Spring is already in London! Fragrant, intriguing, exotic. Or at least this is the sensation that Xu Bing’s installation Travelling to the Wonderland gives us. Created exclusively for the Victoria and Albert museum and currently in its garden, the installation has its concept based on the classic Chinese fable Toa Hua Yuan (Peach Blossom Spring). The fable tells the story of a lost fisherman who discovers a land behind a mountain where people lead an ideal existence in harmony with nature, unaware of the outside world. This quote of the fable reveals the exact moment of discovery of the wonderland:
“…After a dozen steps, it opened into a flood of light. He saw before his eyes a wide, level valley, with houses and fields and farms. There were bamboos and mulberries; farmers were working and dogs and chickens were running about.”
– translated by writer and linguist Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976)
Travelling to the Wonderland was built up from layers of thinly cut authentic stones, collected from different places in China. Incorporating mist as well as light and sound effects, Xu Bing has created a mystic dream-like atmosphere. However, the author has decided to leave some part of the installation unpolished and imperfect so that from certain angles visitors can see hidden machines and cables. This essential part of the concept reveals that not everything is as it first seems. Bing’s installation provokes the viewer to see beyond the surface of things, to realise that the wonderland was born out of a rich imagination, and that it is as fictional as the fable Peach Blossom Spring is.