- Xu Bing
- Tao Hua Yuan: A Lost Village Utopia
- mixed media
- dimensions variable
During the Taiyuan era of the Jin Dynasty there was a man of Wuling who made his living as a fisherman. Once while following a stream he forgot how far he had gone. He suddenly came to a grove of blossoming peach trees. It lined both banks for several hundred paces and included not a single other kind of tree. Petals of the dazzling and fragrant blossoms were falling everywhere in profusion. Thinking this place highly unusual, the fisherman advanced once again in wanting to see how far it went.
The peach trees stopped at the stream's source, where the fisherman came to a mountain with a small opening through which it seemed he could see light. Leaving his boat, he entered the opening. At first it was so narrow that he could barely pass, but after advancing a short distance it suddenly opened up to reveal a broad, flat area with imposing houses, good fields, beautiful ponds, mulberry trees, bamboo, and the like. The fisherman saw paths extending among the fields in all directions, and could hear the sounds of chickens and dogs. Men and women working in the fields all wore clothing that looked like that of foreign lands. The elderly and children all seemed to be happy and enjoying themselves.
(translated by Rick Davis and David Steelman)
Chinese artist Xu Bing trained as a calligrapher and printmaker. Despite achieving success in this field, the forward-thinking Bing soon showed signs of the innovative artist he was to become by introducing new characters into his calligraphy based on the English language. Stimulated by the prints of Andy Warhol, Bing began to indulge his imagination and create works - of a wholly independent nature to western art - fusing the traditional with the contemporary; he is now one of China’s best-known and most internationally acclaimed artists.
A consistent thread throughout Bing’s work is his respect for nature, for which he cites his keen-gardening father. The present work, Tao Hua Yuan: A Lost Village Utopia, is a fascinating celebration of natural elements. The work takes its name from a fifth-century fable narrating the tale of a fisherman who stumbles across an astonishing idyll. However, the fisherman, on attempting to return to the site with his fellow city-dwellers, fails to find it. Bing’s installation recreates this fabled utopia using rocks, water, flowers, branches arranged like a traditional Chinese landscape painting: with the rocks serving as mountains and the pond as lakes. Around the rocks lie hundreds of miniature ceramic houses and animals.
The present work, originally installed at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is the artist’s most ambitious project to date and – as the artist himself notes – by being situated in the grand, at times florid, and spectacular grounds of Chatsworth is much more attuned to his original concept. Bing has even developed his concept with the addition of goldfish and water lilies to the pond. The sense of utopia – natural euphoria – is tangible.
The poignant ending to the fable colours Bing’s work: outlining the temporary installation as a representation of a transient fantasy. Xu Bing, with his acute attention to detail, colour and beauty, questions whether harmony with nature, and with it simple contentment in human existence, is perhaps already a romantic notion that we have long ago lost.