Xu Bing's Asia Society retrospective demonstrates conceptual thinking

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 10:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 10:39am

It Begins with Metamorphosis
Asia Society
Until August 31

This mini-retrospective at the Asia Society is the brainchild of one of China's most cerebral and challenging artists, Xu Bing.

Curator Koon Yeewan has set the tone of the exhibition by selecting a range of mostly recent artworks displaying the conceptual development of Xu's ideas and his innovative transformation of materials.

Xu came to prominence in the early 1980s with a self-developed written "language" whose form and layout looked like traditional Chinese but, in what may have been a subversive slight towards the unyielding and bureaucratic Chinese state, was unreadable nonsense. A good example of this is his large woodblock print Book from the Sky, which, however, is not included in this exhibition.

Xu's latest exploration of language is his Book from the Ground. Its development is explored within an elaborate reconstruction of a working office installation as part of the exhibition.

This language is composed of a range of symbols from the internet age, seen on electronic devices and used as shorthand in social media.

Those unfamiliar with this new lexicon, however, may find it frustrating reading.

Easier to decipher is Silkworm Book, a copy of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis that sits surrounded by silkworms. Over days, the silkworms have woven a beautiful web that completely envelops the book.

Xu has a delicate handling of nature, and in an epitaph to his father, who died of lung cancer, uses tobacco leaves in a poignant display.

John Batten