Xu Bing: This is a project about the growth of trees. The core concept of the Forest Project is a self-sustaining cycle. First, we encourage children to draw trees. We then auction these drawings online and use the profits to grow real trees. This system integrates regional art, educational research, and environmentalism. It began in Kenya over ten years ago, and has since travelled to mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, and India. I hope that the Forest Project can spread like seeds around the world.
I want everyone who participates in this project to benefit from it. My reward was what I learned when I imitated the kids’ drawings. The children’s benefit was not just to learn about art, but to see their works transformed into reality, and to understand how an ideal can come true.
I didn’t conceive of this project as an artwork, but it ended up touching upon some of the core issues in art. How can art move forward and extricate itself from contemporary dilemmas? What art forms are most suited to the present day? Where does inspiration come from? Profound concepts must take a back seat when measured against questions of the public good. Perhaps it seems unrelated to art, but only if our work maintains a certain distance from established art systems can we breathe new life into these institutions.
UCCA: At the end of the walkway, you will see two artworks. In the small glass container is a sample of air taken from Beijing during the SARS outbreak. Air Memorial is Xu Bing’s unique way of preserving this historical event.
The other artwork in the hallway is Magic Carpet, created for the Singapore Biennale. Can you read the text emblazoned in the center? It is the English word “belief,” written in Square Word Calligraphy. The carpet was originally designed for the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple. Besides the one exhibited here, Xu Bing created two other versions. However, because it is forbidden to step on sacred Buddhist texts, the other two carpets were never shown in Singapore. The drafts and installation views from Xu Bing’s Taipei retrospective on the wall record the difficult process of its production, and the artist’s respect for different religious beliefs.