Between Character and Calligraphy
OCAT Xi’an’s programme launches on November 3, 2013 with the scholarly exhibition “Between Character and Calligraphy”, featuring the works of the leading calligraphers in China Wang Dongling, Qiu Zhenzhong, as well as Xu Bing who is one of China’s most respected international contemporary artists. The exhibition is curated by leading scholars and artist Yan Shanchun and Qi Xiaochun.
“In Chinese contemporary art, calligraphy has always been relegated to the margins, forming a stark contrast with the mainstream status it enjoyed in traditional culture,” says curator Yan Shanchun. “Calligraphy has been integral to the origins and changes in Chinese writing,” he continues. “It led the development of Chinese painting, and is an important carrier of Chinese culture. The influx of new artistic concepts have severed the connection between calligraphy and Chinese culture, and its values and aesthetics have come under constant attack. Yet, as an independent art form, today it enjoys renewed vitality, with numerous school, and associations arising in its name, presenting a visage of prosperity.”
“Between Character and Calligraphy” reflects on this renewed prosperity. To demonstrate this, the exhibition’s curator Yan Shanchun invited two calligraphers and one contemporary artist to examine the relationship between calligraphy and contemporary art. Despite being steeped in traditional skills of calligraphy, by exploring the various possibilities for the act of writing, Wang Dongling has broadened the visual experience of the calligraphic art. With the air of a poet and thinker, Qiu Zhenzhong uses calligraphy to open up a new space through the expansion of materials and themes. An outstanding Chinese contemporary artist, Xu Bing takes words as a core creative theme. From Book from the Sky and New English Calligraphy to Books from the Ground, the artist has spent over two decades exploring the relationships between expressive forms, meaning and reading of words. The Character of Characters, a grand-scale animation included in this exhibition, is the result of a twenty-year long work in this field.
“Since 1961, I have practiced calligraphy by copying the works of famous calligraphers every day. Half a century of consistent exercise is the ultimate self-cultivation. As a result, I can easily handle both large and small characters written either at a desk or on a wall. In 1975, to make illustrations for my book The Art of Calligraphy, I covered a drawing board with paper and practiced writing large calligraphic characters on it. Writing calligraphy directly on a wall has been practiced since ancient times. It was fashionable for literati artists during the Tang and Song dynasties, but gradually declined through the Ming and Qing dynasties. My earliest attempt at wall calligraphy was in 1999 when the China Academy of Fine Arts’ Nanshan campus was demolished. Once my studio was emptied, I wrote wall calligraphy whenever the right occasion arose. My current wall calligraphy at OCAT is at once a continuation of an ancient tradition and a fully modern calligraphy motivated by my own artistic concept.”
A highly-celebrated calligrapher, Wang Dongling (b.1945) is steeped in the Chinese Calligraphic tradition. He is also an artist full of creative energy. His brushworks involve skillful maneuvers of fingers, wrists, arms, and even his entire body. As a contemporary artist, Wang Dongling explores various possibilities of calligraphy as a form of contemporary expression. His cursive caoshu script has not only broadened the visual experience of calligraphic art, also led him to produce “written expression” on a wide-ranging scale. He sees calligraphy as a physical performance of writing that extends beyond the aesthetic values of the final calligraphic work. Equally, it is the embodiment of a calligrapher’s personal understanding of existence and his spirit. In recent years, Wang has focused on large-format cursive calligraphy, which pushes the physical limit of calligraphy and poses new questions on the relationship between the physical body and the act of writing.
Wang Dongling is currently the director of the Modern Calligraphy Research Centre at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou.
Wang Dongling’s works on display including: Lanting Preface, Longcang Temple
“ I have found a new regime (for my work), which is not only related to traditional practices (in terms of subject matter and visual form) but also concerns the imagination of contemporary visual image. Poetry is a means by which we interact with the world. It requires that the would-be poet possesses extraordinary sensitivity, intuition and imaginative expression, even in a seemingly mundane environment. Narrowing the gap between feeling and language is a quality of poetry that we habitually take for granted, yet requires devotion if it is to be achieved. The poet also needs the ability to imagine something through all its possibilities. Practicing poetry and calligraphy simultaneously over the years has helped me to turn these qualities into natural instincts and has subsequently opened up a new avenue for contemporary calligraphy; certainly, an avenue of my own. Writing my own poetry as calligraphy is thus a means to access my deepest spiritual world. My calligraphy is not merely a visual or conceptual endeavor, but a means to unify my imagination and creativity.”
Qiu Zhenzhong (b.1947) is a calligrapher whose practice unfolds with the air of a poet and thinker. Dedicated to the transition of calligraphy to contemporary art, Qiu Zhenzhong has opened up a new space for calligraphic creation through expanding its materials and themes. For this artist, the content of writing and the form of writing are two inseparable essential elements in calligraphy. Each character, sentence, paragraph, brushstroke and even the structure of character and composition are all highly relevant to the artistic quality. In order to further develop the core value of calligraphy in an increasingly open and diverse contemporary world, Qiu has made relentless pursuit on both intellectual and practical levels in the last thirty years.
Qiu Zhenzhong is currently a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
Qiu Zhenzhong’s works on display including: Writings to be Verified, New Poems
“It seems to me that the Chinese personality and Chinese ways of thinking, attitudes towards aesthetics and even physiological rhythms are intricately connected to the styles of written characters. When I write the character ‘mountain’ in front of a real mountain or ‘water’ by the riverside, I find a profound understanding of the verb ‘to write’. At this moment, I forget about all previous discussions of brush-stokes and styles in the history of calligraphy and painting. Everything I knew before yields to that particular moment… Then I realise that the characters I write are always influenced by famous calligraphers such as Yan Zhengqing or calligraphy masterpieces Cao Quan Tablet. The best state-of-being would be ignorance of what ‘calligraphy’ is so that I could simply write the character ‘mountain’ in front of a real mountain with ease and honesty. Beautifully written characters should bear no trace of anybody else. Only a true master can archive this.”
Xu Bing (b.1955) is one of the world’s most influential contemporary artists. Chinese writing is a central concern in his artistic practice. His most important work Book from the Sky created during 1985-1988, consists of 4000 pseudo-characters printed in Song-style thread-bound books and across large skeins of rice paper. In the ensuing decades, he has continued to explore the connections between the form and the meaning in the practice of Chinese writing on multiple levels.
Xu Bing is currently the vice-dean of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
Xu Bing’s works on display including: The Character of Characters, The New English Calligraphy