Mathilde HK at the XU Bing solo show – Asia Society Hong Kong

You are curious about Chinese Contemporary Art?
You like works on paper and drawings?
You want to discover an artist working with signs and symbols?




Landscape Landscript, 2007, ink on Nepalese Paper, Xy Bing, picture@ravenel

During that summer 2014, the Asia Society launched an exhibition “It Begins with Metamorphosis”, the first solo show displaying major works by the Mainland artist Xu Bing in Hong Kong. That highly political figure adopted any medium available, from paper to real foliage, from iron and metal to organic beings.

The show hosted five different thematic that could be listed as following: silk and fabric making, motion pictures and history making, Tobacco industries and  manufacturing, language creation and writing, nature and still-life painting. Xu Bing worked on the transformation of rough materials into consumer goods: tobacco, silk, books, art works. His way of deconstructing traditional alphabets to create new ideograms is now his signature. Chinese Calligraphy is the basis on which Xu Bing elaborated his own code and figures, the black and white characters he invented playing with the notion of drawing and Comics. However, his recognition went far beyond that.


The character of characters, Sketches, Xu Bing,

A Book from the Sky, an installation on view for the first time in Beijing in 1988, brought Xu Bing international prominence.  Although the work wasn’t on display that time, it seemed important to me to talk about it. Printed on long sheets of papers,  A Book from the Sky presented arrangement of thousands wooden blocks , into each of which Xu Bing had carved an imaginary Chinese character. Not a single of its roughly 4000 characters—each printed with type hand-carved by the artist—is either intelligible nor in the Chinese dictionary. The ideograms forged by Xu Bing have become a symbol and his work a manifesto for contemporary creation.

The work I selected in the exhibition:

I particularly liked the first work on display: a 16 minutes Video Xu Bing made in 2014. That black and white motion picture was depicting a fancy history of China, from archaic times to contemporary industrial megalopolis, using calligraphy and ideograms. With humor, creativity and dynamism, the artist presented a kind of philosophical tale with vivid scenes. What I admired the most were the drawings and the impressive amount of details within each board, depicting a world made of pictogram, numbers, lines, points, objects, signals, mathematics, internet language, ideograms, etc.

Explanation of a Xu Bing page:

The Asia Society exhibition poster displayed a page covered with signs from the second main book written by Xu Bing, The book from the Ground. That work is featuring an alphabet inherited from the ‘airplane talk’. The following page can give you a clue of the visual language the artist was dealing with.


Book from the Ground, 1998, Detail, Xu Bing, picture@asiasociety


Topics and Keywords:

Solo: topics to focus on

Chinese art, contemporary art,  visual arts, Books and language, Calligraphy, Pop Art, contest, political work, Chinese antique paintings, History of China, History of mass-labor

Combo: on the same topic

Monograph of  the artist:  Xu Bing, Eslite Gallery, Taiwan, 2003

It begins with Metamorphosis – Asia Society
May 8 – August 31, 2014
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 11:00 – 17:00 Closed on Mondays
Tikets: 30 HKD


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