A bit of a mix-up (revised on May 18)
An Introduction to Square Word Calligraphy, 1994–96
Handscroll; ink on paper
I19 in. × 17 ft. (48.3 × 518.2 cm) Overall with mounting: 19 in. × 18 ft. 6 in. (48.3 × 563.9 cm)
© Xu Bing
Lent by a private collection, New York
Courtesy: The Met
It probably seemed so lazy of me to ask the text to be read without much explanation. Meanwhile, I have been busy preparing to finish my graduate school papers and examinations. For the time being, I am taking a little break and to explain a little about this exhibition. And, today is May 18th way past the initiate date when it was first posted.
To start, this exhibition at the Met (unfortunately closed a month ago) explored Chinese contemporary art practice in context of the more "traditional" practices of Chinese art. More specifically, it attempted a comparison and contrast formula with Song landscape paintings, Literati calligraphy and paintings and other objects of the Met Chinese art collection. By situating everything in the same gallery space, the exhibition- Past as Present was quite a literal translation. This integration raised a problematic question to some that thought this direct comparison limited the individual meanings of the contemporary works, instead they were there to be appreciated purely for their aesthetic values rather than the political and the conceptual.
I, on the other hand, thought that the integration was innovative in a way that it made a continuous dialogue in regards to the "traditional" with the "contemporary" art practices of China. (Both traditional and contemporary are in " " marks because the meanings and definitions of these two are contingent on the artists / spectators and their notions of the past as oppose to the here and now.) Although I did understand the problem that a museum curator (not one of the Met) pointed out to me and it was that the exhibition took away the political meanings of the contemporary Chinese works which, sought to address modern Chinese issues. Nonetheless, considering context (geographical as well as curatorial) and audience (mostly European and American visitors, although quite a lot of Chinese visitors also but on a daily basis the aforementioned remains the majority), in this case I felt that there was no better way to introduce the works to the general public.
China has had a long and complicated history of emperors and dictators, it is never easy to find one satisfying angle to view the integrity of the country and culture. As a curator of a monumental show such as this one, one must have felt obliged to make choices. Making choices involves choosing and eliminating, hence nothing can ever be presented with all of its intended meanings literally to everyone. To the happy and oblivious tourists who were snapping phone camera pictures at Xu Bing's Book from the Sky because of its visual monumentality and fancy text-work, that was dismal in regards to trans-national cultural understanding. Yet, there were also some Chinese visitors who understood the work a bit more deeply as in the time and political climate under which this work was produced (and I eavesdropped). To those, the work didn't lose much of its true value. Depending on the aspect of focus, I'd say both are plausible in terms of different modes of appreciation. Yet, what I learned from visiting this exhibition (art and people) was that a clear cultural divide still exists between China and the West. To reach the point of mutual understanding is still a long way ahead.
Book From the Sky 1987–91
Installation of hand-printed books and ceiling and wall scrolls printed from wood letterpress type; ink on paper
Each book, open: 18 1/8 × 20 in. (46 × 51 cm); three ceiling scrolls, each: 38 in. × approx. 114 ft. 9 7/8 in. (96.5 × 3500 cm); each wall scroll: 9 ft. 2 1/4 in. × 39 3/8 in. (280 × 100 cm)
© Xu Bing
Lent by the artist
Courtesy: The Met
On the invention of a new language as the by-product of a global economy and the desire for a dominate presence on the global market, the ambitious Chinese people are adapting to Western terms and using loan-words in their everyday communication. On the other hand, the government is looking to limit and reform the Chinese language in effort to rid of these Western terms such as "email" or "CEO" and etc.. It remains a dialogue between different opinions and agendas.