On 「Background Story」


Walking into the exhibition hall, the first thing that enters the audience's vision is an elegant oriental landscape painting.When the audience walked behind the painting, what they saw was a pile of cardboard, branches and other debris. The audience was surprised to find that the original painting was created from these inconspicuous materials in life.Usually, there is also an authentic ancient painting on display at the same time. It turns out that this “painting” is the author's imitation of an ancient painting in a special way.

The "Behind the Story" series was started when I was invited by the American Academy in Berlin in 2004 to spend a two-month stay in Berlin. The first one was exhibited in the "Xu Bing in Berlin" retrospective exhibition held by the German National Museum of East Asia.

For such retrospective exhibitions, I always have as many new works on display as possible.Since I am in Germany, I hope that the new works in that exhibition can combine the history of Germany's “World War II”, the history of this museum and the special conditions of the exhibition venue.

When I consider exhibitions, it is customary to get to know the exhibition venue first.This museum is mainly based on the collection and research of East Asian art. There are ready-made large glass display cabinets in the exhibition hall, and there is a circle of walkways behind the display cabinets. I really want to use the particularity of this space to make new works.During my stay in Berlin, I learned more about German history and learned about the history of this museum for the exhibition.During the ”World War II" period, the museum lost 95% of its collection, about 5,400 pieces, which were moved to the Soviet Union by the Soviet Red Army and are still in the basement of the St. Petersburg Museum. The two countries have been negotiating on this matter.The Russians were more emotional about this. They said that we had so many people who died in World War II, and these paintings could not be exchanged for the lives of those people.I once asked Mr. Willibald Veit, deputy director of the German National Museum of East Asia in Berlin, about this history. At the end of the conversation, he said something that impressed me. He said: “Of course, what I am telling you is only the story of these works during this period of time. They must have had longer stories before.”

The next day, I went to Valenciennes, Spain, for another exhibition. During the transfer, I saw the interesting effect of potted plants behind the frosted glass wall in the airport office area. It really feels like Chinese painting smudged.At this time, I thought of the large glass cabinet of the Berlin Art Museum and the lost paintings, and I was inspired by the creation of "The Story Behind".From the archives of these lost works, I selected three Oriental landscape paintings as materials and copied them in my special way.The work I did for this installation was just to change the transparent glass into frosted glass. When the debris behind it directly touches the frosted glass, the other side of the glass will show a clear image of the object. When the object is separated from the frosted glass by a certain distance, the image displayed on the front becomes blurred, just like the effect of Chinese ink painting smudging on rice paper, the regulation of this distance constitutes this special painting modeling method.

This series was later produced in many art museums around the world, and it was basically based on the collections of that art museum.When it was exhibited at the British Museum in 2011, curator Jan said: “I think this is a kind of painting."I said, "It's a painting of light."”The natural scenery we see is presented by the structure of the object and the irradiation of light.Traditional painting is to transform the scene reflected by light into a two-dimensional plane through canvas, rice paper, and pigments, using the principles of perspective, light and shadow modeling, and color.Looking at the painting, what you see is a “direct painting” that portrays the feeling of spatial light and objects on a material plane."The Story Behind" is a painting of light and shadow that appears in the air. The picture presented is not composed of material pigments to imitate the effects of light and three-dimensional perception, but is formed through the regulation of light itself.In other words, the light scattered in the space is regulated in the air, and then the state of the light in the space is recorded through a piece of frosted glass that cuts off the space.The effect of this piece of frosted glass is like a slice of light in the air.

This raises the question, humans already have a variety of painting methods, why do they have to make “light painting”?Because light is richer and more subtle than direct painting of any material material, there has been a kind of “painting” that is the richest in terms of black, gray and white levels and color changes.It can express the part that other painting styles cannot, which is the reason for the existence of this kind of “painting of light”.

The contrast between the fineness of ”light painting" and the roughness of debris is the reason why the artistic language of this work takes effect.In the audience's short viewing experience, between the “beauty” of art and the debris that has nothing to do with this beauty, there is a transformation on both sides of a piece of glass, and this transformation is confirmed by the eyes.At this time, “What is the beauty of art and painting?"What is its support?”The question appeared.Han Hanbin of Columbia University (Robert E.Professor Harrist's comment on this is in place: "Xu Bing is like a magician, who can tell you the secret of the image after creating an image.However, even if the core content of the trick is debunked, the audience's response to the work is still that there is a supernatural suspense space between expectation and knowledge.You understand these things behind the frosted glass you see, this is my intention.Let's analyze the origin of this ‘beautiful’ image again; it is brought out by the story of the fate of these paintings, and it is the ghosting of their previous appearance in this museum space, and it is also the ghosting of the viewer's thoughts in Berlin."

Another thing I find interesting about this work is that it explores the special relationship between Chinese painting and nature.I have been thinking: Chinese painting can be copied in this way, but traditional oil painting cannot be copied. Although traditional oil painting is realistic, what is the reason?This caused me to think about deeper questions.Chinese painting focuses on imagery, but these physical objects can be used to “portray”.Some people say: “The Chinese painting method of cracking has ‘clothed hemp cracking’, but you use real hemp to express it.”What is the relationship between the artistic techniques of East and West and nature?There are fundamental differences between Eastern painting and Western painting in the alignment with the world and the method of artistic transformation.Perhaps it is not only the difference between imagery and realism, but also the difference in cognitive attitudes towards the “individual” and “universal” nature of things.In Western realistic painting, it generally portrays a mountain in a certain place or a tree in a certain place, while in Chinese landscape painting, a stone can represent a mountain, which means all mountains.A branch can represent a tree, and this tree means this type of tree.This is also one of the reasons why this technique is more suitable for copying Chinese painting.Another reason is that when I visited Fuchun Mountain this year for "The Story Behind: Fuchun Mountain Residence Map", I found that sometimes we see a beautiful view like a Chinese landscape painting, but it is not what we saw when we took it.The reason is that Chinese painting depicts the physiological eye that regulates the pupils at any time everywhere in the scene, while Western classical painting depicts the effect of the painter locking his eyes at a fixed aperture of the “eye of the camera” to see (although there was no photography at that time).It can be said that Chinese painting is the result of a uniform “exposure” of lithography, like the big glass of "The Story Behind".This part answers the question of why it is more suitable for imitating Chinese painting.

This series, like my other series, is constantly being done and developed. It is all about finding a channel for yourself, trying to touch the core of Chinese culture, and seeing what else is in it that we don't know.

Here, I will talk about the installation materials and my views on the use of materials.Another reason why "The Story Behind" is effective for the viewer comes from the transformation of common things around him.The reason is that these are the most daily, peripheral, and least problematic things (words also belong to this category), and the effect may be doubled.It first brings art closer to the viewer's usual experience, and within the scope of the viewer's self-confidence, relaxation, and familiarity, it borrows the viewer's own parts to do subversive work.It's like Monkey King drilling into the Bull Demon King's head and then doing it.

We can analyze the source of creative inspiration through the process of generating this work.Where did the inspiration come from, and why do some people have it?This is what almost everyone cares about.

In the 1980s, I was in the Academy of Fine Arts. In order to teach and find “creative inspiration”, I tried to truthfully record the moment, environment, and thinking activities of each creative idea.I tracked down what caused a certain creative idea to appear, and how the thinking developed after it appeared.For example, if you accidentally see something, have a special feeling or have a creative idea, at this moment, your thinking will be extremely active, and all signals related to “this thing” will come together.All relevant experiences: visual, literary, sound, smell, texture, everything, including the size of the work, material, traditional or modern... thoughts will be squeezed in at the same time.It's like the fast-forward process of a game of Go, quickly filling up every point.Although it is short-lived, if it is truthfully recorded in words, it will be several pages of paper.And the result of the work will record the ins and outs of you, and you can't hide it.If you want to show off something through your creation, or want to cover up something, even the slightest thought will be exposed by the work.Art is honest, and this is the only basis on which we can trust art.The laws of this composition are equal and common, but there may be some differences in the speed of thinking connection and transformation.There is no way. It is a physiological content, just like some people run fast and some people run slowly.But in art, it is not necessarily good soon.


The process of inspiration sounds so simple, and its acquisition is often accidental.For example, at the airport that day, I did not pass by this office. Even if I passed by, there was no such plant behind the frosted glass. Even if there is all this, if there is no glass showcase in the art museum, there may not be a reaction. .Even if there are both, but if you don't understand that history or don't have a sense of urgency to use these elements to make a new work in your consciousness, association will not happen.The touch of several factors and thinking, any one of which is missing in the middle, may be another result, or this work will never appear.And this “everything is ready” is not the most critical factor in determining the source of inspiration for the work.So what is it?My understanding is: you, a person, have long been interested in and concerned about the kind of issues hidden behind the “lost painting” incident. When it poses a terrible problem for you, these piecemeal materials can become “everything is ready”.Even without that piece of airport frosted glass, there will be other things “appearing”, which may be more suitable or inappropriate. The way the work is presented will be completely different, but the core part of your artistic expression must still be the point of “interest and attention”.

The first draft in 2006, the supplementary materials were completed in 2014