Travelling to the Wonderland: A new installation by Xu Bing at the V&A

From 2 November, celebrated Chinese artist Xu Bing will transform the V&A’s John Madejski Garden with a new installation inspired by the classic Chinese fable Tao Hua Yuan (The Peach Blossom Spring). The V&A invited Xu Bing to create a major new work to coincide with the Museum’s forthcoming exhibition, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900 which brings together the finest examples of Chinese painting to present an overview of one of the world’s greatest artistic traditions.

Xu Bing © Xu Bing Studio
© Xu Bing Studio

“…After a dozen steps, it opened into a flood of light. He saw before his eyes a wide, level valley, with houses and fields and farms. There were bamboos and mulberries; farmers were working and dogs and chickens were running about.”
 – translated by writer and linguist Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976)

This text is quoted from the Peach Blossom Spring, a classic Chinese fable written in 421AD. It describes the moment when a lost fisherman discovers a wonderland hidden behind a mountain where inhabitants live in harmony with nature.

Inspired by the story, Chinese artist Xu Bing will transform the John Madjeski Garden into an idealised landscape. Drawing elements from Chinese landscape scrolls, Xu Bing has collected authentic stones from different places in China and made them into a layered mountainscape. He has created a dream-like atmosphere with mist, light effect and sounds of birds and insects.

Xu Bing’s works often challenge viewers to question their first impression – everything is not as it first seems. From certain angles visitors will see hidden machines and cables which remind them this wonderland is ultimately un-real, just like the Peach Blossom Spring is ultimately fictional.

John Madejski Garden © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The John Madejski Garden © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Along with the installation, Xu Bing will present a works-on-paper display related to the Peach Blossom Spring in Room 44 (T T Tsui Gallery). The display will feature a large scale New English Calligraphy. The characters are written with ink and brush, looking much like Chinese traditional calligraphy at first glance. Again, they are in fact English letters bent into Chinese style, calligraphic strokes. Now, do you still believe in what you first see in things?

Watch a video of Xu Bing creating the installation in his Beijing studio

Xu Bing’s installation will be in the The John Madejski Garden from 2 November 2013 – 2 March 2014

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