A Book from the Sky (天书). Xu Bing (徐冰). Mixed media installation. 1987-1991.
Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing was born in 1955 and served as the vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing from 2008-2014. He is currently an A.D. White Professor-at-large at Cornell University.
First exhibited in 1988, A Book from the Sky was produced after China’s reform and opening up policies began taking place, which gave Chinese artists access to western philosophies, pop culture, and artwork.
The exhibit features large scrolls hanging from the ceiling, as well as panels on the walls and books on the floor. In total, 4,000 characters cover the exhibit, each distinct and designed to resemble Chinese characters, but is in fact unintelligible and meaningless. The Chinese title of the work, tianshu, can refer to heavenly or divine texts, but has now evolved to bear the meaning of “gibberish”. Thus, this work invokes the audience to explore their views on language and culture.