Then, And Now: White Rabbit Gallery’s celebrations of contemporary Chinese art
Contemporary Chinese design is close to our heart. Our ongoing partnership with Chinese design studios BUZAO and Bentu Design has given us a small taste of the unique creative force that is inspiring Chinese designers, and we’re passionate about sharing it. White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, Sydney, is one of our favourite destinations, and we are always inspired and awe-struck by the artworks and sculptures produced by China’s contemporary artists.
White Rabbit Gallery is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the gallery, with two exhibitions. Then celebrated the first 10 years of Judith Neilson’s White Rabbit Collection, while And Now celebrates the second 20 years. They tell the story of twenty-first-century Chinese art, with playful, bold and provocative pieces produced between 2000 and 2020.
Chinese contemporary art exploded on the international scene in the first decade of the 2000s. As sweeping social changes transformed China at the end of the twentieth century, contemporary Chinese artists embraced new national and international influences. They re-examined and reinvented Chinese art traditions and created works that fused past and present, East and West. Often, they poked fun or critiqued the paradoxes of the rapidly changing nation.
Visiting China and Taiwan in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Judith was struck by the creative energy, bravery and technical accomplishment of the first generation of avant-garde artists following China’s Cultural Revolution. She began collecting works produced since 2000, and in 2009 opened White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, Sydney, to host exhibitions of the thought-provoking works.
Then, which closed on 2 February 2020, celebrated the inventiveness of Chinese contemporary artists as they revelled in new-found freedoms, challenged cliched perceptions and observed the effects of a nation on fast forward. Wang Zhiyuan’s Object of Desire (2008) – a giant pair of pink neon-lit fibreglass underpants accompanied by a soundtrack of Shanghai love songs (above) – is a comment on the commodification of love, while Chen Wenling’s Valiant Stuggle 11 (2006) – a fire-engine-red car with protruding gold tongue – is a satirical critique on China’s emerging wealthy class and increasingly capitalistic and consumerist society.
Works ranged from the personal to the political – from Jin NV’s Exuviate 2 (2005), which features 20 starched organza children’s dresses inspired by memories of the artist’s childhood, to Zhang Dali’s Chinese Offspring (2005) in which 30 life-sized naked figures, cast from the body of a real-life migrant worker, are suspended from the ceiling.
Following on from Then, And Now features artworks from the second decade of the twenty-first century, including Zhu Jinshi’s extraordinary The Ship of Time – a large tunnel crafted from 14,000 sheets of crinkled xuan rice paper, 1,800 pieces of bamboo and 2,000 cotton threads 7 metres long. Zhu Jinshi’s brother and studio assistant Zhu Jingang taught members of the White Rabbit Gallery team to tie the knots for the suspended tunnel, which visitors can enter and walk through the to see the intricately placed papers up close.
Constellations by Zhao Zhao is a confronting seven-panel silk embroidery. Zhao began his “Constellations” series in 2014 after being involved in a serious motor accident in 2018. He saved a pane of shattered glass, which had spiralling cracks from the force of his head. Zhao became interested in the effect of violent blows on materials, and creating pieces that evoked notions of pain, trauma and violence. He created shattered constellations in glass with gunshots; inserted jade discs into shattered glass at the points of impact; and create the embroidered tapestry that will be exhibited at And Now.
An acclaimed three-channel video installation by Liu Chuang explores what it means to be displaced and alienated, with found and filmed footage fused together with recognisable cinematic references.