Tuesday 12 November 2013

Xu Bing: Travelling to the Wonderland

On one of the many grey and rainy afternoons so far this month I took a little trip to the V&A to visit the new installation in the Italianate courtyard. It is a piece by the Chinese artist Xu Bing entitled Travelling to the Wonderland.

Initially I was underwhelmed, the grey sky and light drizzle didn't set it off to the best effect and from a distance the work didn't have much impact. However, as soon as you get nearer to the work, walking round it, taking in the details and exploring all of the different aspects it pulls you in and is reluctant to let go.

The work is inspired by a Chinese fable by Tao Qian about an idealistic world where the inhabitants live unaware of the outside world. This explains why the installation feels so much more effective when you get closer to it. The work is arranged in a circle and from the outside of the circle you have to come in close to the work and peer inside of the ring of stones. Evoking the message of an enclosed and exclusive world that we can only seek to see and understand.

When you do get close enough to peer into this world there is plenty to discover. Interspersed among the rocks collected from around China are a whole range of ceramic houses, figures and animals.

The work evokes the incredible diversity of the incredible country of China including rocks from around the country, branches from a number of different plants and ceramic models of traditional buildings from across history. 

The installation also includes a fusion of modern and traditional materials such as the smoke machines and the Liquid Crystal screens build into some of the houses. Such as the one in the video below where we see cartoon characters having what looks like a skype date. This fusion of old and new is a fitting metaphor for modern China.

 If you are visiting with children then you could even set them a bit of a treasure hunt.

1. Find a fish
2. Find a drowned house
3. Find a bridge
4. Find a zebra

I will definitely be returning one evening to see the installation by night as it looks stunning with the reflections off the water, the smoke and the dramatic lighting.

Enjoy your trip to Wonderland.

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