Art of Change: New Directions from China, at the Hayward Gallery, is a mixed bag of a show, but there's certainly enough of interest to make it worth a visit. One exhibit though sort of nagged at me in an annoying way....
I Didn't Notice What I am Doing is a work by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu:
[Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Southbank Centre]
From the exhibition guide:
Recent works, such as I Didn't Notice What I am Doing, are less confrontational, but still raise questions about how we think and behave. In I Didn't Notice What I am Doing, the artists address "fake Darwinism" and the ways in which we intuit knowledge through perception. They explain that, though the triceratops conjures similarities with the modern rhinoceros, the two creatures belong to completely different species and there is no evolutionary link between them. Sometimes, as the title of the work implies, such connections are made purely intuitively and have no basis in scientific fact. The artists explain that 'the main crux of the project lies in its investigation into the manner in which relationships are constructed or how correlations are made.'
Well...yes, there may be no evolutionary link between the triceratops and the rhinoceros, but that doesn't mean that the perceived similarity is some kind of arbitrary or misleading intuition - some trick played on us by our systemising minds. The similarity is clear and obvious, and has, in fact, a fascinating scientific pedigree. The triceratops and the rhinoceros are creatures that evolved remarkably similar strategies for survival, as herbivores in a world of predators, from entirely different lineages - dinosaurs and mammals. They're both large and well-muscled, and both sport those fierce forward-pointing horns to make any passing carnivore think twice before attacking. They occupy similar ecological niches. They are, in fact, excellent examples of convergent evolution.
They should offer the models to the Natural History Museum. They're very fine models; very well crafted. A scientific approach - in terms of explaining how both species evolved to come up with the same or very similar solutions to the same problems from entirely different and unrelated lineages - would be so much more interesting than this vague, pretentious, and entirely tedious stuff about intuition and perception.
But then that's the art world for you. If they'd look up from the endless solipsistic questioning of how we think and behave and make correlations, they might see that there's a whole beautiful world where the correlations are out there, waiting to be appreciated and understood.
Well, that was my particular niggle. As I say though, there's plenty in the show to enjoy.