ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Xu Bing

* 1955 in Chongqing (CN), lives and works in New York (US) and Peking (CN)

Telephone, 1996–2006

The principle of Xu Bing's work is as simple as it is humorous and clever. In the popular game telephone short messages are relayed by whisper from one person to another – often until such point that the original message has been grotesquely distorted. In Telephone there is long distance between two Chinese texts: Xu has an original text – taken from a study of the literary scholar Lydia Liu, which, significantly, addresses the transfer of ideas, words, and artifacts across cultural boundaries – translated into French; from the French into Russian, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Thai before then being translated back into Chinese. In this experiment, the impossibility of a translation retaining its original meaning is also formally shown on the subject of language: the English version also includes correction notes; in the French, single passages – perhaps only those difficult to translate – are highlighted. Each text is also signed by the translators together with the date. The individual sheets of different materials thus become a signed unicum, a work of art.
As a wanderer between cultures, with the work Telephone, Xu Bing not only poses the question about the limits of language and inevitable misunderstanding. The artist wants us to consider that art also has its limits, even if it is open in some points for different interpretations. Perhaps, Xu’s work will therefore be shown also in the context of Chinese traditions, as well as in connection with Western influenced, contemporary conceptual art. (KB)


, 1996-2006