Reading Space: Xu Bing



Brittani DiMare & Lauren Stern

As The Year of Chinese Art continues here at Colgate, the celebration of Chinese art introduced yet another brilliant exhibit to its community-Reading Space: The Art of Xu Bing. This fifteen-piece art exhibit displays the astounding work of Chinese artist Xu Bing, a master contemporary artist whose art brings forth the concepts and conceptions of words and language, often mixing these ideas with current and historical events in order to create pieces that are amazingly thought-provoking. Open for viewing from January 19 through March 5, the exhibit can be found in the Clifford Gallery in Little Hall and is most definitely something to take a look at.

Born in Chongqing, Sichuan province in 1955, Xu Bing grew up in Beijing and began studying art and printmaking as early as the 1970s. The work displayed in Reading Space encompasses several of Bing’s pieces from the last twenty years, all of which have been chosen for their direct connection to the theme of “reading”-something that is quite evident by both the title of the exhibit and a first glance at the works themselves.

However, what is so stunningly brilliant about Bing’s art is that nothing is quite what it first appears to be. Something as universal as letters or reading is suddenly twisted and transformed so that things you perhaps should understand, you don’t, and things that you wouldn’t ever think to understand, you find you can. As you move from one piece to another, the artwork takes the ideas of language and communication to entirely new levels.

Each of Bing’s fifteen pieces is something to behold. All have their own purpose and secret. One of Bing’s most prominent pieces, A Book from The Sky, appears at first sight to be a large scroll containing Chinese characters that, as native English-speakers, most wouldn’t even try to comprehend. In reality, however, a native Chinese-speaker would have no more luck deciphering the characters than the English-speaker-A Book from The Sky is written in four thousand “false” Chinese characters, letters of Bing’s own creation. Language and comprehension take a new turn as the secret to this “language” is revealed. Quite the opposite, Bing’s Square Word Calligraphy: Quotations from Chairman Mao, once again appears at first glance to be written in Chinese characters, but far from the previous “false” undecipherable characters from A Book from The Sky, these “false” characters turn out to be words, written in overlapping and connected English letters that make up each word. With some serious concentration and a bit of pensive head cocking, one can read the scrolls as if they were written in traditional English.

“When you first see [the exhibits], you have no idea what you’re really looking at,” first-year student Anneliese Gretsch said. “But once you understand what he’s doing, it’s amazing.”

“It’s like a commentary about what you perceive and what’s real,” fellow first-year Michelle Krelko added. “The actual visual impact of the art is so complex. Nothing is simply what you can take at face value. There’s always something more.”

Indeed, Bing’s work does offer something more to all its viewers. The exhibit is certainly something to see, whether you’re a devoted art student or just a curious viewer. As The Year of Chinese Art progresses, it truly makes one wonder what else other contemporary Chinese artists have in store for the Colgate community.