The Cultured Animal, A Case Study of Cultured Transference and A Case Study of Cultured Transference 2 is a series of performances created by Xu Bing in 1994 and 1995. The first two were performed in a gallery space in Beijing, while the third was carried out on a pig farm. The Cultured Animal and A Case Study of Cultured Transference from 1994 consisted of the performance of live breeding pigs in an enclosed exhibition area filled with books in various languages. Their bodies were stamped all over with print characters: the American York boar was stamped with legible letters (nonsense “words”) while the crossbred Landrace sow was stamped with meaningless Chinese characters (from Xu’s Tianshu, or Book from the Sky).
With the character of the pig as a medium, Xu demonstrated his concept of unreadable characteristics of different cultures, with cultural reproduction represented through the mating process. This performance appropriated the concept of cross breeding then represented it with different layers of cultural connotation. Nonsense words in English on the boar and invented Chinese characters on the sow provided the installation audience with a possible reading of a “cultural rape.” The performance was successful in emphasizing the disconnect between human and animal in an unexpected manner, in that the invited art-world audience found it extremely uncomfortable to witness the pigs mating. It has been also interpreted as representing Western domination of China, because of the invented Chinese characters printed on the sow and the pseudo-English on the boar.
Born in 1955 in Chongqing and raised in Beijing, Xu Bing studied printmaking and earned his BA (1977) and MFA (1987) at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. In 1999, Xu was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (widely known as the “genius grant” of the American art world) in recognition of contributions particularly in printmaking and calligrapy. Currently residing in Beijing, he was appointed vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2008. A pioneering Chinese contemporary artist, Xu is known for his printmaking skills and installation pieces (best exemplified by his iconic installation Book from the Sky, 1987–1991), as well as his creative artistic use of language, words and text and how they have affected our understanding of the world.
(Magda Lipska / Theresa Liu)