Art of Change: New Directions from China at Hayward Gallery

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This morning I attended the preview for the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibition Art of Change: New Directions from China, which opens on Friday.

The exhibition shows performance art or installations by eight contemporary Chinese artists on the theme of change.

Art of Change is certainly one of the most unusual and interactive shows I’ve seen at the Hayward Gallery. All the works are in a state of change, allowing the artists to explore notions of impermanence and transformation.

The first installation is a piece of gym equipment which you can move yourself via remote control. In the next room, a performer tucks herself into a sleeping bag on a shelf, while another pokes her head through a shelf.

It soon became clear that we were not alone – striped pyjama-clad performers were silently following some of us around the gallery, stopping patiently when we paused to read, and following quickly when we changed direction.

The real “wow” moments for me are Xu Zhen’s In Just a Blink of an Eye, where a person seemingly floats in mid-air. This was the one that got people talking – “is it a real person,” “how do they do that?” It is a real person, although I didn’t see him blink or even breathe.

Liang Shaoji’s Nature Series is another highlight: a room full of items around which silkworms have spun their cocoons, from giant chains to tiny bed wire bed frame. There’s also a darkened room where you can sit on a cushion and “listen to zen,” the sound of silkworms eating and spinning. You even see live silkworms in the next room.

The upper and lower galleries have a more sombre tone. Here you can see a room of work by controversial duo Peng Yu and Sun Yuan, including a four metre tall tower made of human fat siphoned off during liposuction, and a room of objects covered in mud by the late Chen Zhen.

There’s also a digital archive where you can find out more about each of the artists in the exhibition, and about the development of installation and performance art in China from 1979 to the present.

Art of Change: New Directions from China is at the Hayward Gallery from 7 September to 9 December 2012