I have heard The White Rabbit Gallery from my friends for several times. The name delivers a sweet, simple, nostalgic and traditional sense because it reminds me of a common milk candy, “The Big White Rabbit”, in my childhood. It was a cheap candy locally produced and could be found everywhere before people’s lives were integrated into the global market further.
I was born in 1990s, after China started preparing itself to welcome a global market in 1989, and my childhood was among waves of significant changes in China. A white rabbit is a common symbol that expresses joy, energy and purity in Chinese traditional arts and literature. However, the name “white rabbit”, because of its association with that particular candy in 1990s, only arouses in me an image of contemporary China in the process of serial transformations. That was a period when more students went to universities and the competition for a better education began to intensify, parents in an apartment of 50 meter square worked from day to night for their entire life, more peasants moved into the city to work in factories and some families made enough income to step up the “middle class”. It was a period when some traditional forms of art disappeared, and some new forms emerged.
Therefore I found “White rabbit” is a perfect name for this gallery of Chinese contemporary arts built by Nelson foundation. It has ‘one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art’ produced after 2000. One of the founders, Judith Nelson, said the collection ‘did arise from a series of chance encounters’, and the first instance could be dated back to 1990s when she was introduced to some amazing Chinese contemporary art works by a Chinese artist living in Sydney, Wang Zhiyuan who now has moved to Beijing and opened a studio. The arts that Mrs Nelson discovered were ‘ bursting with ideas and energy, vibrant, often humorous, imaginative, technically superb and utterly compelling’ – ‘I was hooked, and wanted to start collecting at once’. When she ran out of space at her own place to store those collections, ‘she and her husband then decided to open a gallery that would make the exciting world of contemporary Chinese art available to all Australians’.
They started building The White Rabbit Gallery in 2008. The gallery has ‘four floors of exhibition space as well as a theatre, a library and a teahouse’. The entire contents of the gallery are rehung twice a year.
The art works there are utterly breath-taking:
Shi Jindian‘s wire Jeep and motorbike of which every ethereal detail was manually wired.
Ai Weiwei‘s sunflower seeds of which each one was manually crafted out of porcelain
Gao Rong‘s hand embroidered entrance of a Chinese apartment (everything is hand embroidered even though it looks like it’s made of steel or wood)
Li Hongbo‘s man made of one single long “honeycomb” paper ball – ‘the endless possibilities of paper’.
This is his another similar work ‘Oceans of Flowers’ at 18th Biennale of Sydney in Cockatoo island. “Flowers” are made of different sized “honeycomb” paper balls. When you open up the ball it presents a flower, but when you fold up the ball it’s a gun shape.
Zhang Chunhong‘s charcoal painting with detailed strokes, more than 11 meter long
Tu Wei-Cheng‘s “Happy Valentine’s Day” Chocolate shop that is not as sweet as it appears. The heart logo is the clouds from Nuclear weapon explosion
Liao Chien-Chung‘s real “motorbike”, a bicycle the artist manually made
Ye Sen‘s work that was cut out from one single piece of iron wood. Notice how light and natural the “chain” looks as if it’s rusted steel.
Ah Leon‘s ‘Elementary school days, a memorial to the artist’s youth when ‘we didn’t have any possibilities; it was like heaven’. Ah Leon, the master of pottery making, after ‘having taken tea ware to its limit … began making pure sculptures in which unglazed pottery is almost indistinguishable from aged wood’.
There are lots of other amazing artworks that haven’t been included into this article. Besides exhibitions, the art gallery has much character in its decor and architecture. Sometimes the gallery holds free film-screening or book launch events. For more information you can visit White Rabbit Gallery website. It is located in Chippendale, Sydney where there are several galleries. One day I should check out those galleries as well.