2010.049 Wang Jiuliang, Beijing Besieged by Waste – Tuanli, Songzhuang, 39°56 36 N 116°42 18 E, 2009, 110 x 220 cm.
Supernatural is a free exhibition contributing cultural value to our city, but the theme is anything but “supernatural”. Instead it depicts the malaise of a people struggling to cope with pollution, surveillance and waste.
There are a few rare moments of visual poetry, but this is not the norm. Instead it’s a rather depressing journey comprised of video art, sculpture, photography, installation and paintings.
The show opens to a bleak set of large format photographs by Juliang Wang. One shows a flock of sheep grazing on putrid rubbish at smouldering dump; a set of dairy cows nibbling on filth at a city-sized tip. These photos are hypnotising in their post-apocalyptic way.
2010.052 Wang Jiuliang, Beijing Besieged by Waste – Shahe Reservoir, Changping District, 40°07_46_N 116°17_45_E, 2010, 110 x 220 cm.
Opposite is a set of staged studio photographs by Chen Wei depicting a street lamp laden with surveillance cameras and a neon sign obscured by thick smog.
On the same floor, Chen Wen-Chi’s Authenticity Temporal Memory: Shanghai, is a series of small format black and white photographs (all taken on an iPhone) that convey a beautiful ‘old-meets-new’ aesthetic in Shanghai. Their presentation is only ruined by the sentimental captions.
Supernatural exhibition view at White Rabbit Gallery. Elin Bandmann Photography.
Supernatural exhibition view White Rabbit Gallery. Elin Bandmann Photography.
Upstairs on level three the work becomes more varied and enjoyable.
A coral-shaped indigo vase created by the sculptor Lin Hsiu-Niang from Taiwan is exquisite. Presented in a double-sided glass cabinet, it seems to float in the middle of the room like a precious Fabergé egg, both fragile and organic.
Emily Shih-Chin Yang’s large painting, The Blessed Mountains, is another high point in the show. Its gestural brushstrokes communicate a peaceful, feeling of landscape in a cynical line-up of artworks.
On the back wall is a large chunky oil painting in every colour of the rainbow by Chang Ling, but again though impressive in its sheer size, I am not sure I feel anything at all from standing in front of it. Like a lot of this work, it lacks emotion.
Ju Anqi, Poet on A Business Trip, video, Still 3. Courtesy White Rabbit Gallery.
When we consider that the majority of narratives in Chinese contemporary art, start from the end of the Cultural Revolution, around 1979 we understand how very young the contemporary Chinese art scene is. This show is just one page ripped from that freshly published book. In just 40 years artists in China have gained exposure to Western Art, endured a rapid influx of Western influence and endured a ridiculously fast turnover of artistic styles.
Supernatural has proponents of lots of different schools including; avant-garde, pop art, cynical realism and social realism – but the best work draws from the country’s deeper heritage to create an eloquent through line for the viewer.
Chen Wei, Light Box, 2013, inkjet print, 150 x 188 cm. Courtesy White Rabbit Gallery.
Chen Wei, Future and Modern, 2014, inkjet print, 100 x 125 cm. Courtesy White Rabbit Gallery.
While I doubt many viewers will sit through 103 minutes of Ju Anqui’s On-The-Road-by-Jack-Kerouac-road film: Poet on a Business Trip – this piece does force the viewer to think about changing social mores in China and the giant leap many have taken from rural to city life.
To be an artist in China is not easy. By definition it means going out on a limb and making space in the world for your own brand of subversion. Maybe that’s why so much of this art feels blocked, shrouded or muffled. Operating in a less direct way –it is quite cold and challenging, requiring more effort and time on the part of the viewer to unpick it’s nihilism, and despondency.
2 stars ★★
7 September 2018 - 3 February 2019
White Rabbit Gallery, Chippendale
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level