Deterritorializing Chinese Calligraphy: Wang Dongling and Martin Wehmer’s Visual Dialogue (2010)

  • Shao-Lan Hertel (Author)


This article investigates an artistic collaboration between the pioneering modernist Chinese calligrapher Wang Dongling and German conceptual painter Martin Wehmer. The project  was hosted  at the China Academy of Art (CAA) in 2010, with Wehmer as a visitor from Berlin’s University of the Arts. The artists co-produced Visual Dialogue, a comic-like composition of painted and written speech bubbles. I examine Visual Dialogue in order to reveal its incentives, conditions, limitations, and potential, as a collaborative project realized under institutional tutelage. Informed by critical contemporary discourses on Chinese art in a global context, picture theory, comics studies, and translation studies, I explore Visual Dialogue’s multiple textual, scriptural, and pictorial elements, alongside related epistemological issues. I argue that the artwork is polyvalent, because it is conditioned by multiple, culturally specific aesthetic and semiotic systems. My discussion ultimately aims to expose the transcultural significance of this collaboration, which is relevant to the writing of world art history, and thereby contributes to a deterritorialization of “Chinese calligraphy” in its prevalent conception as an essentialist-exceptionalist discursive field in mainland China.