Be Water My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee
Produced by the Wing Luke Museum in partnership with the Bruce Lee Foundation
As experienced in Seattle ~ July 2022
The Experience & How it Works:
Upon entering the exhibit, one takes in the origin story of Bruce Lee’s Be Water philosophy. They then learn how Bruce actively cultivated his mind, body and spirit. Next, the visitor enters a room with “puddles”—circular digital projections that move like water—and there are three: one each for mind, body and spirit.
When the visitor steps on a “puddle,” one of the many quotes Bruce Lee underlined in his books appears in the water at their feet and then triggers an activation on the wall. That activation may include Bruce’s writings in the margin of that very book and/or photos, video or artifacts that show how Bruce applied the quote’s philosophy in his life.
The visitor is welcome to step on and off the puddles as many times as they like; each puddle has at least ten different quotes in rotation, allowing the visitor to contemplate Bruce’s beliefs one at a time and consider how the ideas might apply to their own life. On the visitor’s way out, they may stop to take a photo with a mural of Bruce himself.
Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:
Note: The co-founders of The Look Club — also known as directing duo Lola Tango, are the creative team behind Be Water My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee. We, of course, find our work interesting, or we wouldn’t do it! Here, we’ll tell you why we found it interesting as artists, then you can tell us — in the comments—why you find it interesting as visitors. Tickets for the experience are available here.
The Bruce Lee Foundation wanted to show another side of Bruce Lee—beyond the martial artist—which derived from his prescriptive reading. Bruce Lee acquired approximately 2,800 volumes, all between the ages of eighteen and his untimely death at thirty-two. The mere existence of this collection spoke to Lee’s voracious appetite for knowledge; he was always learning and striving for self-improvement. And the Bruce Lee Foundation was inspired to share this extensive library with the world. The question was: how to share these books with the public in an interesting and engaging way?
Exhibits that require a lot of reading can feel like a lot to process and like each passage competes for the museum-goer’s attention. Not to mention that it’s awkward to read pages from books when they’re behind glass, and that museum curators are limited to choosing only one page from each book! While a digital tablet would solve the page limitation problem, reading on a screen with a queue of people waiting isn’t the most comfortable way to take in information — and tablet reading might be better done at home… or in transit.
What Lola Tango strove to do with this exhibit is to bring Bruce Lee’s library to life. We wanted the museum visitor to be able to step into his library (by which we don’t mean the room containing his books, but rather his collection of ideas). And, we wanted the visitor to feel a little bit like they’re stepping into Bruce Lee’s mind. As a result, we connected the ideas in this exhibit much in the way Bruce connected them himself.
Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:
Almost too beautiful to step on, the mesmerizing ripples of the digital water are calming, setting a meditative tone for the room. And if one can overcome the fear of being disruptive—and answer the call to “be water”—they will enjoy the immense satisfaction of having their actions matter. One is, perhaps, more invested in the quote that appears for having summoned it.
Bruce’s related writings and artifacts appear at a manageable pace, allowing thoughtful contemplation of the ideas and ideals that comprise his philosophy on life. The visitor is invited, at their own pace, to move on to the next idea and to choose the personal aspect on which they’d like to focus: mind, body or spirit.
Bruce was an active reader, both in his quest for knowledge and in the actual act of reading. His daughter Shannon recounts that he rarely sat still, often stretching or otherwise multi-tasking with a book in his hand. In this spirit, the exhibit invites the visitor to also be an active reader, triggering quotes with their movement, and as a result, having a better chance of retaining the information the exhibit presents.
Studies show that physical activity activates the brain, improves cognitive function, and is correlated with improved academic performance (Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011), which means that any physical activity, not just movement associated with the material, can benefit learners—and museum-goers.
Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):
Embodied, 1st person visual, 1st person narrative, participant, mortal
Each quote presents a unique story. The story anchor for each goes broadly like this:
When Bruce Lee read this quote, he wrote a note in the margin of the book it was in and then, when circumstances presented themselves in his life, he applied that philosophy or learning as attested to by the artifacts here presented.
Pillars of Game:
Voluntary Participation — Check!
Goal — To learn about Bruce Lee’s Be Water philosophy and approach to life.
Rules — You must step on one of the three “puddle” launch pads to trigger the experience. You may step on any launch pad in any order.
Feedback — When you step on a “puddle” launch pad, a bell will chime, then a quote will appear in the water, followed by a projection on the wall. When you step off the puddle and on it again, a new quote will appear, etc.
Who Should Experience This?
Bruce Lee fans and Bruce Lee neophytes alike. If you are already familiar with Bruce Lee’s life and legacy, this exhibit will give you an appreciation for a new part of him that you may not have been acquainted with.
If you don’t know much about Bruce Lee at all, this will give you a chance to get to know him, how he lived his life and what he stood for, and it will allow you to find a personal connection to his life and legacy through the meaning you’ll find for your own life in the quotes that resonated for Bruce. You don’t need to like or appreciate martial arts or movies to enjoy or appreciate this exhibit. You just need to be human.