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From the page:

My work and my method of thinking have been my search for the living word.
-Xu Bing

A reflection on language and the nature of writing has been at the core of Xu Bing's art since the beginning of his career in China during the mid-1980s. It is therefore particularly fitting that the Morgan, a library as well as a museum, should present his spectacular installation, The Living Word, a poetic evocation of the relationship between the written word and its meaning.

"In The Living Word," Xu Bing explained, "the dictionary definition of niao (bird) is written on the gallery floor in the simplified text created by Mao. The niao characters then break away from the confines of the literal definition and take flight through the installation space. As they rise into the air, the characters gradually change from the simplified text to standardized Chinese text and finally to the ancient Chinese pictograph for 'bird.' The characters are rainbow colored to create a magical, fairy-tale quality."

The elegance of the shimmering characters that gradually metamorphose into birds as they ascend masks the subversive nature of the work. While the modern, simplified Chinese characters are fixed to the floor, their form and meaning set, earlier forms of scripts embody an increasing sense of freedom as one moves back in time, from traditional calligraphy to the original pictographs based on images of nature. Xu Bing said that he chose the bird to suggest "escaping the confines of human written definition."

The title of the installation points to the Buddhist inspiration that informs Xu Bing's work. "Buddhists believe," the artist wrote, "that 'if you look for harmony in the living word, then you will be able to reach Buddha; if you look for harmony in lifeless sentences, you will be unable to save yourself.' . . . My work and my method of thinking have been my search for the living word."


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Thanks to gladsdotter (Jane) and anitab (Ani) for this one!