Last week I was able to attend Xu Bing’s lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. I was introduced to his work during grad school in my Typography I class by my professor, Lucinda Hitchcock. As part of my graduate thesis, I researched his type installations so I was very excited to hear him speak. He was extremely impressive and I left the lecture all that more intriqued!
My impression of Xu Bing is that of a scholar, whose articulate study of type and language questions the boundaries of how human beings communicate through not only spoken word, but also imagery. For several years, Bing has been creating a libary and storybook based on symbols he has collected at airports and other locations. His “modern-day pictograms” allow him to express content through basic pictures. His work is cleverly embedded with an underlying sense of humor and this particular study reminds me of symbols once found on walls of caves and other ancient structures.
The lecture culminated in Xu Bing showing pictures of his current work in China. He is creating two phoenix to be located in an elaborate hotel / office building. Because I work as an architect, I found this to be particularly fascinating due the fact that he is creating this project entirely from the scrap material leftover from the construction of the building. Using what would otherwise be trash, Xu Bing’s materials consist of metal, piping, plastic components, and other found materials. He is also lighting the work with selected dots of LED lights so that the pieces will be illuminated when it is dark outside. Described by Bing to be similar to the stars in constellations, he is picking points to light on each phoenix, thereby creating his own version of a nighttime sky. We were able to see a few of the pictures of the work in progress and I cannot wait to see the completed compositions! To learn more about Xu Bing, check out his website at www.xubing.com.