Columbia University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery celebrates the beginning of the academic year with a presentation of Xu Bing’s Square Word Calligraphy Classroom. This thought-provoking, interactive installation by the world-renown contemporary Chinese artist invites visitors to rediscover what it means to write and to read.
Square Word Calligraphy Classroom is open to the public from Wednesday, September 7, through Saturday, October 22. The gallery welcomes visitors to the opening reception on Wednesday, September 14, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. After the reception, the artist will discuss his work in a lecture sponsored by Columbia’s School of the Arts. Related exhibition events will be posted on the Wallach Art Gallery website. The gallery is located on the eighth floor of Schermerhorn Hall on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, 116th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. To learn more, call 212-854-2877.
In Square Word Calligraphy Classroom, Xu Bing has devised a method of writing English words that resemble Chinese characters. Hewing closely to traditional Chinese calligraphy, the artist offers instruction in the formation of each letter in the Roman alphabet in a calligraphic style. A simple set of rules for the composition of words allows one to write English using Chinese calligraphic principles. As a piece of conceptual art, Xu Bing has composed and published a manual of “Chinese-style calligraphy” written entirely in these English “square words”— it mimics a Chinese book, but is legible as English. A companion volume provides instruction and practice space for the basic principles of the artist-created calligraphy system. Multiple copies of this book will be installed at the gallery in a classroom-like installation complete with teaching video. Gallery visitors are invited to study and practice the artist’s approach to writing, thus challenging patterns and habits that have been ingrained since they learned to read and write. While undergoing this process of estrangement and re-familiarization with one’s written language, the audience is reminded of the self-induced distance between systems of language.
Accompanying the installation of Square Word Calligraphy Classroom, the Wallach Art Gallery will present several large-scale calligraphic works by the artist. These include a calligraphic work that will be donated by the artist to Columbia’s C. V. Starr East Asian Library, where it will be permanently on view in the central reading area. “As part of the C.V. Starr East Asian Library’s endeavor to build diversified and unique collections in the 21st century, Xu Bing’s donation will greatly enhance the library’s renowned Chinese collection, which has benefited faculty, students, and scholars at Columbia for more than 100 years,” said Jim Cheng, director of the library.
Xu Bing’s extensive international exhibition career includes solo exhibitions at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Joan Miro Foundation, Spain; National Gallery of Prague and the Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas. His work was included in both the 45th and 51st Venice Biennales; the Biennale of Sydney and the Johannesburg Biennale.
Xu Bing was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999, the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2003, and the first Wales International Visual Art Prize, Artes Mundi in 2004. In 2006, the Southern Graphics Council awarded Xu Bing their lifetime achievement award in recognition of the fact that his “use of text, language and books has impacted the dialogue of the print and art worlds in significant ways.”
Since 2008, Xu Bing has served as Vice President at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. In 2010, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Columbia University.
Concurrently, in commemoration of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) and Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) will present the first U.S. installation of Xu Bing’s “Where Does the Dust Itself Collect?” at the Spinning Wheel Bldg, 5 W. 22nd Street, from September 8 – October 9. Utilizing dust that Xu Bing collected from the streets of Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11, the installation recreates a 25-by-20-foot field of dust across the gallery floor that is punctuated by the outline of a Chan Buddhist poem, revealed as if the letters have been removed from under the dust.