Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Art of Change: Children, perceptions and transformations

A silken thread of connected elements have woven this day together; a rich warm tapestry of friendship, laughter, thoughts and new experiences for the little ones. An earthy rattle of an underground train took us to a ride in the sky; with a glint of river and watery aquarium whilst the hot passion of London's celebrations rose up around us. 

Whilst the children descended into the London Aquarium, I took to the airy space of the Southbank Centre. The evening had witnessed some serious child's play with pretend dogs participating at a tea party. Using this as a basis of altered perception and imagination, I wondered whether 'new directions in Chinese art' would prove to be as thought provoking and inspiring as a three year old? Would ovidian transformations be made in the blank white cube space? 

This installation art exhibition has been created by nine Chinese artists and it is all designed to explore the ideas of transformation and impermanence. As the notes say, in the 1980s and 90s Chinese exhibitions frequently ran the risk of being closed down by the authorities so artists focused on the creative process rather than the finished product. The evolution of ideas and ways of expression are more important than the uniqueness of the finished art. 

It opened with a giggle; provoking childish glee at the manipulation of the ridiculous remote controlled gym equipment. Xu Zhen mocks the gym bunnies that are in thrall to this machinery. Or perhaps it could be read as a political statement on the person being behind the machinery of state? Behind this, concrete casts of stones march like a modern day terracotta army - a sudden flaring of civil unrest captured permanently. 

The ironically named Madein Company is a not for profit arts community and run as a mock ad agency by 'CEO' Xu Zhen. 'Action of consciousness' takes the idea of the white cube, spanks its bottom and hurls it out of the door. Someone hides in the large cube and they toss sculptures up in the air; they appear and disappear mimicking the speed of the contemporary art market. Blink and you miss it. 

My favourite artist Yingmei Duan sees sleep as a creative opportunity, a perfect time to allowing the mind space to wander. The performance of the artist sleeping on a shelf or allowing visitors to experience 'Patience' when the body is restrained replicates her thought processes. However a tiny arch to another world really connects us with her. You crawl in and already you've rearranged and limited your physicality. The mystical woodland glade and an intense encounter with the artist leaves you confused yet calm; her peaceful movement and close connection of body language is astonishing. I still have her little note and I will be following it up. 

The journey towards Zen continues into the room of silk covered windows, stones and metal. In Liang Shoaji work 'the silk worms symbolise generosity and the thread is emblematic of human life and history'. But for me the transformation of the worm's secretions into something beautiful, eerie and soft is far more powerful and magical than mere human history. To see and hear the tiny creatures patiently eating, spinning and morphosing is calming and hypnotic; it has to be the quietest art creation ever. 

The galleries further on provoke a change in tempo and mood; noise, colour, violent movement surround you. The glistening golden tower of liposucked body fat shows modern bodily transformations, whilst a life sized rhino and triceratops demonstrate the evolution of creatures, the similarities and difference in species millions of years apart. They stand there like over grown toys, anticipating the hand of a child to sweep them up in an adventure. 

Mark Hudson in his review says '[w]ith Western art, however bizarre, we have an at least sketchy sense of how it fits into the artistic scheme of things. But with Chinese art, we know of the existence of traditional culture, and we know about this new, supposedly cutting-edge work – and that’s it.' Changes and transformations are inherent in the human psyche; regardless of social, cultural, historic knowledge we recognise attempts to explain and deal with changing emotions of all types through art. This explains why we are unnerved, amused, moved, shocked at this un/familiar art.

This exhibition of uncanny scale, serious/playful, calm/violent, shifts in perception and engagement with human hopes and fears is intriguing and I shall be revisiting, especially given my current obsession with Ovid. My only sadness is that my friends' children were not there to experience it and offer direct childish logic and new ways of interpretation and insight. And play with me on the concertinaed ping pong table. I shall have to make do with imaginary tea parties...

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