Xu Bing: Solo
28 November 2003 – 4 January 2004
This is the first solo UK exhibition by Xu Bing, whose international solo exhibitions include Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing at the Arthur M Sackler Gallery Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. (2002); Xu Bing: Book from the Sky and Classroom Calligraphy at the National Gallery of Prague (2000) and Xu Bing: Introduction to Square Word Calligraphy, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2001).
At first glance, Xu Bing’s art is created through traditional Chinese calligraphy. He has used beautiful hand-drawn calligraphy on hand-printed, hand-bound books, as seen in Book From The Sky 1987-1991, the project which first brought him to international attention. With a computer and printer, he has created digital calligraphy, which juxtaposes ancient knowledge with artificial intelligence. Xu Bing has made a scholar’s classroom where gallery visitors, ‘students’, sit at school desks and learn his unique language.
Yet what appears to be ‘typical’ Chinese calligraphy, and therefore, ‘incomprehensible’ to many Western eyes, is not what it seems. During some point in the viewing, we become aware that, instead of Chinese characters, we are seeing English words emerge from these stylised, box-shaped marks. His language is made up of English words, the dominant world language through which the West has wielded its political and economic supremacy over the rest of the world, realised through Chinese characters, an alphabet with 2000 years of history, reflecting a family of languages spoken by over one billion speakers. We see one language represented by another and through this hybrid; we come into contact with a multitude of observations on power and language.