Thursday, May 08, 2008


Chinese Artist 徐冰 Xu Bing deals with language in a very unique way. In his ongoing work "Book from the Ground 地书" he has gathered symbols used in contemporary life, such as ones from airports (the epitome of the "global village"), and has programmed a non-phonetic language system. He hopes this new system will be accessible to all people familiar with contemporary life; since the images resemble actions in daily life and require no previous education. This system is similar to Chinese characters in the sense that it is one of recognition... this can be contrasted to English's arbitrary phonetic character system. We are certainly in an "age of reading images", advertisements use less and less words, etc.

I wonder about the practicality of this new language. Will it be possible to read at the speed we read, for example, English or Chinese? It seems we would still need to be educated to really use this language. It requires no education to understand but still requires education to use quickly. Another issue is, without a phonetic component how do we converse face to face? In what situations would we use this language?

Xu Bing's idea is very beautiful. Is it too idealistic? Is a universal language possible? And if so, what about diversity? Is it better to give up diversity for universality? In any case, as he says it is significant that he is even doing this project. It shows we have such desire for a universal language.

Other things to think about
- the origin of language
- the visual/phonetic/temporal qualities of language
- the role of the internet

Please see for more amazing work.

Another work:

Magic Carpet 魔毯

For the first Singapore Biennale, Xu Bing created a prayer carpet for the Kwan-Im Temple, the largest Buddhist Temple in Singapore.

The design of the carpet is similar in concept to Hui Su's Former Qin Dynasty creation the Xuan Ji Tu. In 1620 Hui Su created a grid of 841 characters that can be read in any number of directions and combinations. From this single grid, one can discern nearly 4,000 separate poems. In this fashion, Xu Bing selected passages from four significant faith-based texts (one Buddhist, one Gnostic, one Jewish, and one passage from Marx, all in English translation), which he then transcribed as Square Word Calligraphy, and then synthesized into one text.

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