Former Art Gallery of New South Wales director Edmund Capon has jumped in to curate the forthcoming spring show at Chippendale’s White Rabbit Gallery. Serve the People, opening Friday August 30, will be amongst the first of Capon’s projects to come to fruition following his departure from the Sydney institution late last year. The show will work around three themes: fear, anarchy and hope.
Calmly outmaneuvering the buzz term ‘guest curator’, Neilson explains Capon’s appointment this season: “Edmund was brought in because we needed him and he’s a friend. And I couldn’t think of anybody better, anywhere, to do it.” A head cheerleader of sorts for Asian art in Australia, Capon has championed White Rabbit ever since giving the Gallery’s opening address in 2009. “He’s always felt that it was part of the New South Wales’ Art Gallery,” says Neilson.
His show will hang off the title Serve The People, which was originally a directive at all forms of art under Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China. “Don’t expect a heavily-political show,” Neilson warns, “there are some pieces that might surprise you.” Capon’s gem of a title works on the simple and elegant premise that to show is to tell; the sum of works assembled reveals a compelling vision of the very recent history of creativity in China. In conversation Neilson agrees that his thesis contains everything that excites her most about contemporary Chinese art.
A mixture of vintages will appear in Serve The People. Emerging artists will represent alongside veritable legends like Lui Dahong who grew up a troublemaker within the confines of Mao’s oppressive reign between 1965-1968. Dahong’s works use humour and visual parody to tickle China’s collective funny bone. Scholars say that when local audiences laugh at his work it creates unity and openness, releasing tension and making it easier to encourage discussion about the past. Try it out with Dregs Of The Old Society.
The young photographer Yan Siwen was born some twenty years later in 1989, long after China had opened up to the West. Her wet plate collodion prints are achingly poetic and disaffected tributes to a lost love affair. The precise accomplishment of every one of her images is staggering. She works with a 17th century photographic process that graduated the daguerreotype. In the perfect dose of method and madness, it uses black glass in place of paper.
MadeIn are an acclaimed, Shanghai-based company of artists. Their Immortals’ Trails In Secret Land is an audacious piece of patchwork pastiche that has a bizarre sense of authority, much like that of an elephant in the room daring you to question its legitimacy. It’s part of an ongoing series about decoration and ornament; the work is a proliferation of symbols that does away with meaning and message. The company’s chief executive officer Xu Zhen, (born 1977) decided to go corporate and trade on the label Made In China because he had taken his individual identity as far as it could profitably go.
In these few snapshots you can see the promise of a provocative show. “Whatever we show at White Rabbit,” Neilson says, “is a document of what I have thought worthy. I think whoever curates for White Rabbit has to really think about the show, because although I have three hundred artists, no two are similar. You’ve got to try and get a story from three hundred different stories and that requires a lot of thought. Edmund has put a lot of time into this.”
*Image credit: Yan Siwen, His-4 (details), 2012.
BY ALEX SUTCLIFFE
Serve The People opens at White Rabbit Gallery on Friday August 30.