Exhibition: Double Take at the White Rabbit Gallery

Yesterday I visited the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before – one of the largest privately owned collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world, the entire four floors of exhibition space is rehung twice a year with a mixture of new acquisitions and other works from the collection.
Above is Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village (2010) by Gao Rong. This is an extremely detailed re-creation of the entrance to the basement flat Gao Rong lived in as a student in Beijing.
Check the detail photo on the left – that’s just one of the rusty/flaky spots on the downpipe, all executed in hand embroidery. The entire scene is fabric and stitch. The attention to detail is stunning and the result very convincing. Meticulous and obsessive.
I believe this was Gao Rong’s exhibition piece as a student. The Gallery is also showing Station, a re-creation of the signs at the bus-stop she used. Earlier this year (blog post 27-Aug-2012) I saw a much more ambitious work based on her grandmother’s home which I found disappointingly incomplete. The subjects she has chosen are very personal, a record of places she has spent a lot of time. To me the original basement work is the most satisfying – complete and convincing. I wonder where she goes from here – larger meant that even with assistance it was impossible to achieve, certainly more realistic doesn’t seem possible.

Dust (2008) by Cong Lingqi is another example of epic detail. There are 210 tiny models of everyday items, each carefully handmade by the artist, suspended in a beam of light (although not the intended strong, focused beam just now – that light is under repair). The shadows are as important as the actual items, a dreamy memory. I haven’t included a distance shot showing the entire work, but the overall effect is light motes of dust moving hazily in a sunbeam. The whole effect is magical.
More and more I’m drawn to works which use shadows and light. Possibly not a safe choice for an artist – even in a very well setup gallery like White Rabbit there can be glitches in special requirements. Another aspect of particular interest to me is the way this work has coherence and meaning as a whole, and also richly rewards close inspection. That’s a recurring challenge for textile work.

The works shown above and the one on the left are identical – the only difference is the manner of display.
Paper (2010) by Li Hongbo is accurately titled – it’s paper, two very large stacks of paper that the artist has carved with an electric saw. The information plaque at the gallery describes it as “rigorously rule-based construction enabling a near-total liberation of form”.
One interesting thing is that the artist leaves it to the curator to decide how to present the work. Another issue is the fragility of the material – something I commented on briefly with another of Li Hongbo’s works that was shown on Cockatoo Island during the biennale (post 8-Sept-2012). The guide at White Rabbit was quite relaxed about it. A number of times they’ve come in of a morning and found an arm dropped off or similar. They just repair it. Simple.

In this last work I am back to full size and meticulous detail – although this time not something you could mistake for the real thing.
This is Shi Jindian’s Beijing Jeep’s Shadow (2007). It’s made in wire in a technique he describes as crochet. Apparently each individual element in the piece is made around an actual jeep part to get the exact shaping, then the part is removed leaving a steel wire lace.
All the works I photographed are large, detailed and obviously took an enormous commitment and effort to create. Sometimes working in textiles I’ve been conscious of the time taken, the repetitive process. How important is that time and input? A pleasurable activity (mostly) – but does quantity of time spent mean more than that? Should it?

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November 2012

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