An album leaf, this painting depicts a thatched-roof cottage set in a lush landscape. The cottage sits at the very center of the composition, nestled between a small lake in the foreground and a series of rolling hills in the background and flanked on either side by groves of trees. Grasses and short bamboo plants surround the lake, in which various insects swim. A small, tile-roofed building appears to the (viewer's) left of the cottage, and vegetables grow in a garden to the left of the tile-roofed building. A clump of bamboo grows behind the thatched-roofed cottage. The trees to the right of the cottage are identified as cypresses and pines; those at the left of the composition are unidentified. Written in his own idiosyncratic Roman letters, the artist's signature reading Xu Bing appears in the lower right corner of the composition. The artist impressed his circular, red, relief seal immediately above his signature; the seal, also in his own idiosyncratic Roman letters, reads "Xu Bing".
Xu Bing has coined the English word "Landscript" to describe his landscapes of this type; the proper Chinese translation is 文字寫生 ("wenzi xiesheng"), though it sometimes also is translated as 讀風景 ("dufengjing"). Landscapes of this type use Chinese characters as pictorial elements, the characters varying from standard script ("kaishu") and draft script ("caoshu") to simplified forms as well as such archaic forms as bronze and oracle-bone scripts. Thus, the doorways of both thatched-roof cottage and tile-roofed building are represented with the character meaning "door" ("men"), just as the windows in the thatched-roof cottage are represented with the character for window ("chuang"). The various characters incorporated into the composition can be identified as follows:
Doors: "men" 門 (door, doorway, gate);
Windows: "chuang" 窗 (window, portal);
Thatched roof: "cao" 草 (grass);
Tile roof: "wa" 瓦 (rooftile);
Beans: "douzi " 豆子 (bean)--the plants in the lower right corner, in front of the lake;
Bamboo: "zhu" 竹 (bamboo)--the plants in the lower left corner and behind the thatched-roof cottage;
Insects: "chong" 虫 (insects, bugs, worms)--the tadpole-like animals in the lake;
Soil: "tu" 土 (earth, soil)--the characters to the right of the lake and at the top center of the composition;
Vegetables: "cai" 菜 (vegetables)--the plants in the garden to the left of the tile-roofed building;
Trees: "mu" 木 (trees, wood)--the trees at the left of the composition, to the left of the vegetable garden;
Grove: "lin" 林 (copse, grove, woods, forest)--the trees at the left of the composition, to the left of the vegetable garden;
Leaves: "yezi" 葉子 (leaves)--the trees in the upper left corner of the composition, above the "mu" and "lin" characters; because the trees are far away, one sees only the trees' crowns (i.e. leaves), rather than the trunks and branches;
Cypress: "bo" or "bai" 柏 (cypress tree)--the trees to the right of the thatched cottage;
Pine: "song" 松 (pine tree)--the trees at the right edge of the composition.
Xu Bing's artistic practice is an exploration of language. In works ranging from monumental installations to handcrafted books, he plays with the written word, usually in the form of the Chinese character. Working in a wide range of media, Xu Bing creates installations that question the idea of communicating meaning through language, demonstrating how both meanings and written words can be easily manipulated. In fact, in awarding his 1999 "genius grant," the MacArthur Foundation cited his "originality, creativity, self-direction, and capacity to contribute importantly to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy." In playing with Chinese characters, Xu Bing typically explores the relationship between word and image--that is, the close relationship between painting and Chinese characters of a pictorial or semi-pictorial type, as he does in this and other paintings in the "Landscript" series.