Jen Bervin

Su Hui’s Reversible Poem

  • Work SuHui Suzhou

Su Hui’s Reversible Poem focuses on a poem written by Su Hui: 苏蕙, a Chinese woman poet in the 4th century. Her poem, Xuanji Tu: 璇玑图, can be read in any direction to yield 7,000 possible readings. This work in process will focus on how contemporary Chinese women understand this complex poem, particularly those embroidering and reading it in textile-based time.

Su Hui composed the poem in a 29 x 29 character grid embroidered in silk in five colors in a scheme based on a celestial gauge. This innovative poem had an explicit intended reader: Su Hui sent the poem as a letter to her husband who had taken a concubine against her wishes and relocated far away for work. Both brilliant and effective, the poem reunited the couple for life.

Working closely with expert embroiderers in Suzhou, China to create double-sided silk embroideries of Su Hui’s poem, Jen Bervin and Charlotte Lagarde aim to convey the embroiderers’ experiences of reading Su Hui’s poem. The conversations and interactions around it are the center of the work, which will result in a video installation and a publication.