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White Rabbit Gallery – Sydney, State of Play

This week I started watching Australia’s ABC television series Redfern Now. Produced by Blackfella Films it is groundbreaking Australian drama that combines the talents of Indigenous writers, directors and actors. This fly-on-the-wall series tells stories of seemingly insignificant incidents in six different households, each of which changes lives.

Home to Sydney’s largest Indigenous population, Redfern’s streets have witnessed crime and riots; little wonder it became a no-go-area for cabbies. Like its neighbour, Chippendale, Redfern has in the past few years been swept up in the move to gentrify the inner city suburbs of Sydney and inject it with creativity; new buildings showcasing innovative architecture and the old blocks of terraced houses renovated.

Leading this wave of creativity is The White Rabbit Gallery, 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale; home to the White Rabbit Collection of 21st-century Chinese art.

The current exhibition State of Play, which I recently visited, like the television series Redfern Now, puts the spotlight on deception, ambiguity and pretence.

White Rabbit’s exhibition exploration of Play starts with a light-hearted childhood game, reminiscent of toddlers sitting on the kitchen floor banging the cooking pots with a wooden spoon. One Kind of Behaviour (2000-2007) noise comes from an orchestra of buckets, which slam up and down creating a cacophony of metallic sounds. – See more at: http://www.whiterabbitcollection.org/news/now-showing/#sthash.m1vEuRLc.dpuf

The second floor features minor and major works, which give the viewer a sense of those in-between years, nostalgic for childhood but eager to become a teenager.

Bu Hua’s cartoon-style image Beauty No. 3 (2008), featuring her alter ego puffing on a cigarette while staring at an overgrown insect skillfully juxtaposes these two states of being. By placing Linger photograph of a girl with a backpack opposite this work of the art the Curator reinforces this story (photography of Yu Xiao, Lui Xiaofang and Song Shimin).

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Two of the major works on this floor fascinated me.

Yang Yongliang’s Cigarette Ash Landscape (2013), an amazing take on the classical landscape scroll. If you click on the up close image of the cigarette you can see the intricate buildings that form Yongliang’s lanscape – See more at: http://www.whiterabbitcollection.org/news/now-showing/#sthash.lvAJdcmy.dpuf.

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The Empire (2013), in which Jian Jun Xi, presents a replica of the USA Capitol Building, which is leaning on the angle of the Tower of Pisa. Inside the sparsely furnished building Gallery Staff take turns to sleep, reflecting what he calls the “Imperial daydream”, a comment “on the relationship between American power and Chinese dreams of surpassing it”. – See more at: http://www.whiterabbitcollection.org/news/now-showing/#sthash.GnD71OV9.dpuf

The walk up the stairs to the third floor marks the departure of youth, and we enter a darker side of play, adult games. The large open space of the floor below is replaced by small corridor like spaces filled with installations replicating castles. Of varying sizes they are made from black leather sex toys and highly polished metal chains symbolizing bondage and fantasy role-play games; a bit confronting for some of the schoolgirls who befriended us on the floor below.

The final floor is cavernous and dark.   Large and very personal images from Zhang Hai’er of transvestites in Beijing and Guangzhou are hung close together. The faces, many with eyes that no longer wish to see, are haunting and cold,  giving the illusion of walls dripping with tears. In a very personal video  behind a small partitioned area at the far end of this room, a transvestite talks about his life as a facilitator of some of those games, while secretly seeking of love.

This exhibition finishes at the end of July the gallery will then be closed for the month of August to allow for the installation of the next show. Founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson, White Rabbit houses the world’s largest private collection of contemporary Chinese art; admission is free.

I’m not sure a visit to Redfern will be on my next Sydney trip however, I will return to the White Rabbit Gallery.

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