Although the pictogram-only narrative in Xu Bing's Book from the Ground can be read by anyone, there is much more to the story of Xu Bing's wordless book than can be gleaned from icons alone. This companion volume to Book from the Ground chronicles the entire project, mapping the history of Xu Bing's novel creation from inspiration to exhibition to publication.
In the 1980s, Xu Bing created Book from the Sky. Using garbled and nonsensical faux-Chinese characters, this installation expressed Xu's doubts about written language and provoked questions about the Chinese language. Thirty years later, with Book from the Ground, the artist expresses his hope for a single, universally understood language. Inspired by airport signs that communicate instantaneously through images—directing a temporary community of modern nomads where to eat, shop, sit, and find a bathroom—Xu began to collect images, icons, and logos from which he could construct a story. This book describes Xu's research, showing notebook pages and bulletin boards full of clipped-out images; offers commentary by the artist and discussions of reading, alphabets and languages; documents, with text and photographs, exhibitions and installations connected to the work (including a Book from the Ground pop-up concept store); provides a list of works; describes Xu's “icon lab”; and “translates” Xu's pictographic narrative into English.