Xu Bing is one of the most studied contemporary Chinese artists. In the 1980s he developed thousands of non-existing Chinese characters. Since he used existing 'parts' of Chinese characters the characters he created looked real but in reality they were devoid of content. They did not mean anything at all. Xu Bing used age-old traditional methods and styles to create his books, which made them look really authentic.
In a later stage he went a step further. He started to write in what at first sight looked like Chinese characters, but in fact were English words. The example above is the cover of a book published on him. Knowing that Xu Bing wrote characters without meaning, I did not pay immediate attention to the characters on the book cover after I had bought it. Until a few days later, while I was talking on the phone in my office where the book was on my desk, I all of a sudden - with a shock - came to realize that I could actually read the cover: 'Xu Bing'!
And then yesterday while I was preparing some things for a seminar about the impact of Chinese language and culture on marketing and branding in China, I bumped into these advertisements for 'translation pens' on a Chinese website about advertisingawards. What I saw first in the advertisement above was the Chinese traditional character for 'horse' '馬', and suddenly - again with a shock - I read 'hor S E': Horse!
In this one below I first read 'ALL' and next I saw the Chinese character '全', which means 'complete/ entirely'. This is really fantastic! This is were cultures find each other and melt together. This is where all obstacles of translating seem to disappear. The absolutely perfect advertising for a 'translation pen'!
The art of Xu Bing has made it's way to advertising. I do wonder however if Xu Bing knows about this...
Nothing ever goes entirely to plan on this blog (which is just the way I like it, as it happens). Back at the beginning of the year I told you that we were going global, and I subsequently introduced you to my good friend Jeanne. Jeanne and I have been friends for many years and I was helping her to launch her blog (which is all about China) in time for the Chinese New Year. Something that we managed, by the way. But my original intention had been that Jeanne would write a series of guest posts just here as a lead up to the launch. We failed in that: not through any fault of our own; but because of technical problems to do with remapping and redirecting (I won't bore you with the details), so we only knew that we could launch the blog on 26 January some 48 hours before. Those guest posts did make their way onto here, though, but not in the way originally planned.
Jeanne has also written another, longer post about Xu Bing which we'll put up next week. Come back for that: it's interesting. By the way, I don't think I've mentioned before that Jeanne is Belgian.
So why the picture of yellow flowers and a turquoise sea, I hear you ask? Surely that's neither China nor Belgium? Indeed it's not: it's the lovely island of Lipari. Which is where we come across the Dutch designer, Ko Sliggers. And my connection with Ko goes right back to the very beginning of this blog. Way back in November 2006 Ben had posted a question relating to the 1985 D&AD Annual. That had inspired me to dig out my copy of the 1981 edition, and I wrote a little post about Ko. To which he very kindly responded* - and we've kept in touch ever since.
Ko is currently wintering in Italy (lucky man. eh?) and, among other things, is doing a weekly report on Dutch National Radio about his culinary explorations in Sicily and the Eolian Islands. Not only that, but he's also accepted my invitation to become a guest author (hence the category cold cuts from ko). And Ko managed to sneak in under the radar and post before I'd introduced him. So, thank you Ko: welcome aboard. Keep on taking us by surprise.
So there you have it: China, Belgium, The Netherlands and Italy. The four corners of the world, maybe?
designers do, they design. Corporate, brand, you name it. And increasingly
global, and as a result of that they often ignore the precise execution and
local conditions. Fine. But the results are sometimes charming.
This is a portrait of
forgotten communication. People in the streets just tell you where to find the
post office (and sometimes more details about the spot you are for the moment).
The building is often more visual than the sign. And more loaded with history,
with meaning. The service itself is personalised in this case by Giovanni and
Alessandro. People with faces and names.
Although I am not afraid of death, I wouldn't mind sharing the idea that life goes on in the hereafter in the same way as on earth. Here is a picture I took in Hong Kong: a shop selling 'utensils' for the dead. All things you need in 'life' are copied in paper and burnt 'to hand them over'. I go for the car, since it already has a nice driver...