe their very characterlessness provides the best context for living.”



 

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