A guest post from Jeanne Boden
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 advertising awards. 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...