Bing Xu is active/lives in New York / China. Bing Xu is known for conceptual, meaning of language, live creature installation.
Biography from the Archives of askART
The following art review is from The New York Times
Biography from the Archives of askART
Xu Bing: An Artist Who Bridges East and West
By JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU
Published: May 19, 2011
HONG KONG — In early May, assistants from Xu Bing's studios in New York and Beijing scoured the gardens and dried flower stalls of London for material he could use for his next big installation.
The technique is not new to Mr. Xu. He has used what he calls "collected items" before, like a tank-flattened bicycle from the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and dust from the destruction caused by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York. Part of what makes his most recent work interesting is its placement at the British Museum, an institution better known for historical artifacts than experimental art. The show, part of his "Background Story" series, opened on May 12.
One of China's best-known artists and the recipient of a so-called genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation, Mr. Xu bridges the very old and the very new. His new installation is a tall box with various materials inside that mimic the mountains, water and buildings of a 17th-century Chinese ink painting. That original landscape, by Wang Shimin and dating to 1654, is part of the British Museum's collection and is displayed with its contemporary counterpart.
Viewed from the front of the box that stands at a height of 5 meters, or 16 feet, the new work takes on a slightly blurred appearance through a pane of frosted glass, "like the way ink looks when it sinks into paper," Mr. Xu said. But the back is left transparent, so when visitors walk to the other side they can clearly see the dried plants, corn husks, crumpled paper and other debris he has amassed from those sites across London.
"I like to use local materials like tree branches or garbage," Mr. Xu said. "It makes for a more direct, intimate relationship with the viewer."
Mr. Xu emigrated to the United States in 1990 and did not move back to China until 2008, when he was appointed vice president for international relations at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, known as CAFA. Since then, he has been looked to as a cross-cultural spokesman, a role he seems to wear uneasily.
Just before his trip to London, Mr. Xu stopped by Hong Kong for a university lecture that happened to take place the same week that protests erupted over Ai Weiwei, a fellow artist who was arrested in April. In Hong Kong, which allows demonstrations that would be barred on the mainland, local artists illuminated images of Mr. Ai onto the walls of government buildings, a move criticized by the People's Liberation Army.
"I don't wish to comment on this," Mr. Xu said in an interview in Hong Kong.
"I still have to live there," he added, referring to Beijing. That same week his silence was noted in a Financial Times article, headlined "Apolitically Engaged."
There are parallels between Mr. Xu and Mr. Ai. Two years apart in age, they are of a generation of pioneering artists born in the 1950s who came to prominence with the emergence of Chinese contemporary art in the 1980s. Both have spent considerable time in New York and both have been praised for bridging East and West. Both also were praised by the government in 2008 — Mr. Ai for co-designing the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics and Mr. Xu for his university appointment.
But the two could not be more different in style. Mr. Ai, who has created some abrasive and openly critical works, is now a brash activist working outside the system. Mr. Xu, a soft-spoken, owlish academic with round glasses and feathery hair, is a prominent figure in China's top art institute.
While he would not address criticism of China for Mr. Ai's treatment, Mr. Xu did comment on what he saw as a non-symmetrical level of understanding between East and West.
"The West generally doesn't care much about what happens outside of the West," Mr. Xu said. "Whereas people outside of the West care very much what happens there."
He added: "We've been learning from the West for the last 100 or 200 years. It was Western culture that pushed human development over the last century. It is only now that things have changed and people are paying attention to China."
Kai-yin Lo, an art expert in Hong Kong who was involved in promoting Mr. Xu's installation at the British Museum, saw him as an in-between figure.
"Xu Bing is China's international artist, and his art seems to be more appreciated abroad than in China," she said from London. "While well versed in tradition, and in the culture and mores of the Communist regime, Xu Bing also poses cerebral and representational challenges to their validity and values."
Mr. Xu majored in printmaking at the art school where he is now vice president. He is perhaps best known for two linguistic innovations: For Book From the Sky, which he created from 1987 to 1991, he invented an alphabet of 4,000 nonsense Chinese characters, carved them into wooden printing blocks and crafted hundreds of books using traditional typesetting and binding techniques.
After that, he came up with the Square Word Calligraphy system, which renders English words through Chinese brushstrokes. Chinese readers are frustrated because it seems like they should be able to read the letters and words, but they can't. English readers see the Chinese-looking script and immediately dismiss it as illegible. It is only after the trick is pointed out that they realize they actually can read the writing.
It was Mr. Xu's generation that brought conceptual art to prominence in China. Since his student days at CAFA in the 1970s, there has been a sea change in the scope and direction of art education. Then, there were seven majors and 80 students. Now CAFA has more than 20 majors, including new offerings like animation, and nearly 5,000 students.
For decades, Chinese academies relied on an old European beaux-arts model, with an emphasis on technique. They have now branched out but still hold onto basic classical training.
He was critical of some overseas art academies that, he felt, relied too heavily on theory and not enough on basics. "We learned the techniques of the West, but then we watched the West throw it away," he said.
On Sept. 10, he will open the third installation of his Tobacco Project in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. It will include a 440-pound, or 200-kilogram, block of tobacco printed with the words "light as smoke."
The first segment of this installation was shown in Durham, North Carolina, in 2000 and followed the history of the American tobacco industry. The second segment was shown in China, now the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer. Past Tobacco Project works included a voice reading the medical records of his father, who died of lung cancer, and a book of tobacco leaves that was devoured by beetles over the course of the exhibition.
Similarly, his British Museum installation will be dismantled after it closes on July 10, as the organic matter inside will naturally rot away. Like a crushed bicycle, or 9/11 dust, it is meant to be a fleeting commentary on a changing world.
Aileen Li contributed to this research.
An emigrant to the United States from China in 1989 following the crackdown on the arts at that time, Xu Bing is a conceptual artist focused on "hybrid cultures and hybrid language", the reconciling of Western and Eastern cultures. To make his point, he does large-scale installations, some with live creatures such as birds, silkworms, sheep and pigs. In Washington DC at the zoo, he did a simulated zoo exhibit of the giant panda environment.
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At his summer 2004 New York exhibition at the Museum of East Asian Art, he created an installation called "Where Does the Dust Itself Collect?" The title references a Zen poem that asserts the importance of keeping one's mind dust free. Bing's belief is that one should not be dust free because dust is a very stable, peaceful, unchanging material and, because of those qualities, is a very Zen material. This work features dust from Ground Zero that has been distributed by a leaf blower into wire-handled stencils that spell out a message relating to the theme.
Ann Wilson Lloyd, "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust", The New York Times, July 12, 2004
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