- China’s First Emperor And The Terracotta Warriors @ World Museum
- Presence: A Window Into Chinese Contemporary Art @ St. George’s Hall
It is near impossible to walk past the top of Nelson Street without stopping to wonder at the towering ceremonial archway that marks Chinatown. Liverpool is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe, and this monument symbolises a prosperous relationship that dates back many years. At around 15 metres high, and painted with striking reds, golds and greens, it is the tallest Chinese archway in Europe – and arguably the most beautiful.
But for many, knowledge of Chinese culture ends with this archway: a fact that CHINA DREAM hopes to change. The eight-month long programme of exhibitions, events and performances brings modern China to the heart of Liverpool. Simultaneously, the much-anticipated arrival of CHINA’S FIRST EMPEROR AND THE TERRACOTTA WARRIORS at the World Museum tells the story of ancient China. Together, they present China as a country rich with history, art and tradition.
In 1974, a group of local farmers accidentally made one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries. Exhibited in the UK for the first time in 10 years, the Terracotta Warriors were found guarding the tomb of the First Emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang (259 – 210 BC). Alongside the warriors, the exhibition showcases over 180 rare artefacts, many of which have never been shown in the UK.
It is the size of the warriors that first draws me in; with only a few on show at the World Museum, it is hard to imagine that up to 8000 remain buried in China. I am also drawn to the Emperor’s relentless fascination with death and immortality; he ordered work to begin on his tomb when he was just 13 years old. Ironically, it is the world-famous Terracotta Warriors that bring the Emperor closest to immortality.
The strength of this exhibition is in its storytelling; the curators have condensed 1000 years of complex Chinese history into an accessible and interesting format. As I leave, I am struck by how much I have learned. European classrooms tend to favour the Roman Empire or the Egyptians, which makes exhibitions such as this vital. Though the Terracotta Warriors are billed as the main attraction, it is the information on Chinese philosophy and the everyday objects on display that paint a truer picture of what life was like for those living in China 2000 years ago.
Across the road in St. George’s Hall, PRESENCE: A WINDOW INTO CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART offers a wildly different picture of Chinese culture: one that is firmly in the 21st Century. With pieces on loan from the University of Salford Art Collection, the varied nature of the exhibition reflects a thriving and innovative contemporary art scene. The gloomy vaults of St. George’s Hall are the perfect setting for a number of pieces that interrogate the idea of space. The exhibition is worth visiting just for a peek at the depths of this magnificent building.
That said, the artwork should not be missed. Upon entering, I am immediately drawn to Lu Xinjian’s City DNA/Salford And Manchester (2016); the bright, hand-painted patterns bring a dull Google Earth image to life and, subsequently, reflect the vibrant feel of the two places. Another highlight is Suki Chan’s film Lucida (2016), which examines the relationship between the human eye, brain and vision. The almost meditative nature of the piece leaves me distinctly aware of my own process of seeing; this is intensified by the oppressive nature of the dark, dingy room in which I am sat.
Both exhibitions leave me with a sense of wanting to know more about Chinese culture – be that history or art. While the Terracotta Warriors have received much publicity, Presence is a quietly exciting exhibition. People will travel from all over the country just to see the Terracotta Warriors; the few minutes it takes to cross the road are highly worth it for an alternate but equally intriguing view of Chinese culture.