Active Memories - CODAworx

Active Memories

Client: Chinese Recreation Center, San Francisco Art Commission

Location: San Fracisco, CA, United States

Completion date: 2012

Artwork budget: $170,000

Project Team


Shan Shan Sheng

East West Art Studio


John Miesner

Interior Architects. INC

Industry Resource

Berengo Studio

Berengo Studio, Venice, Italy


Active Memory 2012. Venetian hand-blown glass, stainless steel height 16ft x width 8ft x 4ft depth. Through the City’s two-percent-for-art program, the San Francisco Arts Commission has commissioned the new public artworks by San Francisco-based artists Shan Shan Sheng for the new Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center. While very distinct, artworks celebrate ancient art forms with strong roots in Chinese culture and history.


“These artworks speak directly to the community,” said Director of Cultural Affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission Tom DeCaigny, “It’s wonderful that this new state-of-the-art facility includes artworks that link to the unique culture and history of Chinatown. I applaud Shan Shan Sheng for her success in reinterpreting honored traditions into contemporary artworks that will be enjoyed by all who visit the Center.” For the center’s entrance lobby, Chinese-born Shan Shan Sheng created a suspension sculpture that uses language to speak to the unique Chinese American experience in San Francisco and the California landscape. Active Memory is cascade of red Chinese calligraphy that showers visitors upon entry. The artist handmade the glass characters so that they look handwritten. The sculpture’s form, vertical flows of narrative, was inspired by traditional Chinese landscape paintings, which are often inscribed with poems.


This project represents the collaboration of the artist Shan Shan Sheng with the glass studio in Island of Murano Venice, the most famous center for the creation of the art glass in the world. As Sheng has worked in Murano for number of years. the creation of the exceptional glass sculpture is the result of the 1000 years old traditional of the Venetian glass technique meet 5000 years of Chinese ancient poems and calligraphy forms.

Additional Information

The sculpture itself is comprised of five poems, two of which are by renowned poets Bai Juyi (772-846) and Li Bai (701-762) of the Tang Dynasty and a poem by Su Shi (1036-1101) of the Song Dynasty. The other poems include an early twentieth-century poem by an anonymous immigrant about his experience on Angel Island and the last by the Artist, with key words describing the lives of Chinese immigrants in the Bay Area, Words such as “gold rush”, “railroad track”, and “computer” invoke the memory of travel, labor and the transformation of America.