Landscript, as the title suggests, is “pictures” that Xu Bing intentionally made with “script.” This project started when the artist went to the Himalayas in Nepal in 1999 and sketched “scenes” with Chinese characters. China has had a longstanding tradition that emphasizes the interconnectedness of calligraphy and painting, considering them to have shared origins. Xu Bing’s Landscript, a landscape-in-script artwork, transforms visual images of landscapes into linguistic forms. Through this, viewers are prompted to reassess the distinctiveness of Chinese culture hidden within traditional landscape paintings and offers a unique approach to “reading a scene."
Art for the People
Art for the People at the entrance of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, 1999
Art for the People at Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2001
Art for the People , 1999
Materials: Mixed media installation;
Dimension: 36 x 9 ft (1097.3 x 273.4 cm)
Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1999; Victoria and Albert Musum, London, 2001
Commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this work was created for the Museum's ''Project Series,'' a group of monumental banners designed by international artists to be displayed outside the entrance to the museum. Xu emblazoned his eye-catching red-and-yellow banner, measuring 36ft x 9ft, with the slogan ''ART FOR THE PEOPLE: Chairman Mao said'' inscribed in his own invented system of ''Square Word Calligraphy'' -- English words deconstructed but then re-configured into forms that mimic the square structure of Chinese characters. With its prominent display above the museum entrance, the banner and its slogan served both as a motto for the museum and as a public airing of one of Mao Zedong's most fundamental views on art. Reflective also of the artist's personal conviction that Mao's concept of art for the people is universally relevant; the work exemplifies the way in which Xu integrates his particular cultural background and life experience into the international context of contemporary art.
Landscripts from the Himalayan Journal
Medium: Ink on paper
Location: Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Finland
"In 1999, I participated in the 'Himalaya Project' organized by the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art of Finland. This 'go into the thick of life' event organized by a Western Contemporary Art Museum made me pick up my sketchbook again and start practicing sketching. These are truly 'sketches' since they are paintings drawn in words. I sit in the mountain, facing the real mountain and write down 'mountain' (also painting the mountain, for Chinese characters to write the character of mountain and to paint the image of mountain turns out to be the same thing). At this moment, I am able to leave behind the discussion of styles and concepts in the history of calligraphy and painting, thus reaching the most essential and unique part of our culture. (This is how I felt back then.)
Everyone understands the principle of 'the same origin of calligraphy and painting'. However, most of them only talk about the relationship between the two from the style of brushwork. But what I experience between the two is their connection in the sense of semiotics. In my opinion, "The Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden" is actually a dictionary. 'Bamboo dots', 'pine and cypress dots', what kind of rock and what kind of wrinkle are all sorted-out 'radicals'. Students learn to draw like learning to write Chinese characters: you need to rote and memorize everything. After that, these symbols can be used to represent all things in the universe, which is why the inheritance of Chinese painting always relies on the method of "paper copy paper".
Chinese literati have always been proud of their artistry combining poetry, calligraphy and painting as a whole. The result of my attempt is to really turn these elements into one thing. You can say that they are calligraphy, you can say that they are paintings, and you can say that they are a piece of essay. "
- Xu Bing