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  • Fiona Prior

Then – The First Ten Years of the White Rabbit

White Rabbit – Then

Sweeping social change at the end of the 20th Century meant that Chinese artists at the start of the 21st found themselves in a world that had been utterly transformed …

The artists of this period exploded with provocative creativity, celebrating and satirising a society in flux. Still today, with so much focus on China and Hong Kong, China and International Security, China and Trade Wars, Chinese loans and developing nations ... this great nation continues to intrigue, bemuse, unsettle and at times horrify.

Viewing White Rabbit’s retrospective is fascinating for all these reasons.

Daniel Lee’s ‘Nightlife’ sums up so much of the impossible, possibility of China. Are these super-worked faces a bunch or privileged rich kids purchasing the latest ‘cool’ facial enhancements, or the result of a scientific experimentation? The under-worldy feel of the scene makes me think gold chains, gold teeth, tattoos, removed digits and diamond earrings … only so much more! (*I've enlarged a detail of the the image below so you can see the facial details)

Image: ‘Nightlife’ by Daniel Lee, courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery

Image: ‘Nightlife’ (detail) by Daniel Lee, courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery

Qi Zhilong’s 'China Girl' is almost the other end of the spectrum. This serene young beauty wearing the uniform of the Cultural Revolution Red Guard looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, yet this was a generation young ones so persuaded by propaganda that they would inform on parents, neighbours and friends if they felt the those in question were not loyal to revolutionary aims. Ironically, for these nostalgic portraits artist Qi Zhilong often asked modern-day Chinese celebrities to be his models; those socialist youth of a bygone era being re-imagined by Qi Zhilong as fancy dress-wearing pop stars, actresses or models.

Image: ‘China Girl’ by Qi Zhilong, courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery

The most disturbing exhibit for me was Zhang Dali’s ‘Chinese Offspring’, an installation of hanging human-figure carcasses; a work that seeks to focus on the plight of hundreds of thousands of rural migrant workers flooding into China’s cities each year seeking work. These itinerant workers face social prejudice due to their poverty, while ineffective policy does not allow them access to public services. Many of these workers labour in appalling conditions for slave wages that produce products that many of us know all know too well for they flood our markets.

Image: ‘Chinese Offspring’ (partial depiction of installation) by Zhang Dali, courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Gallery

White Rabbit Gallery was created from the private collection of Judith Neilson. The exhibition ‘Then – The First Ten Years of the White Rabbit’ is the anniversary celebration of the gallery’s opening. It is well worth your attention for it is possibly the most exciting permanent gallery in Sydney right now.

You won’t want for thoughts and talking points if you visit with a friend, though you may need a little time to process the power of many of the works and regain your voice.

Those thoughts are sure to be as vivid as the works on show.

Then – The First Ten Years of the White Rabbit

White Rabbit Gallery

30 Balfour St, Chippendale

until January 26, 2020

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