The Opposite House in Beijing is making a statement that will be nearly nearly impossible to miss. Skywalker, an installation by Australian artist Lisa Roet in partnership with Asialink Arts, will involve a massive inflatable sculpture of a Skywalker hoolock gibbon suspended from the hotel’s striking glass facade. The installation is part of a long term commitment to environmental responsibility.
When it opened in 2008, The Opposite House quickly established itself as an architectural icon in Beijing, gaining international recognition and becoming a regular fixture in T+L's World’s Best Awards. As one of the first hotel developments in the city designed with an emphasis on sustainability, it’s also become an emblem of China’s next generation of luxury hotels. The property’s understated design, spearheaded by noted Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, emphasizes fluidity between indoor and outdoor spaces as part of “a critique of the current conditions in Beijing,” according to his firm’s website.
How does the giant inflatable ape fit into this? The Skywalker species of hoolock gibbon was discovered fairly recently by a group of scientists studying the primates of China’s Yunnan Province. They shared their findings in a January 2017 article in the American Journal of Primatology, explaining that the gibbons’ treetop habitat and “the historical Chinese view of them as almost mystical beings” (plus, a shared love of Star Wars) inspired the cheeky moniker.
The scientists (and Roet, who focuses on primates in her work and travels frequently for field research) are concerned about deforestation and other human incursion into the Skywalker hoolock gibbon’s natural habitat, which covers the tropical forests around the China-Myanmar border. Many groups have recommended that the species, with known populations numbering at just 200 apes, join the Western and Eastern hoolock gibbon on the endangered species list maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Roet’s sculpture will be displayed across the front of the building beginning March 18 as part of a month-long programming series around Earth Hour 2018, which falls on March 24. The Opposite House plans to hold a series of events, workshops, lectures, and other art installations on the theme of sustainability — an issue that’s important worldwide, but especially and visibly urgent in Beijing, which remains one of China’s most polluted cities despite recent policies aiming to address the problem. Skywalker will be on display at The Opposite House through the culmination of events on April 19.
Even the physical primate placement will be done with minimal environmental impact. Around 100 volunteers will power the inflation of the gibbon by pedaling stationary bicycles — an idea dreamed up in partnership with Mobike, a Shanghai-based bike sharing company aiming to reduce automobile pollution in China’s megacities.
The installation follows a 2016 collaboration entitled Golden Monkey, for which Roet hung a 45-foot snub-nosed monkey over The Opposite House’s main entrance. Native to the forests of Southwestern China and Northern Myanmar, that species’ population has been reduced to fewer than 400 in recent years due to deforestation.
Roet’s two installations are also part of a larger mission at The Opposite House to support and spotlight local and international artists. The property has a respected collection of works by Chinese sculptors, and curates rotating exhibitions on a quarterly basis in collaboration with Red Gate Gallery.