Much expectation rests upon this show of new Chinese art, following on from the critically appraised 2008 show at the Saatchi gallery. Couple this with the recent and excellent Korean imports at Hayward and Tate Modern, and east Asian art is riding something of a high.
The current exhibition starts off slowly. Just at the point when the show appears to run out of steam, a tiny doorway in the wall suggests otherwise. This hobbit-proportioned portal leads into a darkened forest where a lady in white hums otherworldly noises as she approaches any visitors. We felt both curiosity and trepidation as she drew nearer, pausing mere inches away…but then she backs off. It’s a strange sensation akin to being dropped into an alien world as she tries to figure out what you are.
From this unexpected juncture, the exhibition is excellent. Attractions include live silkworms munching their way through leaves; the chance to play the drums on a set of chairs; and a face to face encounter with lifelike replicas of a rhinoceros and a triceratops. Many of the works are sensationalist but they also have a deeper underlying political message about China, both on life inside the country and it’s foreign policy.
This is an emotionally charged exhibition. The tiger in an impossibly narrow cage brings about a sense of sadness while the objects being hurled up from inside a room with no doors or windows teases your curiosity. The woman posed as if in mid-fall will both confound and amaze visitors, especially when they realise she’s not a mannequin.
The concertina ping pong table was a favourite. Playing a rally of 2 shots was both frustrating and immensely satisfying when it was achieved.
Ai Weiwei might be grabbing all the headlines, but this show highlights that there are many other talented Chinese artists creating works that are both interactive and absorbing. It’s our favourite Hayward gallery exhibition this year. That says a lot considering we loved both Invisible and David Shrigley.
Art of Change: New Directions from China is on at the Hayward Gallery until 9 December. Tickets are £10, concessions available.