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Revolution is a Series of Particular Things

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

There were many intriguing ideas bringing forward in Liang Wendao's speech, The Revolution is a Series of Particular Things (2019).

At the beginning of the talk, he stated that the Renaissance was a lengthy revolution rather than a short period of time. The background of this tremendous revolution was the recession after the Black Death, which took away a quarter of people's lives in Europe. Therefore, that was a moment to rebuild society. From the end of the 14th century to the 16th century, as we all know that there were many geniuses emerging through these years, accompanied by numerous groundbreaking changes. Liang presented to the audiences a time map which highlighted the connection of each big thing in that period. One of the most fundamental events was the Printing Revolution which started by Johannes Gutenberg's mechanical movable type printing. Within the first fifty years from the invention of movable type printing to Leonardo da Vinci's prime of life, the publication in Europe was about 15 to 20 million volumes, more than the total amount of manuscripts and books in the one thousand years before that. We could not deny the influence of this invention which let the knowledge spread quicker than ever before. We could not repudiate the geographical impact and the motivation of the interest as well. Broadly speaking, the increase in the number of books conduced to the establishment of individual thinking, which further led to Protestant Reformation and the Age of Discovery.

In the talk, Liang mainly focused on the cultural background of the life of Leonardo. He intended to find the reasons for producing such a genius and he listed four factors:

  • Firstly, in that period, there was no definite division of specialty, the artist may also do the job of architect and engineer. Therefore, the knowledge of different profession was melded freely by the artist.

  • Secondly, Florence as the cradle of the Renaissance gathered different types of people, which may also owe to the Medici Effect, the communication of different minds can occur in such an intensive place.

  • Thirdly, they had a language that allowed them to express the ideas and conveyed to others. The world language in Europe at that time was Latin, rendering the people to read many ancient documents as well.

  • Fourthly, due to the workshop system, the face-to-face practice could be combined with the knowledge from the books.

In general, throughout this talk, Liang tried to emphasize two ideas. The former one was many important revolutions in the human's history was not accomplished by a couple of geniuses' brilliance, but by many little details accidentally met together, though we can hardly see the connections between them. The latter idea was thinking about how nowadays society can learn from Florence in the Renaissance period. What is the environment that is beneficial to the occurrence of a great revolution? To answer this question, we may need circulating information and resource, a universal language and a concept of getting rid of the restriction of the knowledge domain.

Some Ideas

Whenever is the best of times and the worst of times

Somehow, when I was thinking about how does the environment when Leonardo was living give us some hints for today, Dickens' famous quotation just came to my mind. We would title the Renaissance as an age of geniuses, some many wonderful things happened at that time. However, when we view back to nowadays, I believe neither Leonardo nor Dickens would imagine the marvelousness of the 21st century. However, have we been good enough? Although everything becomes so different than hundreds of years ago, we are still facing loads of problems, such as global warming, economic inequality, and pollutions. Likewise, problems existed in their ages. Dickens‘ saying is not contradictory, but the general duality existing in human nature. Many people initially categorize matters into good or bad based on their personal feelings which may relate to their background, experience, consideration of interest and so on.

The present is woven by a series of small things

This idea reminds me of the performing sculptures created by Alexander Calder.

Clader, A. (c.1953). Antennae with Red and Blue Dots. [Aluminium and steel wire]. London: Tate

He intended to hang the sculpture in the air, so any delicate force would give the movement to the sculpture. As he wrote in 1932: "Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe. It must not be just a fleeting ‘moment’, but a physical bond between the varying elements in life."(Quoted in Borchardt-Hume 2015, p.219. Leaper, H. (2016). Antennae with Red and Blue Dots. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019] )

It is also reminds me of the Indra's net, the Buddhist simile about the connection of everything which the idea is quite similar to a poem written by William Blake:

"To see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour."

Blake, W. (c.1803). Auguries of Innocence.

They both emphasized the uniformity of one and everything, and the Indra's net gives us a visual image that the world as a net and the existence of a thing could be reflected in all the other. I think Antony Gormley's Clearing VII (2019) and Chiharu Shiota's works with the thread also have a parallel feeling.

Gormley, A. (2019). Clearing VII. [Aluminium tubes]. London: Royal Academy of Arts


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