The Hayward Gallery welcomes probably one of the most exciting and bizarre exhibitions that London, in fact the UK has seen for a while. The show opens its doors to nine Chinese artists who span two generations and a range of mediums, resulting in a show united by a influx of metamorphosis and transition. All in all taking a interesting stand point on certain contemporary Chinese problems, such as economic transformation, Chinese revolution and of course the dreaded censorship.
One of the most interesting pieces is that of Liang Shaoji and his Nature Series. This involves live silk worms weaving multiple translucent layers round stones and huge chains. These worm created sculptures do have a certain zen like charm and this is no more evident in the Listening to Silkworms section. This allowing viewers to listen to the silkworms chewing on Mulberry leaves through headphones, proves to be a rather strange experience but a charming one, none the less. Though like all of the pieces, the meaning behind it is one of raw power and emotion.
Chen Zhen, is another of the artists who is showcased but after being diagnosed in 1980, at the age of 25, with a blood disease and given five years to live, Zhen left his native Shanghai for France where he began making installations. Described by him as “a sort of monochrome tomb”, “Purification Room” is like a 3D sepia photograph; everything in the space is covered with brown mud that cracks as it dries. “Rather than digging in the sand for objects as archaeologists do,” Zhen has explained, “my work consists of showing people present-day objects that will be found in the future.” And the items include everything – from a shopping trolley and scooter to a bike, bath, sofa, skis, books and clothing. Sadly Zhen died in 2000 and, this was installed by his widow, the work is, in more senses than one, a memorial frozen in time.
Performance art fans are well catered for as Yingmei Duan presents her work inspired by the idea of sleeping and sleepwalking. As you enter one room, a girl wrapped in a blue velvet dress hangs half way up a wall while taking a nap. In another Duan herself paces up and down rather scarily next to leafless trees singing a creepy Chinese lullaby handing out paper. This paper reads “find a pet shop, take a photo of your favourite pet and send it to me” which is rather creepy but no where near as creepy as the famous woman in striped pyjamas.
This woman who can only be described as lurking, picks her victims and then pursues them in the same way a vulture stalks the dying. She seems to be playing a very sinister and macabre version of Grandmothers footsteps, as she follows her victims as they make their way through the show, freezing whenever confronted.
Though for me probably the most striking piece in the whole exhibition is the Civilisation Pillar. This is a four metre high column, which resembles something you would find guarding a ancient Roman mausoleum. Though this is not exactly how it sounds, as its made not of marble or a beautiful stone but rather of human fat. This horribly bright obelisk was made through fat obtained from liposuction. Obviously highlighting the growing disgust of Western civilisation and our gluttonous capitalist habits.
And this notion of greed is also picked up on by the artist Xu Zhen, whose interactive installation of a remote control work out machine. The installation, which invites people to galvanise the machine, evokes notions of our incessant need for the perfect body image highlighting, that there are better uses of our time and energy than pumping iron in the gym.
My favourite piece in the whole display though has to be Wang Jianwei’s magnificently perverse Surplus Value. This is a ping pong table twisted into the shape of a ziggurat. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the installation and play a game, though do not expect anything of a olympic standard as the balls rattle into the v-shaped declivities that punctuate the few flat areas of the table. Probably, representing China itself and its unfathomable nature it might not be the most hard hitting in terms of its message, but it is darn fun.
All in all, this whole exhibit is pretty hard to take in with some of the work being unexplained or just really uncomfortable to look at. Though it does its job of providing a fascinating glimpse into how confusing it must be to live in these so called “interesting times”.