On View: Xu Bing


Top: “Book from the Sky,” 1987-91, Xu Bing, Mixed media installation / Hand-printed books and scrolls printed from blocks inscribed with ”false” characters.
Installation view at Xu Bing: Book from The Sky, at Blanton Museum of Art, TX, U.S.A., 2016. Courtesy of Xu Bing Studio
Photo Courtesy of Tianchu Xu

On view: “Book from the Sky” is an immersive installation by internationally recognized Chinese artist Xu Bing currently on exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin. The pioneering artwork was first exhibited in 1988 and again the following year at the infamous “China/Avant Garde” exhibition at the National Gallery in Beijing. Over 10 years in the making, Book from the Sky incorporates over 4,000 Chinese characters hand-carved and meticulously printed on books, hanging scrolls and hand scrolls, installed on the floors, walls and ceiling of the gallery. Though not immediately apparent, characters are crafted in a calligraphic style dating to Song-style characters, but are, in fact, completely fictional. Xu Bing, who came of age during the Cultural Revolution, was witness also to the barriers created to the past through the construction of the new simplified Chinese characters. He writes, “To change the written word is to strike at the very foundation of a culture: to reconstruct language … cuts to the heart of one’s being.” Through this post-Revolutionary work, the artist underscores the repercussions of this action, and questions the relationship between language and the written word.


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