Jen Bervin

Su Hui’s Reversible Poem

  • Work Su Hui
  • Work Su Hui Studio

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 nearly 8,000 possible readings.

This video installation is a work in process and will focus on how contemporary Chinese women understand this complex poem, including 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. In the story widely associated with it, Su Hui’s poem had an explicit intended reader, her husband, Dou Tao. In all versions of the story, Su Hui’s poem, both brilliant and effective, reunites the couple for life.

Working closely with expert embroiderers in Suzhou, China to create a double-sided silk embroidery of Su Hui’s poem, Jen Bervin and Charlotte Lagarde aim to draw renewed international attention to Su Hui’s work, and to start new conversations around how Chinese women read and interpret this ancient Chinese poem today, both as a literary work and as a textile. 

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.