Xu Bing

Tianshu (Book from the Sky)

Xu Bing

Tianshu (Book from the Sky)



Edition Size



Wood block


15 × 18.5 in


A Book from the Sky took Xu Bing over four years to complete. The installation is comprised of hundreds of printed volumes, ceiling, and wall scrolls containing a vocabulary of four thousand ‘false’ Chinese characters invented by the artist and then hand-cut onto wooden printing blocks, representing a reaction to the history of writing, calligraphy, and book culture in China. As a result, every reader is made illiterate. Even the artist himself is unable to read the works he has printed. The artist’s intention is to produce a kind of cultural shock that will heighten the viewer’s awareness of received notions of language and culture.