August 2, 2010

Tai Chi Figure - Lawrence, KS

One of the things I love about Lawrence and especially the University of Kansas is that art is absolutely everywhere. Along Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, there are murals that give buildings a sort of vibrant, imaginative ambiance. Throughout the college campus, sculptures and fountains mark the entrances of buildings, always imparting some reverence for the study taught within the hallowed halls.

Outside of Green Hall, the law school building, is the “Tai Chi Figure” by Zhu Ming (also spelled Ju Ming.) According to the University, the bronze sculpture was cast and welded to portray a figure in the performance of tai chi, a martial art that emphasizes strength and balance.

It seems to me quite fitting that it be placed outside the law building because the law is the art of balance. No one ever really wins or loses in the courtroom, despite what television dramas would have you believe. In our adversarial system, it is about providing due process for everyone and justice for everyone we can. A criminal may be guilty as sin but he is still entitled to the best defense possible. A criminal defense attorney may know his client is guilty as sin but he will still do the best possible job. The people and the state count on the criminal prosecutors to do the best possible job as well, to ensure the criminal (who we still know is guilty as sin) is found guilty according to the law and sentenced appropriately. The system only works when everyone does their job as best they can and justice is achieved. It is the balance of conflicting forces in pursuit of the same goal – justice – that makes the American legal system work.

The “Tai Chi Figure” is part of a series by Zhu Ming, who was born in Taiwan in 1938. Though originally trained in woodcarving, he would apply that skill to a variety of mediums, such as bronze, steel, ceramics, and Styrofoam. In the mid-1970’s, he began sculpting works created around the theme of Tai Chi and showing taiji or shadowboxing figures that include the one in front of Green Hall.

The figure itself is stunning in how it portrays a kind of delicateness in the pose, while the actual figure is heavy and large. The sculpture is 8 feet 10 inches tall, 15 feet 11 inches wide and 7 feet deep. The heavy, blocked style of the body makes it appear solid and grounded. But as the arms extend the figure appears to opening itself up, becoming vulnerable. As one leg bends and the other stretches out, you see the careful balance necessary to hold such a pose, whether in a sculpture or a real person. You begin to see that as the figure holds its place it does so with more than the weight of metal. It does so also with a careful and elegant balance that seems almost spiritual.

Zhu Ming’s tai chi-themed works gained him international acclaim and can mostly be seen at the Ju Ming Museum in TaiPei City in Northern Taiwan. But for those who can’t make the trip to Asia, there is always the much shorter trip to Kansas.

Total Distance Traveled: 1 mile
Total Time Traveled: 5 minutes
Soundtrack: “Comfort of Strangers" Beth Orton

Endnote: I should say that not everyone has the same reverence for the “Tai Chi Figure.” On campus, it also has some more humorous nicknames that include “The Surfin’ Judge” and “Stone Faced Sumo.”


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