The 2013 D.F. McKenzie Lecture was given by Xu Bing, an artist whose work incorporates and explores words and script. To a capacity crowd of 170 in the English Faculty lecture theatre, the artist described his fascination with the forms of graphic communication, and explained how his works, beginning with the room installation “Book from the Sky,” have explored the boundaries of script, icons and language. He showed and discussed examples of this in his work, including English words portrayed as Chinese characters, in “Square Word Calligraphy”, and a novel in icons, “Book from the Ground: From Point-to-Point”.
An exhibition of Xu Bing’s work, Landscape Landscript, appears at the Ashmolean Museum from 28 February to 19 May 2013, curated by Shelagh Vainker.
Xu Bing was introduced by Peter McDonald (English Faculty) who drew a comparison between the artist’s examination of meaning in form, and D.F. McKenzie’s famous puzzle to his students in the 1980s, asking them to deduce a book’s origin from its physical form alone. As McDonald pointed out, “In their different ways, the professor of bibliography with his blank book and the young artist with his nonsense characters were asking the same question: what constitutes a sign? Does the term apply only to the black marks inscribed on paper? What about the paper itself or the size and format of the book? And if the latter are signs, then what sense are we to make of the philosophical distinction between the sensible and the intelligible, what we apprehend through our senses and what we read with our so-called mind’s eye?”
Each year the McKenzie Trust, in partnership with the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book, presents the D.F. McKenzie Lecture, on the history of the book, scholarly editing, or bibliography and the sociology of texts.