Xu Bing's 'Travelling to the Wonderland', Victoria & Albert Museum

Friday 23 May 2014

I completely forgot that I'd even taken these photos until I went through a few of my image folders looking for an old set. These are from my very rainy visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum back in March, to see Xu Bing's installation in the garden. Named 'Travelling to the Wonderland', Bing's exhibit was inspired by a traditional Chinese fable called the Peach Blossom Spring, where a lost fisherman comes across a wonderland where the inhabitants live in harmony with their surroundings. Bing takes stones from around China, layering them around the pond at the centre and placing tiny sculptures around them and in the water. Fish swim in the water, little ceramic birds nest in the rocks, tiny houses sit by the water and flowers sprout everywhere - and as well as the mists and lighting, recordings of birds singing and flowing water plays from speakers. 

It was unfortunately the closing weekend of the piece, and I was desperate to go and have a look, but the weather was appalling and my camera was not a fan. There wasn't much light and with all the rain focusing became a bit of a nightmare. I very quickly gave up on keeping myself dry and let the weather do its thing so I could (attempt to) do mine. The upside of it tipping it down was that there wasn't really anyone else in the garden and so my shots weren't ruined by people walking through them! To be honest, in the end, the dark and the rain added a bit of atmosphere which improved my experience. The clouds of smoke set up to appear through the rocks were backlit by blue floodlights and became hazy with drizzle. Everything glistened, the pond was full of ripples, the raindrops hit the light perfectly... it was beautiful. It would have been wonderful to spend a long afternoon looking at all of the details of the installation. One thing I found particularly interesting is the lack of pretence in the set up of the piece: the lighting instruments, the smoke machines and the speakers aren't hidden from view - which Xiaoxin Li (Assistant Curator of East Asia) says reminds the viewer that 'this wonderland is ultimately un-real, just like the Peach Blossom Spring is ultimately fictional'. It was a great experience (despite the weather) and I'm hoping I'll get to see some of Bing's work in person again.

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