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Monday, March 22, 2004

Script Exhibits 

Sunday, while Evelin went shopping with J---, I headed downtown to catch two new exhibits about Chinese and Japanese script at the Smithsonian.

First up, the International Gallery in the Ripley Center for "Chinese Script from Oracle Bones to Computer Bytes." (The Chinese Embassy has more information about the exhibit than the Ripley Center does on its website.) I'd noticed the banner announcing the exhibit on my drive home from work a week or so ago. Overall, it wasn't the most engaging exhibit. There were a few objects on display (but most of these were replicas), but the many panels that traced the origins of Chinese script and its evolution over time were interesting. A large swath of the panels focused on calligraphy, followed by a few on printing and computing technologies.

One cool original object on exhibit was an early Chinese typewriter. The link is to the National Museum of Science & Industry in London; it's not the exact model of typewriter that is on display at the Ripley Center, but it illustrates the basic style of the device. Quite complex; I wish they had one I could touch because I couldn't figure out from looking through the glass case how it actually worked.

From there, I moved on to the Sackler Gallery for "Faith and Form: Selected Calligraphy and Painting from Japanese Religious Traditions." Unlike "Chinese Script," this was a full exhibition with lots of Buddhist and Shintō poetry, sutras, literature, and painting, and some of the pieces are just astoundingly beautiful.

The exhibition website has an interactive page that lets you examine up-close a baker's dozen of the items in the exhibit or to download a PDF of essays about objects in the exhibit.

I think it'd been a while since I was last in the Sackler, so when I entered the gallery from the Ripley Center (the two are connected underground), I was interested in the first object encountered in the gallery: the bottom of Xu Bing (徐冰)'s "Monkeys Grasp for the Moon." The installation piece stretches four floors from the skylight in the entrance to the Sackler down to a pool at the bottom of the gallery and consists of stylized versions of the word "monkey" in 20 different languages and scripts (ranging from Hebrew and Hindi to German (using Fraktur) and Urdu to Russian, Lao and Braille). A bit of the piece can be seen in the online version of the 2001/2002 exhibit "Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing."

I also walked through "Return of the Buddha: The Qingzhou Discoveries," which opened on Saturday. The galleries were packed, so I didn't spend as much time as I would have liked in it, but it was really interesting to see the changes in how the Buddha was represented to reflect the political situations of different dynasties.

Other Things

Pregnancy: I know Evelin's sense of smell, always keen, is getting more acute, but I just heard a news item on MFR that the Tesco grocery chain in the U.K. is looking to hire pregnant women as wine tasters (Ananova version of the story).
Helen [McGinn, a wine taster with Tesco for nine years,] said: "My tastebuds have become more powerful. I find that I can pick up the tiniest difference in taste. I can detect the smallest change in acidity and I am also extremely sensitive to tannin.
"The subtlest tastes and nuances are now as easily detectable, and all four of us all seem to pick up more on acidity or sweetness levels with our palates. The senses are definitely heightened."
The Ananova version doesn't say so, but according to the newsreader on MFR, the women are told to spit the wine out after tasting.

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