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exhibition review: ‘serve the people’ at the white rabbit gallery

Shen Shaomin, Laboratory: Three-Headed, Six-Armed Superhuman, 2005, bones, bone meal, glue, glass, dimensions variable (detail) Image courtesy of the White Rabbit Gallery

Shen Shaomin, ‘Laboratory: Three-Headed, Six-Armed Superhuman’, 2005, bones, bone meal, glue, glass, dimensions variable (detail) Image courtesy of the White Rabbit Gallery


This labor day long weekend I decided to soak up the sun, catch up on my reading, and visit the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, Sydney, to see it’s newest exhibition, Serve the People, curated by Edmund Capon, former Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The White Rabbit Gallery is host to contemporary Chinese art (from 2000 onwards) and was founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson. This new collection showcases the ‘best artworks of the 21st-century cultural revolution.’ The title Serve the People is derived from a slogan of the 1970s revolution, which stated that artists and citizens should seek to serve ‘the great cause of socialism’ by boosting China’s image and income. Nowadays, Chinese artists have even more freedom to explore new art forms and contexts, so this exhibition seeks to show contemporary Chinese art that has catapulted this idea of serving the people, for the betterment of the people.

The exhibition led me on a journey of multiple artists’ interpretations of modern Chinese life, and was littered with both obvious and subtle illusions to what it means to be Chinese in the ever-changing modern world. Highlights for me include Zhang Jianjun’s China Chapter, 2007 – 2011, which is a series of ‘pottery’ pieces made from silicone. This piece blurred the lines of fact and fiction and forced me to question whether this old-style pottery that was made with a modern ‘fake’ material can be called traditional or modern art.


Jin Feng, 'A History of China’s Modernisation Volumes 1 and 2', 2011, tank tyres, marble, rice paper, dimensions variable (detail) Image courtesy of the White Rabbit Gallery

Jin Feng, A History of China’s Modernisation Volumes 1 and 2, 2011, tank tyres, marble, rice paper, dimensions variable (detail) Image courtesy of the White Rabbit Gallery


Yi Ling’s New Women, 2007, was another fascinating piece. It is a large-scale painting, which plays tricks on the eye. Ling states that in her piece, ‘nothing is everything,’ a becoming phrase which really sinks in, as the longer you look at the image which seems to be nothing at the beginning, the more you see the everything which shines through – images of women, army tanks and trees. Other highlights were Jin Feng’s China’s Modernisation Volumes, a chilling room filled with symbols of Chinese history written on army tyres, featuring a broken statue of Mao, and Sun Forong’s Nibbling up, 2008, which features a cluster of army suits that she intricately stabbed into bits, a chilling reminder of war and the impact on domestic life.

Overall, I not only learnt a lot about Chinese art, in both the past and present, but also learnt that I can still be surprised by modern art. Something that’s difficult for me to say these days, I find lack narrative and professionalism in most of the contemporary galleries I visit. And that’s coming from me, an art student who has been taught the meanings of minimalism and postmodernism, so I can really understand why most people cannot connect with modern art – it has become inaccessible. Except however, in this collection, so I really praise the White Rabbit staff and Edmund Capon for creating this exhibition. I highly recommend you head along to the gallery, even if it means being inside during a sunny and relaxing long weekend.


‘Serve the People’ is showing at the White Rabbit Gallery, Chippendale until 2 February 2014. The Gallery is open Thursdays – Sundays from 10am to 6pm, and boasts 4 levels of artworks, installations and videos. It is completely free and you can visit the shop or tearoom during your visit.

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