Xu Bing

Born 1955 in Chongqing, China. Lives and works in Beijing, China.

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The Character of the Characters

In 1981, Xu Bing graduated from the print department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. He currently lives and works in Beijing and New York. He is one of China’s most influential artists, and the creative elements in his work always involve the textual symbols that underlie human civilization; he uses different media, materials, and methods to deconstruct the historical and cultural elements in conscious behavioral norms. He challenges habitual intellectual systems and thought models and ridicules the mystery, awkwardness, and absurdity of literary culture. He opens undiscovered imaginative space, and hints at a certain human alertness and anxiety with regard to culture.

This recent hand-drawn two-dimensional animation is a direct reflection of his years of experience creating textual works. In this piece, he uses black and white, with a slight hint of red, on a background with the color of old rice paper. The dimensions of the screen resemble that of a traditional Chinese scroll, a fact that draws the viewer into the image. The entire animation cleverly uses the compositional methods of multi-point perspective in Chinese painting; the modeling of the figures and the style of the brushwork is varied, interesting, and imaginative. The viewer can freely move around the image, as if entering a natural landscape. This technique is similar to the ways of viewing Chinese painting. The audiovisual language of animation allows people to consciously doubt and imagine Chinese characters. Here, allusion and knowledge are linked in a way that helps viewers to understand the relationship between written Chinese characters and the unique aspects of the Chinese people, within the historical evolution of those characters. Viewers can see his confidence in the core energy of Chinese culture today, as well as his expectation of the possible role of China in the future of human civilization.

Text: Feng Boyi