There’s a lot written about how in these days of digital, we hanker for real-world experiences and interactions. Bu Chinese artist Xu Bing has twisted this idea with his new installation at The V&A museum in London, creating an artwork that visitors can never fully experience, and with good reason.
Travelling to the Wonderland is arranged around the pond in the majestic Madjeski courtyard at the museum, a series of thinly cut rocks from five different areas of China topped with tiny ceramic houses and various miniature animals. At dusk, lights twinkle within the buildings, giving the whole piece an eery ethereal blue glow.
The work is inspired by a Chinese fable called Tao Hua Yuan or The Peach Blossom Spring which tells of a fishermen who gets lost in the forest and stumbles across the most perfect village cut off from the rest of society. When he returns and tells the town magistrate of his discovery he is dispatched with a group of men to return there, but they can never find their way back.
“It’s a story that is very well-known in China but I think it is a very important message for all people everywhere,” Xu told us. “The way we live now we spend a lot of time looking for a utopia but actually this often lives within us; in our hearts and minds. Tao Hua Yuan is a long lost dream and we don’t know if its existence is real or pure fiction.”
“The way we live now we spend a lot of time looking for a utopia but actually this often lives within us; in our hearts and minds.”
Long inspired by this tale, the idea for the piece came together after visiting the site. “When I cam here with my team I was drawn to this pond; the pond was the starting point. I was struck by the magnificence of this courtyard and that is surrounded by the museum and that is surrounded by London so it’s all about circles within circles.”
There is no effort to disguise the lights and motors and wires that are part of the installation. “The piece is designed to be viewed from the centre looking out so the wires and cables you see are just naturally what occur at the edges of the work,” Xu says. “But they also tell us something about the fragility of the idea of utopia.”
So denied standing in the centre where the piece is designed to be viewed from, you find yourself only ever gazing across at what occurs at a distance removed from where you are. The resulting experience is intoxicatingly frustrating.
“I think this piece will be popular with all kinds of people from young children up to the very old. I hope in this contemplative space they get a chance to think about the work and the message about not always thinking there is a utopia somewhere else,” Xu said.
Traveling to the Wonderland runs until March 4, 2014.