Xu Bing: Square Word Calligraphy Classroom

September 7–October 22, 2011

In Square Word Calligraphy, Xu Bing has devised a method of writing English words in rectangular arrangements which resemble Chinese characters. A code of calligraphic script elements maps to the 26 Roman letters and a relatively simple set of rules for the composition of square words allow one to write English using Chinese calligraphic principles.

As a piece of conceptual art, Xu Bing has composed and published a manual of 'Chinese-style calligraphy' written entirely in these English 'square words'—it looks like a Chinese book, but once the code is learned it is perfectly legible as English. A companion volume provides instruction and practice space for the basic principles of the artist-created calligraphy system.

At the Wallach Art Gallery, multiple copies of this book will be installed in a classroom-like installation complete with teaching video. Gallery visitors are invited to try their hand at this new 'Chinese' way of writing English. As people attempt to recognize and write these words, some of the thinking patterns that have been ingrained in them since they learned to read are challenged. While undergoing this process of estrangement and re-familiarization with one's written language, the audience is reminded that the sensation of distance between other systems of language and one's own is largely self-induced.


Exhibition reception and artist's lecture
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Reception: 5–7 p.m. in the gallery
Lecture by Xu Bing: 7–8:30 p.m. in 612 Schermerhorn Hall

Co-sponsored with Columbia University School of the Arts.

Lecture by Professor Lydia Liu
Jabberwocky in Writing: Xu Bing's Translingual Experiments
Thursday, September 22, 2011
7–8:30 p.m. in the gallery

Professor Lydia Liu is Wu Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.

Lecture by Christopher Calderhead
Alphabet and Idiogram: Toward a Global Calligraphy
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
7–8:30 p.m. in the gallery

The Western tradition of calligraphy and lettering has been shaped by the use of a limited number of alphabetic signs written with an edged pen. In contrast, the calligraphy of China uses thousands of complex characters written with a brush. In the course of the last century, calligraphers and lettering artists in the East and in the West have broken down these historical distinctions, borrowing, adapting, and ultimately creating new fusions of these two distinct traditions. In this one-hour presentation, Christopher Calderhead will demonstrate traditional Western calligraphy techniques and discuss the aesthetics of the Western tradition, and how these have come into conversation with the rich calligraphic tradition of China and the Far East.

Christopher Calderhead is the Editor of Letter Arts Review, a quarterly journal of writing-based art with a world-wide readership. He received a classical education in Western calligraphy at London's Roehampton Institute. He is a professional lettering artist and publication designer as well as the author of several books including The World Encyclopedia of Calligraphy.