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Artist brushes up on his character

Updated: 2024-03-23 10:15 ( China Daily )
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A group of visitors at the exhibition Xu Bing: Word Alchemy standing in front of Xu's work, Magic Carpet. [Photo by MAY ZHOU/CHINA DAILY]

Xu says many of his artworks have been about words, but it wasn't until years later when he looked back that he wondered why he had been so fascinated by them.

As the only living hieroglyphic language today, Chinese characters — square words — are unique and different compared to all other living languages in the world, says Xu.

With the advent of the computer age, people gradually realized that Chinese characters have played the role of a beneficial and centric gene in the development of human civilization, Xu says.

To Xu, Chinese characters act to regulate and compensate human civilization. "It functions like a contrarian that keeps civilization balanced going forward by constantly questioning it."

His animation work, The Character of Characters, which is included in the Asia Society exhibition, is about "how Chinese characters work in our brain to discern the world is different from other people", Xu says.

Chinese habitually use four-character idioms to communicate. "We like to express complicated things in a carefully arranged fashion," Xu says. "We consider the arranged order as something cultured, different from nature or unordered things."

As a result, symbols are very important in Chinese culture, Xu says. "For example, in Chinese opera, it's one symbol after another telling a story. A hand gesture or a backstep all represent something particular.

"So, my work talks about the uniqueness of Chinese characters and their influence on Chinese culture. What China has become today is inherently related to the form of Chinese characters. The strong visual component of Chinese characters provides a channel for artists to understand the unique characteristics of Chinese culture."

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