The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Smash Palace at the White Rabbit

A new show opening at White Rabbit Gallery is always exciting - and 'Smash Palace' is no exception.
It's a very, very different mood than that of their previous exhibition - quite dark and disturbing in part, with a sensibility that echoes a prevailing view among many Chinese artists that the world is so absurd, and politics so preposterous, that surrealism is the only sane response.
Here is the start of my review, published this week in 'The Art Life'
Made-In, 'Under Heaven' image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit
Smash (verb): shatter - break - crush - crash - dash - demolish - crack
Smash (noun): crash - clash - collision
Intrigued by the title for this new show of contemporary Chinese art at the White Rabbit Gallery, I wondered at first what curatorial narrative could possibly connect such diverse works. From artists working with oil paint applied with a cake decorator’s nozzle, to drawings made with biro, to collections of miniaturised possessions, to mechanised French railway tickets, to sculptures made with a 3D laser printer the works illustrate the diversity and in many cases the technical virtuosity and conceptual complexity of contemporary art in the People’s Republic and Taiwan.
Zong  Ning, 'Slum', 2008 Inkjet Print, image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit
Bai Yiluo, Recycling, image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit
Seen together they tell a story of today’s China which ironically echoes Mao Zedong’s exhortation to “Smash the Four Olds” – customs, culture, habits and ideas. The “smashing” taking place today relates to the dramatic and fast-paced change being wrought by global capital and modernisation. This has resulted in mega-cities housing upwards of 20 million citizens; the social upheaval, barely contained and controlled, of the largest migration in history of workers from rural villages to the factory towns of southern China; and the transformative possibilities of communications technology as people begin to demand greater freedoms. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle in this last instance – a news story this week reported Chinese netizens’ responses to a People’s Dailystory listing the names of the 2987 ‘representatives’ attending the National People’s Congress. Howls of fury, savage mockery, cynicism and disenchantment erupted on Sina Weibo, the Chinese micro-blogging site which now has twice as many users as Twitter. Most of the comments were variations on “Who the hell are these people and how did they come out of nowhere to represent me?” Others wondered how long it would take for corruption scandals to unseat them, while @?? tweeted, “I refuse to be represented. In this information age, I speak for myself.” This prevailing sense of unease and anxiety at the dark side of the increasing wealth and power of China is expressed by many of the artists in this exhibition.
Wang Guofeng, Ideality No 3, digital photograph, image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit

On the ground floor Bai Yiluo’s 2008 ‘Recycling’, an enormous fibreglass human heart tied onto the back of a tricycle of the kind used to transport materials and recycled paper in Chinese cities, suggests the ways that our human needs for love and kindness are disposable in the rush to acquire material wealth. There are also suggestions of the deeply contentious and disturbing trade in human organs in China. Juxtaposed with a panoramic photograph by Jin Feng, ‘Appeals Without Words’, depicting a row of ‘petitioners’ – rural villagers bringing petitions about corruption and land seizures to the attention of provincial officials – the two works represent some of the problems endemic to a nation undergoing seismic systemic change. The petitioners in this staged photograph are painted gold because they will wait so long to be heard that they may as well be statues, and their petitions are blank sheets of paper because no-one will ever listen to their pleas for justice. The corruption of venal local officialdom is legendary, and was ever thus. “The mountains are high and the Emperor is far away,” in the words of the ancient proverb. Jin Feng powerfully draws our attention to the disparities of power and wealth in China, where mega-rich ‘red princes’ race their Maseratis and Porsches in Beijing and Shanghai whilst migrant workers sleep in makeshift tent homes beneath the freeways they are constructing. Similarly, Jin Shi’s ‘Mini-Home’, seen recently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the 18th Biennale of Sydney, makes visible the unseen lives of poor urban migrants, living in the cracks of the cities – alleyways, demolition zones, underneath bridges and beside freeways. The artist represents the contrast between the poverty of their reality and their aspirations by miniaturising the chaotic and cluttered temporary dwelling and all the random objects it contains. These lives are literally ‘made small’ by the inequalities of wealth and power that have emerged following the demise of the ‘iron rice bowl’ system.

If you want to read the rest of my review, click HERE