Where Does the Dust Itself Collect? 何处若尘埃?


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Exhibited: National Museum & Gallery, Cardiff, Wales
Materials: Dust

In this installation Xu Bing uses dust that he collected from the streets of lower-Manhattan in the aftermath of September 11th to attempt to understand the gravity and implications of that event. In the work, Xu Bing references the fine whitish-grey film that covered downtown New York in the weeks following 9-11, and recreates a field of dust across the gallery floor that is punctuated by the outline of a Zen Buddhist poem, revealed as if the letters have been removed from under the layer:

The Bodhi (True Wisdom) is not like the tree;
The mirror bright is nowhere shining;
As there is nothing from the first,
Where does the dust itself collect?

This was written as the true expression of Zen Buddhism by Hui-neng (638-713), traditionally considered the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen Buddhism in China. It was written in response to the poem of another Zen monk who claimed to understand the faith in all its purity:

The body is the Bodhi tree;
The soul is like the mirror bright,
Take heed to keep it always clean,
And let no dust collect upon it.

In the work Xu Bing discusses the relationship between the material world and the spiritual world, exploring the complicated circumstances created by different world perspectives. The dust was applied to the floor with a leaf blower and allowed 24 hours to settle. The work won the inaugural Artes Mundi Prize, the Wales International Visual Art Prize in 2004 and was later shown at the Sao Paolo Biennial.