Initial Medal Ideas – Asian Coins/Red String

After having been given an old chinese coin tied as a necklace, as a gift by a friend, the design got me thinking in terms of my medal project.

chinese coin

I found the design particularly compelling, with the contrast between the brighter, wide rim around the edge and the darker circle around the midsection, which is then cut into with the square hole in the center. These three different elements come together to give the coin a compelling nonuniformity with three distinct yet simple separate elements, which work together organically. It is the square hole in the center which I find particularly interesting, not only the shape but the negative space juxtaposing the solid and circular form of the coin. The design of the coin originates from the ancient Chinese belief that the Earth was square, surrounded by the circle of the heavens. It is interesting that on the coin, the square for the Earth is empty space, intangible, and yet it is the heavens and the space between the Earth and the heavens which is solid. While this may just as easily be for practical reasons, I find it fascinating nonetheless, and the sense of space that has been achieved between the “Earth” and the “Heavens” is very strong. In fact it could be argued that the negative space in the center of the coin is the only part which changes, that we interact with, that we can see the world around us through, while the “heaven” section of the coin remains fixed and permanent.

japanese yen

I find the square hole much more evocative in the coin than the circular ones seen on Japanese Yen, and in fact any coins with a square shaped hole become inherently more interesting to me.

ancient coins

ancient Chinese coins

tempo tsuuhou coin

Tempo Tsuho coin – Japan 1835 to 1870


These coins also tie into the idea I had previously of incorporating string or rope into the design of the medals, as there is a long tradition of tying chinese cash coins together in various patterns using red string.

3 coins red string

five-coins-with-mystic-knot-tassel-1flower coins tied

This is done as a symbol of luck and prosperity, as the coins themselves represent wealth and the red string as red is the tradition chinese symbol for luck. This could be an interesting way of connecting sections of a medal together, if I make a piece that is detachable and interchangeable, or possibly connecting a series of medals together, and the thread could be part of the piece which crosses across the surface both physically and using imagery interchangeably.

Red string not only has significance in Chinese culture, but Japanese as well. In both Japan and China a red string  may represent “the red string of fate”, which is said to tie two people together (traditionally by the ankle in Chinese myth, but more commonly by the little finger in Japan), and this string may stretch and tangle, but can never be severed and links the two people together who are fated to meet. This is most often in the form of “true love”, but can also be used in regard to two people who will help each other in some way or become deeply significant to each other’s lives.

yue xia lao

The tradition stems from the shared Chinese and Japanese folktale of Yue Xia Lao, the marriage god also known as “the man under the moon”, who decides upon marriage couples and ties them together with a red thread. The folktales often revolve around a young man being introduced by Yue Lao to their future wife (as children), and in a childish manner they take no heed and cause some form of injury or scar to the child. Many years later as an adult they get married, only to find their wife has a scar caused by a childhood incident, and find that they did indeed marry the woman Yue Lao intended all along, they could not escape the red string of fate.

rings tied together

This is a crude sketch trying to look at the idea of using holes and thread in combination in the medal. Ideally the object itself would be much more  precisely woven, but this was difficult to depict without having much knowledge of knots and a physical object to experiment with.

However, if the medal pieces are tied in place, where does this leave the viewer? While the pieces are technically interchangeable, it is unlikely that people are going to interact with the piece to the extent where they untie the bonds, let alone try to re thread and put it back together in a different configuration. This means the medal loses its element of fluidity, and user interaction, which are to me the key points in the piece. This could perhaps be shown in the format of a video, with myself taking apart and putting the medals back together again, but I am sceptical that even then the object itself will seem too “fixed”.


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