Out in the wild lands beyond the Great Wall, there once roamed people with claws and blue skin, one-legged goblins, women with tigers’ teeth, and fish-men that walked on four fins. Such monsters and mutants posed a threat to the civilised order, so they had to be kept at a distance. Yet they were also enticing, alluring, impossible to ignore.
       That is because they were us. Their freakish forms, bizarre behaviours, even their magic powers, were expressions of the lingering wildness in us all. They gave shape to our inner Swamp Creatures—the primal fears and imaginings, the lusts and eccentricities, the built-in bugs and defects beneath our standard-issue skins.
       Monsters can be dangerous. To give them free rein is to invite calamity, as China’s history shows. But while the vile in us must be restrained, it cannot be suppressed. We may do away with blue-skinned tribes and fish-people, but evolutionary ape-men and cyborgs, cloned sheep and mutant viruses soon take their place. And the vile in us is not always evil. It can be beautiful, even glorious, as the artists in VILE BODIES show. In exploring the monsters we contain and the monsters we create, they enlarge our picture of the human animal.

  • Chinese Offspring, Zhang Dalis “mass hanging” of naked migrant workers
  • Recombinant, 50 photographs of eerily plausible insects and amphibians re-engineered with human skin and hair by Li Shan
  • Lu Yang’s electronic music video Krafttremor, in which the movements of men with Parkinson’s disease “control” the soundtrack
  • Qiu Anxiong’s New Book of Mountains and Seas Part 2, an ink-painting-based animation inspired by a mythological “geography” book.
  • Zhou Changyong’s video–sculpture of his qi-shrouded avatar playing Jamie Foxx in an action sequence from Django Unchained.

Vile Bodies is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It runs until February 5, 2017.


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