Life in the Nutshell

Yiyao Nie

Chinese characters (language system) evolved in sync with Chinese people’s character and culture. This installation invites viewers to interact and understand the root of the written characters and an introduction to Chinese philosophy which is the foundation of the Chinese character.


The most ancient characters/pictographs (more than 3600 years old), the Shang oracles, were carved onto tortoise shells and other animal bones. I chose 12 very elemental oracle bones all of which were derived from the basic character for “human”. I aimed to show the symbiotic relationship of language, human beings, and nature in the evolution of Chinese written language and Chinese culture. These 12 characters tell a story, poetically, of the cycle of life. In each one, there is the character for ‘human.’ A viewer will be asked to become part of all the characters. They will strive to mimic the character with their body and hold the posture. After keeping the posture for a few seconds, the story of that character will be revealed on the screen and they will gain an embodied understanding of the stage of life the character conveys.

As a graphic designer, I’m fascinated by Chinese characters. In this project, I hope to convey to non-Chinese speakers something of the richness of our written language. I am also developing a toolkit for people who speak and write Chinese to facilitate working with new font and motion with characters.