This article examines contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing's (b. 1955) 2012 animation video, The Character of Characters, which remediates Zhao Mengfu's (1254–1322) calligraphy and painting. The video, in which Chinese written words become the true protagonists, was originally a commissioned installation presented at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco from October 2012 to January 2013. The article aims to model a form of extremely close analysis of new media art, which borrows vocabulary and methodologies from both art history and media studies. While making a timely contribution to Xu Bing scholarship by focusing on an understudied work in his oeuvre, it also adds new lines of inquiry: first, with regard to text-image reciprocity, which continues to be a focal point in studies of contemporary Chinese art; and second, with regard to animation-calligraphy reciprocity, which begs more critical attention. The Character of Characters, I argue, invokes a double vision that sees words on screen simultaneously as linguistic texts and pictorial shapes, a vision through which and because of which the activities of looking and reading are combined into one.

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