Crouch to enter a small arched opening to find a small Chinese woman wandering as if lost around a small space inside. She sings short, breathy notes into the semi-darkness. She comes up close, and after folding and unfolding several dog-eared slips of paper, whispers, as if confidentially: ‘I read---the Happy Prince---did you read this story? ---I draw lot of --- inspiration from---.’
Climb out of this otherworldly space to find a small girl in slippers and striped pyjamas waiting for you, staring straight ahead. She follows you for a short time: just a few feet behind, never looking directly at you but horribly present. At one point she drifts away but you don’t notice where she goes.
A live statue frozen in mid-fall, blinking passively upwards; silkworms that hiss and chatter through headphones that hang from the ceiling like maggots from a tree; a golden tower of human fat; a piece of meat on a pedestal, slowly oozing two pools of grey-blue blood.
If these sound like the surreal components of a bad dream, that is what it was like. In reality, it was the Hayward Gallery’s Art of Change, an exhibition showcasing of the work of nine contemporary Chinese artists dealing with the idea of change: the unstable, the impermanent and the volatile.
I could have written a soul-searching post about the visual links to established Western artists (Orozco, Hesse, Bourgeois, Long) and what this meant (problematic Eurocentric art history in general or only naturally situating the works within my own mental archive). But before this critical dissection, first and foremost this show is at once human and touching and wholly unsettling. Don’t eat lunch beforehand, especially if you are going to make a trip to see the silkworms.
Art of Change: New Directions from China, Hayward Gallery, runs until 9th December.
Yingmei Duan, 2012
Xu Zhen, In Just a Blink of an Eye, 2005
Yingmei Duan, [note from] Happy Yingmei, 2011/2012