Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Art of change: New directions from China

This interesting exhibition of installation art at the Hayward explores ideas of transformation and impermanence. All the artists are Chinese and most of them have become used to producing impermanent works of art, which are often closed down by the authorities, or developing performance or interactive art that can be performed anywhere. When you enter the exhibition you are confronted by Xu Zhen’s Untitled, an exercise machine that you are invited to operate by remote control involving no effort at all. Another witty piece by the same artist is Just a blink of an eye showing someone half way through falling (see the image above). To experience Happy Yingmei by Yingmei Duan you had to stoop through a tiny door to enter a grotto of twigs forming a little forest where the artist spoke poetry to you. It was quite dreamlike and intense because it was so personal. It says in the catalogue that she ‘chose to become an artist because it did not require her to speak’ which seemed strange as she was the only artist in the exhibition actually speaking. Her other piece in the show was a performance in which actors interacted with shelves on the wall, which reminded me of Francesca Woodman’s photographs.

Having made silk paper for many years I was fascinated by Liang Shaoji’s work which is all based on silkworms, apparently the silkworm symbolises generosity and its thread represents human life and history. His Nature series allows the silkworms to produce their silk on Chinese lattice windows, stones, small iron beds made by the artist and large ‘chains’ hanging from the ceiling – although I think the worms had some help in placing their silk. The lattice windows in particular were beautiful. In an installation to the side of this room there are four round trays of silkworms at various stages of their life cycle with tiny microphones on each tray; when you enter the second room you can put on headphones to hear the sounds from the different trays. Outside the room are three round panels of silk threads produced by the worms. The whole installation was quite meditative.

The exhibition shows the work of nine artists; those I’ve described are just my favourites. So there is plenty to see and also a digital archive of their previous installation work if you still want more.

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