Travelling to the Wonderland by Xu Bing

Celebrated Chinese artist Xu Bing transformed the V&A's John Madejski Garden with a magical installation, 'Travelling to the Wonderland', inspired by the classic Chinese fable Tao Hua Yuan ('The Peach Blossom Spring').

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

Tao Hua Yuan, translated by writer and linguist Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976)

Written in AD 421 by the poet Tao Yuanming, The Peach Blossom Spring describes the moment when a lost fisherman discovers a wonderland hidden behind a mountain, where inhabitants live in harmony with nature. Inspired by this ancient story, contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing created an idealised landscape in the V&A's John Madjeski Garden, building a layered mountainscape from stones collected from around China. Here we see Xu Bing creating the installation in his Beijing studio and discussing the influence of The Peach Blossom Spring and Chinese landscape painting:

Drawing on elements from Chinese landscape scrolls, Xu Bing created a dream-like atmosphere with mist, light effects 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 could see hidden machines and cables reminding them that this wonderland was ultimately un-real, just as the Peach Blossom Spring is ultimately fictional. Watch as the John Madejski Garden is transformed with Travelling to the Wonderland:

This installation was on display as part of the Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900 exhibition, 26 October 2013 – 19 January 2014.