Interview with Xu Bing: The Art View and Action Logic of a Fatalist

TEXT:Sue Wang    DATE: 2018.1.22

Xu Bing’s solo exhibition “Xu Bing,” hosted by the United Art Museum and CEC Optics Valley, supported by the Ullence Center for Contemporary Art, and curated by Feng Boyi and Wang Xiaosong, will remain on view till May 8th, 2018.

Trying to summarize Xu Bing and his work as completely as possible is not an easy task at all. His artistic expression has such an open and rich context that he has been infinitely open to the possibilities of artistic language and imagination, while he has mediated thoroughly on society, culture and reality and provided his unique treatments which trigger broad and delicate tensions, which also makes it really difficult to summarize in a few words. As a spectator and inferior artist, I think that I could obtain some interwoven clues only by tracing the development path of his ideas and the cultural context when he created his works. As for this unique artist who cannot be bypassed by contemporary art history in China even in the international world, where do his creative strength and his perception come from? Where does his unique value lie? What kind of enlightenment does his art experience and thinking method bring to us and can it be borrowed, transformed and absorbed?

Anyone who has been in contact with Xu Bing would know about his modesty and gentle quality. Quoted from words about him by those who live besides him, “he has never been witnessed being angry with anyone, and never has he hurt others’ feelings.” Even confronted with adversity, he never complains and frankly accepts and resolves it all silently. In contrast, his artistic thinking and performance are so “deviant” that they constantly lead people to jump out of their inherent cognitive and thinking modes. It seems that he has “a most ingenious brain” but he always said that he is incapable of acting, thus he has to be more hardworking and serious than anyone. He constantly emphasizes that “art is dominated by fate”, this is a sort of “fate of destiny”, it is by no means planned. Such a gentle and unpretentious artist, has actually created so many artworks in great quantity and quality, which arouses our curiosity. What kind of experience has created such a “Xu Bing”? This might provide an entrance for us to try to understand Xu Bing.

Xu Bing mentioned in his essay entitled “Ignorance as Nourishment”, if compared with radical and enlightened youths of the 1970s, he “has embarked on an ignorant road”, which is related to the environment that he grew up in Peking University. As a child who was born into a family with problems during the revolutionary age, being honest, subdivided and serious became the feature of their character. His experience of running a maroon publication “Brilliant Mountain Flowers” when he attended a team trip, was considered to be the unique period of his life when devoted to “pure preoccupations.” Whether his experience of not smoking a cigarette during the period of educated youth or having the longest interval of not visiting or that he guarded the apricot forest but he did not eat any apricots, all of which brought the satisfaction of self-restraint, or his determination that he did not return home during the whole winter vacation as all he intended to solve was the basic drawing problems, Xu Bing’s pursuit of “perfection” really comes from the character of “physiological indulgence” born within him. To a certain extent, this determines his attitude, method and behavior of logic when he creates.

Then, where do the nutrition and ideological foundation Xu Bing relies on in his creations come from? He wrote in his preface to “My True Characters”: introspection of the national character, wisdom in cultural genetics, the experiences we obtain from related socialist experiments as well as the experience we learn from the West. These qualified features are intertwined with blind sports, which constitute our unique nourishment.

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