A couple of weeks ago a friend suggested I should visit a new gallery of contemporary Chinese art in my next door suburb - Chippendale. She's someone whose judgment I trust and she seemed particularly enthusiastic, so today a friend and I went to see the White Rabbit.
I'm not sure what I'd imagined - maybe a small 'alternative' gallery space with some interesting but rather inscrutable works. But the White Rabbit is nothing like that. It's a very beautiful four storey gallery in a spacious, superbly renovated, luminous, former knitting factory. The exhibition is part of what must be an unrivalled personal collection by Judith Neilson of examples of Chinese art since 2000 across a range of media - paintings, sculpture, installations, video, and textiles. Much of it is political, either in the more obvious sense of commenting on the recent history or present changes in China, or personally political in commenting on gender and exploration of the body. Many of the pieces are immense and a great deal of it is confrontational.
I particularly liked some of the textile pieces - which seems apt given the building's previous life as a knitting factory. There's an extraordinary installation by Sun Furong of 100 Zhongshan tunics (Mao suits) in their drab colours - but shredded into finely textured rags. They are sad but strong. I visited China in 1983 when everyone except for a small group of the most avant garde in Beijing dressed in Mao suits and this work reminds me that the society I then saw is now in tatters. There's a very fun bench-like structure about 3 metres by one metre covered in knitted strawberries. Yes, beautifully knitted strawberries! The description of the piece is:
Li Linying, an abstract painter, began knitting strawberries on a whim with some left-over red and green wool. The pastime became a passion: eight years later she had 1,500 strawberries. 'They are like my children', she says, 'I worry about them'.
Other textile works - there are some delicate, neat, black wool embroideries on white cotton by Gu Fan (the cover of the 'Guide Look' in the photo above depicts one of them), and my favourite piece in the exhibition: about 20 very delicate little girl dresses in fine silk organza suspended on fine lines from the ceiling and wafting gently in the air movements. The title of the piece by Jin Nu - 'Where Have All the Children Gone?' - transforms your admiration of the delicacy of the fabrics and their movement to awareness (sadness?) of all the unborn children, particularly girl children, resulting from China's 'one child' policy.
Anyway - go visit the White Rabbit in Chippendale. It's free, beautiful and has art you might like to know about. There's an elegantly simple tea shop with a range of teas and tiny snacks beautifully presented - and very reasonably priced. And there's a gift shop with a small range of covetable gifts, such as the typically Chinese floral patterned fabric made up into carry bags in my photo. I actually didn't buy my bag. It was a gift from the owner of the gallery because they'd run out of biscuits in the tea shop. That's the kind of place it is!