UCCA: As you enter this room filled with the scent of tobacco, you will see a series of artworks related to cigarettes. For Xu Bing, tobacco represents an opportunity to evoke a variety of cultural and historical memories.
Xu Bing: In 1999, I went to Duke University to deliver a lecture. When I arrived in Durham, I could smell the tobacco in the air. A friend told me that the Duke family made its fortune in cigarettes, and that Durham is also known as a “tobacco town.” It’s also called the City of Medicine because of its cutting-edge cancer treatments. There is an interesting relationship between tobacco and the culture here, so I started thinking I could perhaps make art using tobacco.
I began collecting research material and conducting interviews. From the Duke library’s many resources, I learned about the Duke family’s historical connection to China. They were the first to bring cigarette rolling technology to Shanghai. I then thought to bring this project to Shanghai. Four years later, I realized “Tobacco Project 2: Shanghai,” curated by Professor Wu Hung. In 2005, I started learning about the history of tobacco in Virginia. There, tobacco was closely connected to the first settlers in the American mainland. Virginia is the now production center of Marlboro cigarettes. In 2011, I completed “Tobacco Project 3: Virginia.”
UCCA: The exhibition showcases fifteen pieces from the Tobacco Project. Most prominent is the tiger-skin carpet in the center of the floor. Above is a reproduction of Along the River During the Qingming Festival, traversed by a half-burned cigarette. In the back corner is Tobacco Book, made literally of tobacco leaves. Xu Bing uses these different methods to raise questions about the values and judgments that surround the issue of tobacco.
Xu Bing: Tobacco has the power to permeate all spaces. It ultimately becomes ash, linking it with every person and the surrounding world. There are so many profound materials used in the production of cigarettes, and the materials connected to it are endless. Making this work was like opening Pandora’s box.