The interview was conducted at Xu Bing's home in New York City on August 24, 2000.
eCA: Mr. Xu, what is your feeling toward your own success, as your art works have become a mainstay in the international art circle?
Xu: To me, I felt that all the contemporary Chinese artists are doing quite well, not just for myself. I believe its not just base on one's own ability, although one's ability does play a part, but of this generation's cultural background. For my generation, I felt the era that we live in, environments that surround us, and each own personal experiences all have play a major role to the contributions on the international art stage. This generation have went through ten years of socialist education, ten years of Cultural Revolution, ten years of open door policy, ten years of western influence. We have survive through all the chaos that surround us and we have become very complex and complicated group of individuals. These factors directly affect the way in which this generation thinks and way of dealing with problems. Comparing with some western counterpart, we are rich with experiences.
eCA: I would like to congratulate you on winning the MacArthur Award; I understand that they have rarely given to Asian or artists in general. Have winning the award giving you added pressure?
Xu: For an artist, this is a very good thing, both financially and acclamation. After winning the award, I have received many offers to participate in solo and group exhibitions and offers of lectures. In the past, Chinese artist cannot imagine an opportunity of winning such award of this magnitude. We would think it's very difficult to even break into the international art stage. Now, it's very different, all the doors are open to us and everything is possible, which I am very grateful.
eCA: What was your reaction when you first hear of the announcement that you have won the MacArthur Award?
Xu: I remember that I was at P.S.1 at the time for a exhibition, and I receive a note from a P.S.1 assistant. I was too busy at the time, so I glance the note and read something along the line of 'good news' and I thought that one of my assistants found a large vase that I needed for the exhibition, which was very hard to find, I did not much pay attention to the rest of the note. Until a director of P.S.1 saw my note and inform me of the good news. I have to say that I was quite surprised.
eCA: Did you know that you were considering for MacArthur award?
Xu: No, I did not have any idea, nor did I think of winning such of an award. I believe the foundation prefer their candidate to be constantly working or develop their work. I learned after I won the award that the MacArthur foundation has investigated my activity over course of a year. All my lectures and exhibitions, there ware representative of MacArthur foundation in attendance. Therefore, you really would not know that you have been considered for the award until the day of announcement.
eCA: Can you tell us of your up coming exhibitions?
Xu: My most important exhibition coming up is for the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery sponsor by the Sackler Foundation. It will feature my most famous pieces and along with two new pieces that I will create.
eCA: Do you have a general idea of for these two new pieces?
Xu: Yes, just an idea. Since the exhibition is in fall of next year, I still have some time to work on them. Although the Sackler Foundation have already prepared the companion book for the exhibition, for us artist, we work from inspiration.
eCA: Beside Sackler Gallery, are there any other exhibitions that you are working on?
Xu: I currently have a group exhibition at Hiroshima Museum in Japan. Finland's Kiasma Art Museum for a group exhibition, a solo exhibition at Prague Nation Gallery and in next year a group exhibition for public art by twenty top artist include Richard Serra in Spain. Currently I have a project at Duke University, North Carolina. This project is related to tobacco, which I am very fascinated on this subject. The exhibition is co-sponsor by Duke University and the Tobacco Museum in Durham. Historically, American tobacco has a strong connection to China, I had done research and discovered that the Duke family brought tobacco and cigarette to China, before that China never had cigarette. There are books and letters documenting how to sell tobacco in china and ways of promotions by duke's associates.
eCA: Are you going to explore the east and west connection for this piece?
Xu: For this project, there are a lot of question to be solve and there is a lot of content in this subject. I will also concentrate on topic of quitting smoking, since there is a personal level to that theme. My father smokes, and he died of lung cancer. Before he pass away, I when back to visit him in the hospital, I was able to get the files of my father's condition from the hospital. It contains the diary from the nurse who tends to my father. It lists the condition of my father day by day. On the last day, it state the hour and minute of passing, and I will use these material in this project.