I came across “The Millenium Medal” by Marian Fountain last week. I’ve known her name and some of her work for a long time, but had never seen this medal before. Intrigued by the way it references East Asian coins, I asked if she’d tell us more about it. I’m very grateful to Marian for writing this post, and for sharing these images with us, and also to Dr Alexander Chang for agreeing to share his response to the medal.
Marian Fountain writes:
The Millennium Medal was created for New Year 2000 which I felt to be an exceptional celebration of time and a milestone in the Gregorian calendar. It was a special moment in time to reflect on the past and future. Yes indeed, the medal denotes the Chinese cash coin, round with square hole. Its use for several millennia and its function as a luck charm or divination device for the Book of Changes, makes it an excellent symbol for universality and exchange in the future.
It is a luck symbol for the new millennium, and people wore it on 1/1/2000 as a prize for just ‘being there’. The collectiveness and ‘equal-opportunity’ quality of the event means that the person looking out the window (square = the earth) is one of many, who embrace the new day and the wide world (circle = the heavens).
A lunar cycle calendar on the reverse shows the rhythms which mark time, the moon being observed by all cultures since the beginning.
A card initially accompanying the medals read: “to be worn and polished from hand to hand for the next 1000 years”. Details will be rubbed away, accentuating the quintessential symbol of earth and heaven.
Around 170 examples were purchased in the months surrounding the new year, several were presented as gifts, and 43 remain in the edition of 230.
To me, this medal includes a blend of influences and styles, which is something that happens naturally during exchange. The person at the window is the wearer’s ‘selfie’, or could also be anybody from the last 2000 years. A Jesuit astronomer in China, or a scientist of the enlightenment, for example. In my mind the figure is at the centre of his universe, but can be transformed and filled with the light and intelligence of the whole, symbolised by the square and circle. The notion of time with change and transformation is essential here.
Some of my earliest fascinations were the ancient jade cong or bi at the Auckland Museum. There is a quintessential symbolic quality about them that goes way beyond ornament. What’s more, their precise shapes formed from hard jade are witness to a sophisticated technology mastered.
Other related works inspired by Chinese cash coins and ancient jade cong and bi include:
Although the medal ‘Unstable Equilibrium’ is a loose interpretation of bi I’d like to share my exchange with a recent acquirer of the medal:
Fountain: The medal is about a relationship of two people from different cultures, one coming from far across the sea whose face is half hidden..
Dr Alexander Chang: Thank you for clarifying the meaning or “story” of your creation Unstable Equilibrium. I will now be able to tell people what it symbolises when they see it in my home.
I can also see how it might relate to my own situation. My father coming from China in 1920 to New Zealand and subjected to the draconian Poll Tax which singled out only Chinese. My mother was married but prohibited from joining my father but in 1939 when Japan invaded China she was allowed into New Zealand temporarily as a refugee. When the Second World War ended in 1945 she and any children borne were to be deported back to China. I was one of four children who after more than two years in limbo along with my mother were finally permitted to stay in New Zealand. I believe your creation could equally apply to my situation and as you say “food for thought”. Your piece will certainly be treasured, I am pleased I chose it.
See more of Marian Fountain’s work on www.marianfountain.com