For their latest monumental show, White Rabbit Gallery has unleashed its weapons of mass instruction
White Rabbit's new show, curated by David Williams (behind the 'laser cage' and 'Drunken Dance Hall' of Paradise Bitch), riffs on Mao Zedong's 1942 statement that artworks must "operate as powerful weapons for uniting and educating the people and for attacking and destroying the enemy."
In the context of the past three decades of explosive social change in China, and the superstardom of dissident artist Ai Weiwei, it's hard not to view Mao's words with a sense of irony. Chinese artists have indeed used their work as a tool for education and a means of subverting government control. More subtly, they have been the ones to document the changing face of globalised China.
Heavy Artillery shows and explores these acts of defiance, which have been necessarily cheeky, coded and allusive. The lineup includes White Rabbit favourites Xu Zhen (MadeIn Co.) and Wang Lei, but the majority of the artists featured are new to the collection – and in fact, only two works in Heavy Artillery have been exhibited previously.
One of the most exciting things about a White Rabbit show is the scale of the individual works and the chance to enter immersive environments. But Heavy Artillery is about more than physical heft – some works are big in ideas; for others, it’s the technique and time devoted by the artist that is epic.
On the other hand: below are five works that have scale to spare.
1. 'European Thousand Arms Classical Sculpture' (2013-2014)
The first work to greet you as you enter the building, this sculpture in concrete and marble by Chinese artist Xu Zhen and his MadeIn Company is striking – and cheekily fun (those bums are asking to be pinched. But don’t). If it seems familiar, you might be thinking of Xu Zhen’s ‘Eternity’, which presided over the same patch for Paradise Bitch. (It can currently be found at Cockatoo Island, as part of the Biennale of Sydney).
2. 'Library' (2008)
This walk-in library is the work of Polit-Sheer-Form-Office, a Beijing-based collective that includes acclaimed solo artist Song Dong (whose Carriageworks installation Waste Not was a highlight of Sydney Festival 2013). ’'Library' features 10,000 books printed with 'Polit-Sheer-Form blue' – a colour that the group use in many of their works, and which Song Dong has described as "the colour of our spirit". (The other members of PSFO are artists Xiao Yu, Liu Jianhua, and Hong Hao, and critic/curator Leng Lin). No borrowing – or reading – allowed.
3. ‘Density 1-6’ (2013)
White Rabbit had to reinforce their already industrial ceilings in order to shoulder the burden of these six works by Liu Wei. As austere as they are heavy (the sphere is around 1.5 tonnes), these geometric sculptures are made from compressed books, planed to perfection with an angle grinder. You will want to touch them.
4. ‘Flotage – Tectonics’ (2013-2015)
What is a Japanese artist doing at White Rabbit? Shinji Ohmaki’s floating wall of acrylic cubes is exceptional – a first for White Rabbit. The optics are initially deceptive, with the panels, screen printed with intricate fingerprint-like patterns – painstakingly assembled to fit together exactly – seem like translucent silk, until you catch a reflection off the acrylic at a certain angle.
5. ‘Tank Project’ (2011-2013)
Head to the top floor of White Rabbit for this life-size military tank made from luxury Italian leather, which required a crane to get it into the building. Artist He Xiangyu has assiduously denied any connection between this work and the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, but it’s hard not to see it anyway. At the very least, it has to be saying something about commercial versus military might in contemporary China. And it smells...intense. Add this to the low ceilings and the lacquer-black floor, and it’s an intimidating prospect –– but a stunning work to behold.
The full lineup of artists in Heavy Artillery is: Xu Zhen, Jiang Zhi, Liu Chengrui, Hsu Yung-Hsu, Shinji Ohmaki, Song Hongquan, Ah Leon , Aaajiao (Xu Wenkai), Wang Lei, Chou Chu-Wang, Polit-Sheer-Form-Office, Lin Yen-Wei, Geng Xue, Liu Wei, Yang Liming, Guo Jian, Liu Jianhua, Liu Chuang, and He Xiangyu.