Art of change: New directions from China

Posted on November 25, 2012 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Try to spot the difference between the main and the bottom left! They are 2 different people... Xu Zhen's "In just a blink of an eye". Bottom right: Yingmei Duan's "Sleeping, in between and patience".


In the past decade or so, we often hear about new Chinese art works fetching millions at art auctions around the world, yet apart from Ai Weiwei, Yue Minjun and Hang Xiaogang, many are still rather unknown outside of China, unless you are are familiar with the contemporary Chinese art scene.

At Hayward Gallery's Art of change: New direction from China exhibition, nine Chinese artists are chosen to exhibit their work spanning between 1993 to the present day. I didn't have much expectations before I arrived ( as I am a bit of a sceptic of contemporary Chinese art ), but luckily, the show did surpass my expectations.

There are many experimental and interactive work that question, observe and reflect on the new changes that have been taking place in China. Moving away from the traditional media, many of the works are performance installation art and videos, which are quite refreshing and entertaining.


Liang Shaoji's Nature series involves a lot of silkworm


One of my favourites is Xu Zhen's "In just a blink of an eye", an illusionary art installation that involves a real-life performance... from afar, we are led to believe that it is a (wax-like) sculpture, but up close, we are able to see a 'real' person who actually blinks and breathes! While I was there, a changeover took place ( curtains were drawn to keep the secret) and then another 'face' dressed in the same outfit appeared and 'floated' in the same Matrix-like position. So what is the secret? It doesn't matter because the artist has succeeded in engaging all the visitors there and created a talking point among them.

The artist's ironic view on our modern society's obsession with the gym ( which I totally agree with because I find gyms soulless and extremely boring ) is expressed in his fitness machines installation where users can operate the them by just moving their fingers via the remote controls! Yet on the other side of the gallery, "The Starving of Sudan" questions the limits of voyeurism, human exploitation and moral conducts, which is subtle yet thought-provoking.

Across the main gallery, Liang Shaoji's compelling Nature series including various silkworm installations, bringing the visitors closer to nature. In an dark room, visitors can see watch and hear silkworms eat, spin and metamorphose. It is a tranquil experience and reflects the essence of Daoism and Buddhism, two of the most important religions in the Chinese history before the Cultural Revolution.


Chen Zhen's Purification room


While I was slightly disappointed by some of the works in the upper galleries, back at the lower galleries before exit, I was quite taken back by the works of Chen Zhen ( who was diagnosed with a blood disease in his 20s and eventually died in 2000). Chen Zhen's personal experience and the message of impermanence is reflected in a lot of his work, like his Purification room, where natural materials are used to purify a room full of everyday objects.


Main photo: A room full of meat... photos by Gu Dexin. Bottom left: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's installations. Bottom right: architectural sculptures made of candles by Chen Zhen


The most intriguing part of this exhibition is the lack of personal styles or signatures of each artist, they seem to be constantly exploring new styles, identities and visual languages. In Guardian (read it here), Ai Weiwei heavily criticised the current Chinese art world and indirectly the artists involve at this exhibition, which I think is correct to a large extend but at the same time rather biased and harsh. Although these artists' works might not have been politically driven or lack shock tactics, I still find it quite encouraging to see them moving away from the traditional media and testing new grounds. While I do believe that contemporary Chinese art is over-hyped, I feel more hopeful about its future after seeing this exhibition, and unexpectedly, it has evoked my renewed interest in a world that Ai Weiwei claims does not exist.


Art of change: New directions from China at the Hayward Gallery ends on 9th December.


This post was posted in London, Exhibitions, Art, Chinese art and was tagged with London, art and design exhibitions, Chinese art