Standing in front of you is a well-dressed young woman smoking a cigarette, not what you expect to see these days, beyond which is a large carpet made from multi-coloured run, with a predominance of red, and words projecting from the carpet in tufted wool, both in English and Chinese. You tread carefully over the rug, taking care not to stand on the words and damage them.
Around the corner you glimpse another woman lying on the floor beyond the hallway, the normally-white walls and ceilings of which are covered with the numbers 404, the code used in China to denote blocked websites while through the window, the normally calm and well-ordered courtyard garden is a scene of destruction, filled with smashed bricks. Explore further – downstairs is a video which looks first as if it is showing everyday life in China, but has a subtle subtext of the tensions between state control and individual freedom – while in a further gallery upstairs paintings combine today’s images with moments of China’s history.
Curated by Victor Wang, these works by Chinese artists Xiang Jing, aaajiao, Lin Tianmiao, Zhao Zhao, Yu Hong and Ma Quisha with her image that is almost western in style, fill the Lisson Gallery at 27 Bell Street, London, in the first part of ‘Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu’ curated by Victor Wang, exploring the new work by Chinese artists as they break away from not only traditional styles, but traditional materials to explore issues such as femininity, the relationship of the present to the past and the tensions between state and individual, in a country which is seeking to change, but to maintain its old political and cultural identity.
One of the advantages of having two gallery spaces within a few minutes walk of each other is that you have immense flexibility, from having potentially several different exhibitions running at one time, to joining the two together with one exhibition. This summer, the Lisson Gallery has opted for the latter with its two galleries in Bell Street Lisson Street and the exhibition continues across the road at 67 Bell Street with Shen Xin’s video installation combining abstract images with text across the four screens in the centre of the room and Wang Youshen’s mass of newspapers which cover the room, as he did the Great Wall of China as he explores the influence of mass media on our lives and the role of printed media in 21st century China – with an interesting link back to aajiao’s ’404′. This is art to make you stand and think about the changes and tensions in the 21st century world, not just in China.