Su Hui’s Reversible Poem, a video installation in progress by artists Jen Bervin and Charlotte Lagarde, focuses on how contemporary Chinese women view an unusual poem written by the fourth century Chinese poet, Su Hui:苏蕙. Her embroidered poem, ”Xuanji Tu”: 璇玑图, can be read in any direction to yield nearly 8,000 possible readings.
Su Hui composed her poem in a 29 x 29 character grid embroidered in silk in five colors in a scheme based on the armillary sphere, an astronomical gauge invented in the first century in China to chart the movement of celestial bodies.
Su Hui’s poem had an explicit intended reader: her husband. In an early account of it, her poem impresses the emperor so deeply that he gives clemency to her husband to release him from political exile. In another version, Su Hui’s poem wins her husband back from a mistress. In all versions of the story, Su Hui’s poem, both brilliant and effective, reunites the couple for life.
This multi-layered piece aims to bring renewed attention to Su Hui’s work. It engages this poem as a literary work, as a textile, and as a form of community with a range of perspectives that says just as much about female excellence in China today.
The research for this project is supported by a Lucas Artist Program Fellowship from Montalvo Arts Center and a 2016 fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council.