Animal Works

UCCA: Welcome to Xu Bing’s zoo of art. This room testifies to the many animal collaborators that the artist has worked with throughout the years.

Xu Bing: I started using live animals in my work in 1993. I had just moved to New York and hoped to make art that would shock people. In so doing, I could both assimilate into and challenge Western contemporary art. My sense at the time was that human creativity was limited, and I hoped to empower humans with the help of animals.

Looking back on it now, A Case Study of Transference is not a mature work. For me, it was more like a practice sketch. Understanding and attempting radical creative techniques isn’t a bad thing; it enriches and expands your creative language, and pushed me to reflect on the current state of contemporary art.

Animals and words are two completely different “materials.” I’m not interested in exploring either of them per se, but in using them, in discussing what lies between them. Animals can be said to be an icon of primitive or wild things, while words are the most basic conceptual element of culture. A Case Study of Transference is totally different than Book from the Sky in style. However, they are talking about the same thing: the relationship between people and culture.

UCCA: Another performance installation using pigs is Panda Zoo, for which Xu Bing put panda masks on two black-and-white Hampshire pigs and placed them in a gallery surrounded by an environment reminiscent of an elegant landscape painting.

Xu Bing: Two live pigs in New York’s SoHo District are a rare sight. Children would come to the gallery to feed them, and they grew up healthy and strong. Sometimes they would take off each other’s masks, returning to their true selves. Like my other works, this installation suggests the notion of a mask.

UCCA: Silkworms are another key player in Xu Bing’s animal works. Every summer from 1994 to 1998, Xu raised silkworms in the US and used them to complete a number of artworks.

Xu Bing: Specifically, I would like to talk about American Silkworm Series: The Opening. This installation was completed in 1998 in New York. At UCCA, viewers can see photographic documentation of this work. The installation was born out of our limited production capabilities. In the New York show, I initially planned to set up an ordinary living space and fill it with silkworms spinning silk. As the opening of the exhibition approached, however, the worms gave no indication that they were going to spin. There was nothing I could do. In my agitation, I came up with an idea: I stuck mulberry branches into a large vase and placed it in the center of the museum. During the opening, hundreds of silkworms began eating the leaves, and soon only bare branches remained. Shortly after, the worms began spinning silvery cocoons, which gradually filled the branches during the exhibition period. The verdant bouquet became a different kind of beautiful image. The artwork was technically simple, but I think it contains a certain philosophical richness. It realizes my desire to bring Eastern modes of thought to bear on contemporary art.