Book from the Ground

UCCA: Despite his experience working with text, Xu Bing here presents a book containing no words, only symbols. It is a book that everyone can read. The installation of Book from the Ground imitates Xu Bing’s New York studio. A close look reveals many of the original materials and drafts that he collected, organized, researched, and ultimately used to produce this work.

Xu Bing: Airport indicators and safety manuals are all based on pictograms. They convey complex things using a minimal number of words. Such indication systems can be said to be humanity’s first “universal” text. This really appealed to me.

UCCA: The ideal of transcending textual barriers is something humanity has never stopped working toward. In the wake of globalization, and with the arrival of a new age of images, Xu Bing realized that there already was a language of graphics that was constantly growing.

Xu Bing: My interest in Book from the Ground lies in the degree to which graphic symbols can be as expressive as writing. I understand, of course, that compared to mature languages their potential is limited. They’re fit to express some things; they fail in others. But I’ve become more and more convinced that we have only scratched the surface of their full potential. It’s impossible to calculate how many pictographic symbols there are today, and more are being produced at every moment.

Twenty years before, I made Book from the Sky, a book that no one could read, not even me. Here I’ve made a book that anyone can read, no matter what language you speak. In truth, these books are completely different, but they have something in common: no matter what language you speak, no matter whether or not you are educated, they are equal to every person on the planet. Book from the Sky expresses regret and vigilance towards existing writing systems; Book from the Ground expresses my views on modern textual trends and my dreams of a universal language. I know this ideal is quite large, but the significance lies in the attempt.