“I wish I could say WELCOME,” my tour guide enthusiastically cried, “but instead I can only say welcome.” Her arms dropped and shoulders slumped. “You’ve got on the wrong bus.”
The guide was right to offer only a restrained greeting since she wasn’t introducing the most flattering or palatable aspects of a modern China. However, I wasn’t on ‘the wrong bus.’ I was exactly where I wanted to be.
The White Rabbit Gallery is the world’s largest collection of contemporary Chinese art. What started as a personal collection for Judith Neilson eventually transformed into renowned gallery and teahouse.
Judith Neilson has over 1,100 works in her collection and while many of them celebrate the beauty and culture of China, the current exhibition dug beneath the veneer of the most populous country in the world. “In Commune, some of China’s best-known artists and brightest newcomers explore the tensions between individual and group, community and nation, collectivist past and chaotic present.”
On the ground floor was a series of images borrowed from the pages of the Beijing News- circulation 450,000. Xia Xing painstakingly painted each photo by mimicking the way the ink is layered on newsprint- cyan, magenta, and yellow.
The man who was amputated by the criminal he testified against, the fallen angel and her $2 billion dollar lawsuit, Xia transformed the disposable story into something more substantial.
“Indifferent herself to money and fame, she worried that money was corroding Chinese society, “tearing up conscience, morality and kindness”. As Husband and Wife (2010) was an experiment in a style that later became her hallmark: “painting” with torn-up banknotes and PhotoShop. The notes—from China and other nations—not only afforded her an extensive colour palette but literally represented a factor whose role in relationships is much larger than most people are willing to admit.
In this collage, the softly torn, petal-like shapes are a reminder that money is also one of the chief causes of marital conflict. The faceless bride and groom could be any couple, their disagreements stitched up for the happy day. (The artist obtained suture thread from her father, a surgeon.)”
In 2013, Li Xuan lost the battle against depression. She took her own life and that of her child as she could not bear to leave them in this world. In acquiring the piece from her distraught husband, the gallery donated to charity instead of directly purchasing the piece.
The struggle within a rapidly changing society is not without its fond memories though. Artist Gao Rong spent years recreating her grandparent’s house with foam, fabric and embroidery. The small one-room interior is lush in detail – especially when you realize that worn edges on the kitchen table, the rust spots on the pipes and the cracks on the wall had actually been embroidered.
The installation is a massive feat, which is an accurate assessment of the Commune show in general. It is not the glamorous or flattering side of China, but it is beautiful in its execution and heart-breaking in its honesty.
How to get to the White Rabbit Gallery: 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale NSW 2008