Home' Scoop Homes and Art : Scoop Homes and Art 38 Contents 218 HOMES & ART SPRING 2013
a biannual exhibition curated by Edmund Capon, former
director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Although the
show (which unfolds over six months from the end of August)
takes its curatorial cues from an old Maoist slogan, it also plays
with the idea of creative production as a form of service. It’s
a theme that overturns art world hierarchies even as it informs
contemporary Chinese art.
“‘Serve the people’ was, ironically, one of the catch-phrases
of Mao’s Cultural Revolution – that event which cast such a dark
and lingering cloud on the Chinese people and extinguished its
creative spirit,” explains Capon, who first came across the maxim
during a 1974 excursion to China. “Now I think art ‘serves the
people’ in liberating their spirits and their imaginations.” This
also recasts contemporary artists as service providers tasked
with reviving the country’s cultural imagination, rather than
creative geniuses who have actively chosen the artist’s life.
While the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, its spectre has
loomed over China’s unconscious ever since. For example, Sun
Furong’s Nibbling Up Series: Tomb Figures (2008) sees a row of
formless subjects cloaked in shredded Mao suits, shoulders
hunched in despair. The mixed-media piece draws its power
from its holes and absence, which hint at a spiritual erosion
that’s proven impossible to repair. Elsewhere, Zhang Peilli’s video
installation Happiness (2006) is a lesson in the revolutions’ flipside.
Appropriating footage from the 1975 film In the Shipyard, the
piece conveys the euphoric thrills of emancipation via a montage
of beaming smiles.
If contemporary art in China is a service, then it’s one that’s
highly prolific. And for White Rabbit’s founder, Judith Neilson,
this proliferation is precisely the source of its appeal. “I am
focused on Chinese contemporary art because there are more
artists in China than the rest of the world,” says Judith, revealing
that her obsession was stoked by a chance encounter with Beijing
artist Wang Zhiyuan at a Sydney art opening.
“In America, there might be 100 contemporary artists, but
in China there might be 100,000,” she continues. “And in both
countries, the same proportion would be good. You would also
find those interesting artists who would never make it due to lack
of fortune or visibility. You could never put together a collection as
large as I have on American art or Indian art. It’s impossible.”
The gallery’s expansive collection is the result of regular buying
trips to Shanghai and Beijing, avoiding the hype of auctions in
favour of forging personal connections with up-and-coming
artists. Judith also says that her collector’s eye isn’t enamored so
much with technical mastery as with artists who show
a willingness to make mistakes. “A lot of the work is not
meticulous, it’s experimental. Artists will try all kinds of strange
things and aren’t afraid to fail. That’s why I like it,” she admits.
Beijing artist You Si reinvents traditional Chinese ink painting and creates surreal works by applying coloured inks. Transforming by You Si, 2012. Acrylic ink on rice paper, 180x180cm.
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