Body Outside of Body
Materials: printed post-its.
This work was created for an exhibition at the Ginza Graphic Gallery in Japan examining the dynamic changes taking place in the book industry in the countries that use Chinese characters in their language systems - Japan, Korea, and China. Xu's work focuses on the idea of language and digitalization. The title of the work is derived from a passage in the classic 15th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, in which the supernatural Monkey, Sun Wukong, does battle with a demon and finds himself losing. Using the magical method of ''shen wai shen'' (which in modern terms could roughly be translated as self-cloning) Monkey takes a strand of his own hair and puts it in his mouth, thereby releasing thousands of miniature replicas of himself that do battle with and defeat the demon.
Using Chinese, Japanese and Korean, respectively, to write out this passage from the tale, the artist displayed the three versions on separate panels mounted on the wall, with each character inscribed on its own small, square notebook. Audience members were invited to freely tear off sheets of characters, unexpectedly revealing underneath a word written in a different language. This random mixing resulted in a scrambling of languages within one narrative, like different texts jumbled together in a computer error, or the cacophony resulting from different languages being spoken at once. At other times the random mixing of words regained a kind of normalcy and coherence.
On the back of each sheet of paper was inscribed Xu Bing's personal website address: http://www.xubing.com. One implication of the work is the notion that through Internet technology one can attain something of the magical capacity for self-generation displayed in the story.
Tobacco Project: Durham
Trade cards for Chinese Spirit
Trade cards for Chinese Spirit
Traveling Down the River
Study for Traveling down the River
Longing, installed in Pack House at Duke Homestead
Xu Bing working at Tobacco Book
Xu Bing visiting a local tobacco factory
Xu Bing at work
Location: The Duke Homestead & Tobacco Museum, The Perkins Library Gallery, Duke University, and Pack House at Duke Homestead, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Medium: Mixed media installation/ tobacco and tobacco related objects
In 1999, Xu Bing accepted an invitation to lecture at Duke University in Durham, North Caroline, and serve as artist-in-residence. The minute he arrived in Durham, he could smell tobacco in the air. He soon learned that the Duke family had got its start farming tobacco, so Durham has long had a reputation as a "tobacco town." On the other hand, because of Duke Medical Center, renowned for its cancer research, it is also a mecca of medical treatment. Xu Bing was intrigued by the ironical paradox that this tobacco capital continued to promote tobacco products but at the same time established an advanced medical center for cancer treatment. Perhaps not coincidentally, Xu's own father died of lung cancer after smoking for many years.
Through trips to farms, factories, and historical sites, coupled with archival research and reading, Xu came to understand the deep intertwined bond between the people, the industry, the Duke family, the university, and the city. Based on his research and personal experience, he created a variety of objects related to tobacco that compose Tobacco Project: Durham.
Selected work description:
Tobacco Book, 2000
The tobacco industry has a habit of calling tobacco “golden leaves.” This book, constructed entirely out of these “golden leaves,” is printed with the story of how the Duke family brought the cigarette trade into China: “[James B.] Duke’s first words upon learning of the invention [of the automatic cigarette rolling machine] were: ‘Bring me the atlas.’ When they brought it he turned over the leaves, looking not at the maps but at the bottom, until he came to the legend, ‘Pop.: 430,000,000.’ ‘That,’ he said, ‘is where we are going to sell cigarettes.’” (as quoted in Sherman Cochran, Big Business in China). Thus began a thrilling history of capital flows and cultural clashes with tobacco at their core. After this proclamation, Duke sent a young employee to China to promote his tobacco cultivation and rolling technology. If one considers cigarettes a form of culture, then their transmission to China can be likened to early missionaries (before then, Chinese people only used pipes).
Traveling Down the River, 2000
A long uncut cigarette burned on a reproduction of a famous Chinese handscroll painting, Along the River during the Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan.
"Zhonghua" brand cigarettes, rubber-stamped with various English texts from Quotations by Chairman Mao (Little Red Book) in original metal case.