10000 li, 100 billion kilowatt-hours, reversing disorder


Climate change is increasingly being studied through the lens of entropy. Entropy indicates a state of disorder that governs the exchange of energy between systems. For example, at room temperature, why does ice turn into water and then eventually air, instead of the reverse, where the cooling of air around the ice just creates more ice? This is because energy tends to move from states of lower to higher entropy, from concentrated to dispersed states, and so from ice to water. In the case of climate change, we see this in the melting of polar ice caps, the drying of rivers, and the heating up of the atmosphere. Michael Wang’s 10000 li, 100 billion kilowatt-hours plays with these ideas of energy transfer and attempts to conceptually reverse its tendencies. In this piece, exhibited at the 13th Shanghai Biennale in 2021, a closed rectangular room made of glass and steel hosts a supply of water and a refrigeration system. The water is vaporised and released as pressured jets into the room via three misting machines. The refrigeration turns the water into snow. There are glass windows through which visitors can view the refrigeration process. The resulting icy formation is a reference to the glacial landscape of the faraway Qinghai Mountains, the source of both the water and the electricity used in the piece. The water is sourced from the Yangtze River, which comes from the glaciers of Qinghai. The refrigeration is powered by electricity taken from the Shanghai grid which is supplied in part by the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, and therefore the Qinghai. The Qinghai Mountains are highly affected by climate change and its ice is melting at a rate faster than that of the Arctic and the Antarctic. Wang’s artwork uses its climate change-induced meltwater and creates a system that conceptually reverses the process, ‘The clock is turned backwards’ as he describes the piece. The hot higher entropic state of the Yangtze River moves into the cold lower entropic state of the Qinghai Mountains. We are made to visualize in Shanghai, 10000 li away, the source that powers it. The Qinghai, using its own materials to enable its displacement, calls our attention to its disintegration with time, lest we forget it.


Michael Wang – 10000 li, 100 billion kilowatt-hours