Lemon Project: Exhibition review

‘Lemon Project’ by artist He Xiangyu at CFCCA UK

Written by Nicole Coyle

Photography by Lewis White

I for one love the colour yellow. When I heard that the Centre For Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) was showing He Xiangyu’s exhibition on his ‘Lemon Project’, where Xiangyu studies the concepts surrounding lemons and the colour yellow, I was very excited.

Alongside this exhibition was the a premiere of ‘Sylvain’, a new film created by Xiangyu that whilst connecting the piece with his research from the ‘Lemon Project’, seemed to contain deeper meanings and explorations within. Whilst this exhibition all sounds extremely interesting and eye-opening to the different meanings and symbolisms associated with the researched subjects, it left me feeling a mix of emotions. Overall, I really liked the exhibition. Everyone has their own ideas for what the colour yellow means to them, meaning the exhibition can have a strong personal connection with each viewer. Presenting this exhibition during May and June also seems very fitting, with the weather starting to get brighter and warmer, it is nice having the outside weather connect to the inside yellow colours of the artwork. The studies of yellow and the meanings of lemons are all situated on the right side of the room in a variety of different mediums such as projections and paintings.

My favourite piece shown in this part of the exhibition is the screen showing a slideshow of sentences. This slideshow is very simple and contains both English and Chinese text in a yellow font on a contrasting grey background. They describe different associations connected with both yellow and lemon and use a mixture of both sentences and poems to convey these. This was enjoyable as whilst I was stood here surrounded by the different happy and comforting shades of yellow, there is also the sounds of bodies of water playing. These added together to make me feel so relaxed, and whilst reading the poems and somewhat poetic sentences, it all felt very lovely. I think feeling this calm and relaxed also helped me focus more and think about the different meanings of yellow and lemons that Xiangyu is trying to teach us, that he himself came across in his research for this project. There was one sentence that stood out especially to me. “The smell of lemon soap.” Instantly it was as if I could smell the sentence within the room. Even though this slideshow has no pictures or 4D effects, it still managed to bring in all of my senses. I could smell the soap, feel the soap, see the soap, even though this quote was merely a sentence.

I really enjoy the yellow half of the room, however, whilst the soothing, relaxing, river sounds were playing, these were sometimes interrupted by an aggressive bashing noise coming from the premiere of ‘Sylvain’ on the other side of the gallery. Halfway between the artworks and the film screen are three yellow beanbags, which connect both quite nicely, and the beanbags were comfy, helping me continue to feel relaxed. It was nice to have beanbags instead of a typical gallery bench, it encouraged me to sink myself in more and stay to watch the full film.

It is the film which I can’t make my mind up about. I can’t decide if I like it or don’t, and I find the meanings within it confusing. Looking through the camera lens you get to watch the creation of a violin, which has some nice soothing sounds, these reminded me of the popular ASMR videos that have filled the internet recently. It was calming to listen to this and watch the wood chips peel off the wood in one swift movement as the man carved the violin shapes. Then there were more abrupt, hammering sounds as he continued to put together the violin, this was quite loud and started to take me out of my relaxed mode. This I think could be a useful input to help remind the viewer to focus on the meaning behind the film, rather than becoming stuck in a dreamland, but by the end of the film I still didn’t understand what this meaning was. When reading the introduction text that explained the different notions the film explored, I was excited to watch something with such a powerful story, but I just couldn’t grasp the story I read and what I was meant to see. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderfully produced film and it was beautiful to watch at moments, but the story behind it I felt was too difficult to understand. There was the inclusion of a lemon within the film, which connected this to the ‘Lemon Project’ on the other side of the room, but this didn’t help my understanding anymore.

The exhibition is aesthetically beautiful, and the idea behind it is very intriguing. I think it does have a lot of potential to continue being a successful research project. I don’t dislike the film as such, I just found it baffling, which then made me leave feeling confused to where these different meanings Xiangyu tried so hard to convey, lay within the film. I would recommend giving this exhibition a visit as it is a good one, and the movie may make more sense to others. I myself would maybe have preferred more of the research from the ‘Lemon Project’ to have been included.

Lemon Project‘ is currently on at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA UK) from 17th May – 21st July.

Our guest blogger is Nicole Coyle. She is currently within my third year of studies as an Art History student at Manchester Metropolitan University. Check out her Instagram page, and her LinkedIn account.

Our guest photographer is Lewis White, a fine art street photographer who looks at loneliness in the city. You can purchase his prints on his website lewiswhitephotography.com.

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