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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!






Art of Change: New Directions from China



Hayward Gallery

7 Sept - 9 Dec 2012


Art of Change: New Directions from China, with its catch-all title, surprises. Suffused with irony, humour, transience with process placed centre stage. In the first space, Made in Company – a clever play on the ubiquitous ‘made in China’ and the phonetic translation of the Chinese character ‘without roof’ - headed by Xu Zhen, offers huge black and white canvasses with striking cross-hatched patterns. Up close they are studded with nozzles from the spray cans used to create the work. It is a provocative gesture. On the back wall is a poster-canvass – Demonstrate your position, duplicate your attitude. In the centre is a covered, makeshift workshop area filled with an artist’s paraphernalia. From the very beginning, New Directions signals process and diversity.

Artworks range across installations, sculpture and video from the 1980s to the present day, featuring nine artists. Xu Zhen provides a touchstone for their collective diversity: encompassing Madein’s Revolution Castings, arranged as headstones, The Starving in Sudan, a short film challenging ethical and literal viewpoints, and the arresting live installation In Just a Blink of an Eye 2005 and 2012, with its clever illusory trick.
Yingmei Duan explores ‘action without action‘- the undulating Wei Wu Wei. She opens up spaces between, ‘sleeping’ and ‘patience’, first exhibited in 2004, with a predominance of white walls, heavy shelving and sleeping body in blue sleeping bag. It is an intrusive moment. Yet the inert figure invites scrutiny, and this public/private perspective is unsettling.

Throughout, the works in New Directions reflect the energy and dynamism of present day China - a world of contrasts stunningly realised in Liang Shaoji’s exhibits using silkworms. Huge wooden-latticed, traditionally-styled Chinese windows line one wall. Through the fret-work, silkworms have spun and contrived new narratives. In contrast Shaojihas made several metal-framed, miniature beds on which the gossamer silks entrap cocoons and dead moths, creating a sense of suspension. Adjacent to this, rusted, industrial chains hang from the ceiling, colonised by the silkworm’s gossamer candyfloss.

Artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu present the striking Civilisation Pillar, 2001, a four metre tower made up of lipo-suctioned, human fat and wax, and the wide-focus of I Didn’t Notice What I am Doing, 2012, with its strange correlations between natural history and industrial debris.Though not easy on the eye, the scale and energy is compelling.

Visceral material is everywhere. Gu Dexin’s, multiple, heavy gilt frames shape exposures of hands with raw meat. The pictures look like memento mori. Yet the opulence and heaviness of the frames suggest excess, as does the repetition of the image. In contrast the shrunken remains of the desiccated portions of pork, in anonymous plastic cartons, are displayed outside. The Purification Room, 2000/2012, a work using found objects and clay, Chen Zhen, suggests permanence and transition. Familiar, recognisable objects are made strange by the clay’s uniform colour. While Testament, 1993, an installation involving wood, metal and newspaper ash from which incinerated smells eerily, linger still, leads to Beyond  the Vulnerability, 1999, and a final image - a ‘candle city.’

Art of Change: New Directions from China, challenges perception and expectation through an inter-play of contrasts: tradition and modernisation, nature and technology, spirituality and consumerism. In Chinese thought, creation is a continuous process without beginning or end.The image of the candle city is an apt one, as the candle symbolises life itself in its transience, impermanence and strange, wonderful mutability……



Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE 1 8XX
Opening Hours
Monday 12pm – 6pm, Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm, Late Nights Thursdays and Fridays until 8pm
Tickets: £10, OAP’s £9, Students £8, 12 – 18 yrs £7.50
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