Outside, the Jacaranda tree is dappling the narrow street in Sydney’s Chippendale suburb with spectacular pale mauve foliage, a sure sign that summer is here. The remnants of Chippendale’s working class past are quickly disappearing. The giant CUB Brewery site is now home to towering blocks of trendy apartments. Small factories, once humming to the sounds of light industry, are now a hive for the expanding new tech world.
And in the middle of it all is the White Rabbit Art Museum that has established itself at the forefront of groundbreaking Chinese art in the country. Its current exhibition, Commune, which also celebrates the museum’s fifth anniversary, brings together work by 23 of China’s most well-known and up-and-coming artists. It debates the intrinsic contradictions of the collectives that forged the country, the all-pervasive subjugation of the “little me” for the “big me” in a series of ingenious, thought-provoking, often wry and witty works, that challenge common perceptions.
One of the largest works is The Static Eternity by Gao Rong, who has recreated in mixed media, particularly stitched fabric, her grandparents house in which she grew up. Once teeming with extended family it is now just a soft shell of the past. Lin Zhi grew up in a village where his whole world was dominated by the surrounding mud. In Afraid of Water he has created, entirely out of unfired clay, a perfect replica of the common shared bathrooms, but one that could literally destroy itself if used.
Most well known artist is Ai Weiwei whose porcelain Sunflower Seeds, a giant container filled with 500 kg of seeds, each individually created by hand by all the members of a community. Ask the guide for the fascinating story about the quickly acquired capitalistic skills f the villagers who now sell direct to the public. Nearby is Self and Self: a beginning, the dynamic portrait by He Yunchang, a noted performance artists from Yunnan and his final work before ceasing painting due to ill health.
Also particularly worth watching out for are Bai Yiluo’s Spring and Autumn 1 a tree whose branches are old and new farm tools, and 2010 in which Xia Xing records a year through 60 paintings of photographs from newspapers, created by layering on colours in the same way as the preparation for the presses. Both are in the towering, sun-filled White Rabbit entry. And be careful not to miss the haunting digital video Waltz by Zhu Jia on show in the small comfortable screening room. It’s only 10 minutes long and worth sitting through several times. You can relax afterwards in the museum tearoom, decorated with traditional birdcages.
Pictures from the top: Self and Self: a Beginning by He Yunchang; Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei; Spring and Autumn 1 by Bai Yiluo; The Static Eternity by Gao Rong; Afraid of Water by Lin Zhi; Waltz by Zhu Jai and below 2010 by Xia Xing. White Rabbit is at 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale. It is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm. Entry is free. It is closed for the months of February and August to install new shows.