#047 "SINCERELY YOURS: PERSONAL LETTERS OF TSINGHUA SCHOLARS"
Sincerely Yours: Personal Letters from Tsinghua Scholars offers an intimate view into the thoughts and feelings of leading Chinese scholars of the twentieth century. First presented at the new Tsinghua University Art Museum designed by Mario Botta, this unique exhibition of original, hand-written documents is being restaged and redesigned at the City University of Hong Kong.
This collection of unpublished material traces the intellectual development of China in the 20th century, and enables one to read through, first-hand, these Tsinghua scholars’ contribution to the different branches of the arts and sciences of modern China in 6 exhibition zones, namely: “Zone 1: The Tradition of Chinese Cultural Study”; “Zone 2: The Vision of Science and Technology” ; “Zone 3: Talent Cultivation” ; “Zone 4: Eruditeness” ; “Zone 5: The Charm of Calligraphy” ; “Zone 6: Scholarly Sentiment”.
These 130 surviving letters, manuscripts, and teaching materials provide unknown glimpses into their private thoughts, emotions, calligraphy, their hope and contribution to the modernization of China, with letters revealing moments otherwise unknown to the public, for example: a written proposal by Hu Shi (胡適), a key contributor to Chinese language reform and the foremost political liberal in Republican China (1912–49), who advocated building a new country not through political revolution but through mass Chinese education, calling for the effort in translating “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” together with the important writers, literary theorists of that time in China, including Liang Shi-qiu (梁實秋), Xu Zhi-mo (徐志摩)and Wen Yiduo (聞一多). They all enthusiastically joined the group but later on all pulled out, leaving Liang to complete the work alone.
The design of the exhibition focuses on the method of displays for archival materials. The notion of providing glimpses into the secret thoughts and private correspondences of important scholars during that time, initiated the urgency to show such materials in total transparency, deliberately heading away from the traditional method of heavy vitrines encasing a piece of paper.
The full exhibition consists of 6 zones, with 33 custom made transparent vitrines.
Letters by various authors in dialogue or unrelated letters dwelling on similar topics in the same zone are further grouped onto the same vitrine, forming a 1800 x 1200mm transparent table, with individual and custom sized “letter bubble”, protruding from the above and below, creating a floating landscape of archival material and display tables.
The “bubble” encourages the archival documents to be view in a panoramic manner, other than the usual frontal directional axis. The multi directional displays around the transparent table allow readers to go through a chain of related matters on the same table, tracing relationships, discussions and thoughts throughout the exhibition.
A special Zone 5 showcases original calligraphy in scrolls that asked for custom made transparent vertical standing vitrines, that also allows intentionally paired up scrolls in dialogue, to be seen side by side and back to back.
COLLECTIVE recognizes the importance of graphic design for the project due to its nature of being a total archival exhibition on its medium, content, the nature of calligraphy and typeface having a strong presence in the exhibition, and under the circumstance of exhibiting in Hong Kong, bilingual treatment of all printed matters with Traditional Chinese and English are essential.
We invited Graphic Designers Geoff Han (New York) and Lu Liang (Amsterdam) to collaborate; instead of creating a graphic logo for the exhibition, the graphic designers weaved Chinese and English together as the Visual Identity, and applied this concept to all the printed matters including brochures, pamphlets and posters. For the exhibition, we worked closely together in choreographing the captions of the letters as part of the ‘exhibits’ floating in the transparent vitrines. During the installation, we carefully locate the clean, crisp, white printed captions along with the aged, rugged exhibits of the original letters alongside with the art handlers. The scaled-up graphic text wall of the exhibition offers a legible descriptive backdrop for each exhibition zone, seen through the transparent landscape of displays, allowing the readers to read about the curatorial intention standing from any vitrines in a distant.
On the occasion of this exhibition, the School of Creative Media at City University has produced two new media installations. One shows a video performance by the acclaimed contemporary calligrapher and artist, Wang Dongling, where a tiny video camera attached to his brush provides an immersive close-up of the dynamic creation of each of his painted characters, in juxtaposition with the historic calligraphy scrolls on show in Zone 5; the other installation in zone 6 allows exhibition visitors to create their own letters on screen through selecting the hand-written words from personal letters of the scholars with a double touch screen.
LOCATION: Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, City University of Hong Kong,
AREA: 8,000 square feet
CLIENT: City university of Hong Kong, Tsinghua University
COLLECTIVE TEAM: Betty Ng, Juan Minguez, Katja Lam, Kimberley Lau, Pierre Wu
CURATORS: Tsinghua University, Prof. DU Pengfei and Prof. FAN Baolong; City University of Hong Kong, Dr. Isabelle Frank and Prof. Jeffrey Shaw