"My work invariably possesses a clue implying an attitude-- skeptical of prevailing beliefs." Why do we use characters? Characters are the most basic element of human cultures. To reform characters is to reform the most basic substance of human thinking."R-Xu Bing
Created in 1986, the Eight Suns (Lot 1595) inherits the nostalgia of modest villages from the mini-wood-block print of the Broken Jade. But here, Xu substantially explores the indirectness and repetitiveness of printing. The Eight Suns is presented in the format of eight consecutive wood-block prints on a paper six-meter long. The refined incisions and printing ink produce beauty in clarity and rationality. With the pattern flowing from the midday to setting sun, the painting conjures rhythmic variations in sentiments, recalling the artist's saying, "the repetitiveness in art possesses artistic elements that match the resonance of life." The format of hand-scroll not only allows us to view closely but also, when strolling along, to enjoy the fun of seeing the scenery change with each step. Furthermore, the change of location of the eight suns produces chronological movements, thereby convincing us of the crisscrossing time and space and their complexity.
In 1999, Xu participated in the Helsinki-Himalayan Exchange project curated by Finland's Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, which renewed his interest in life drawing. He commented that sitting on a mountain top, facing real mountains and writing the characters of "mountain" is "painting mountains as well; to 'write' mountains using Chinese characters and to 'paint' mountains is the same thing." During the process, the artist suspends discussions relating to styles and concepts of the history of paintings and calligraphy, and instead goes straight to touch on the most basic part of culture. Later on, in the "Landscript" series, he put this view into practice to a deeper level. The Landscript: Revisit 4 (Lot 1592) created in 2003 has, at the right hand side, a cliff piled up by rubble of Chinese character,"rock", whereas in the middle and the background are "wood" and "forest". Xu uses the most peculiar aspects of Chinese characters to link ideas and images together, which is a return to the archaic characters when they were "known by seeing and understood by observing" and "articulated in object images and twisted to follow object forms". Hence, Xu enable his work to go beyond the limits of language, race and culture.
With the access to catalogues of paintings and the prevailing techniques, the Chinese literati's way of "life drawing" and "writing painting" since after Yuan had reached an impasse resulted from endless repetitive reproduction and copying of characters and images. During artistic creation, Xu re-examines and testifies the relation between nature and cultural interpretations. Instead of inscribing poems and calligraphy, he searches for the "writing" bearing none of cultural legacies and values. When painting, "it is also writing and composing poems; you may refer them [the characters] as a piece of calligraphy, painting or writing as well." Xu smashes the shackles and restrictions inherited from the literati tradition and, with the earliest and the most primitive form of characters, accomplishes the ideal of fusing poetry, calligraphy and paintings into one.
In 2004, Xu created the installation "Where Does the Dust Itself Collect?", he collected for 24 hours the dust blown from the site of September 11th to the floor of the exhibition hall. The dust was accumulated into the form of two lines of a poem composed by Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen Buddhism in China: "As there is nothing from the first, where does the dust itself collect?" In the same year, the artist created the Zen Poetry I (Lot 1593) writing in the style of Square Word Calligraphy, in which, quoted from D.T. Suzuki's The Introduction of Zen Buddhism published in 1964, he writes: "The bodhi is not like the tree; The mirror bright is nowhere shining: As there is nothing from the first, Where does the dust itself collect?" Zen Buddhism emphasizes the idea of enlightenmentww"enlightened upon hearing, and seeing the truth instantly." Writing the Buddhist poem in English calligraphy, Xu breaks the existing language barrier, and in this non-Chinese and non-English narration, he expands the dimension of thinking and offers more possibilities. Coincidently, the concept of dust of the Western Christianity shares similarity with the Eastern Zen Buddhism. The Bible says, "Everything comes from dust and goes back to dust." This means dust is the most constant element, implying every substance will return to the fundamental state. While the relation between the East and the West, and between the spiritual and material world is contrasting, in Zen Poetry I, Xu profoundly explore the possibility of their coexistence and similarity.
Xu says, "I like making obstacles for you in my work, forcing you to meet the challenge of new knowledge and ideas." The Square Word (Lot 1594) is an installation expanding the content of Square Word Calligraphy. The appearance of pen, paper, ink-stone and ink-stick explicitly indicates the fours treasures of the study. These common stationery items of the Chinese scholar's studio are, besides Chinese characters, the criteria nurturing calligraphic art. Cultural inheritance, stemming from a long history and social environment, is narrated by Xu with English characters composed in rectangular form, with the unique Chinese calligraphy and with the four treasures of scholar's studio. Hence, regardless of coming from East or the West, viewers can always find ways to breaking the norms and rethinking own cultural and intellectual cultivation.