Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Redline Tracing Book

  • Description

    Xu Bing was born in Chongqing, Sichuan province, and grew up in Beijing. Sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution he later returned to Beijing to study at the Central Academy of Fine Art where he specialised in printmaking. During the 1980s he spent four years creating the Tianshu or ‘Book from the Sky’, which became one of the most written-about works of art of the late 20th century. Its fascination lies in it being ostensibly a classical printed book in four volumes, while its content in fact comprises a meaningless text of several thousand invented Chinese characters. Xu Bing settled in New York in 1993 and has maintained a studio there since his appointment in 2008 as Vice-President of the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. His work continues to explore language, symbol and communication.

    The two volumes Square Word Calligraphy were developed in the mid-1990s with a view to acquainting the Western viewer with the processes of Chinese calligraphy. The ‘characters’ in it are English words transfigured to occupy a square space as Chinese characters do, thus giving them the appearance of Chinese script. The first volume [EA2009.35] comprises instructions on holding the brush, applying ink and so forth, along the lines of a traditional calligraphy instruction book. The second volume here is a model or copy book, with words in red outlines for the reader or pupil to copy the stroke sequence. Tracing books were used for practice in learning how to write with a brush.

  • Details

    Associated place
    1994 - 1996
    Xu Bing (born 1955)
    Material and technique
    zinc plate relief, oil-based ink on grass paper; staple bound
    book 39.2 x 23.5 x 0.3 cm (height x width x depth)
    page 39.2 x 23.5 cm (height x width)
    pages 16 (count)
    Material index
    Technique index
    Object type index
    No. of items
    Credit line
    Purchased with the assistance of the Friends of the Ashmolean Museum, 2009.
    Accession no.

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    • currently in research collection

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