2019年5月30日 星期四

Australia Letter: Seeing China Through Art, Not Politics

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Friday, May 31, 2019

Letter 109
Seeing China Through Art, Not Politics
A video installation called

A video installation called "Electromagnetic Brainology" by Lu Yang. White Rabbit Gallery

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week's issue is written by Isabella Kwai, a reporter with the bureau.
Immediately, the video compels: a disembodied hand, nails the color of dried blood, caresses a dead fish. At first, the strokes are slow, searching and sensual. The fish, if it were alive, might be having a nice time.
It's a magnetic sight — which makes it all the more alarming when things take a violent, stomach-twisting turn. Let's just say that in the end, the fish isn't really structurally all there.
It's this strange work by Macau-based artist Peng Yun that sparked the conception of "Hot Blood," the latest exhibition from Sydney's White Rabbit Gallery.
"I love seeing people's reactions to it," said David Williams, the gallery's curator, of the work, titled "Miss Melissa and Mr. Fish at 2:31pm."
"And it really does run the whole gamut of reactions."
A still from the video work
A still from the video work "Miss Melissa and Mr Fish at 2.31pm" by Peng Yun.<br><br>
White Rabbit Gallery
I was late to the game. For years, friends — the artistic ones — had raved not only about gallery's unique focus, but its chic ambience.
Tucked away on a side street of an area where converted warehouses abound and the arts are flourishing, the gallery provides a glimpse into one of the world's largest collections of Chinese contemporary art, with more than 2,700 works by over 700 artists.
Its owner, Judith Nielson, is a billionaire philanthropist who has emerged as a powerful tastemaker in the arts in Australia. In addition to injecting $100 million Australian dollars into journalism for a new insitute that's still being formed, she has also made clear that she believes the public's perception of China needs to include Chinese art.
"Hot Blood" is the latest in a line of collections that tap into a new zeitgeist of artists who are challenging Western expectations of Chinese art and identity.
"There seemed to be this movement of artists who refused to be labeled by nationality or gender, who challenged social and sexual taboos with their work," said Mr. Williams. Outside of the Great Firewall of China and its censorship, the artwork in this exhibition reveals how "this predominantly younger generation of artists have moved on from 'Chineseness' and place themselves in the middle of the global contemporary art practice," he added.
On the afternoon I visited, I lingered along with a young and diverse crowd in front of each exhibition. There was "Electromagnetic Brainology" by Lu Yang, a dizzying installation of godlike animated figures and "Expected Departure," by Leung Mee Ping, featuring X-rays of dozens of airline sick bags the artist had collected over years of travel.
One artist had made mandalas from 20,000 Guggenheim Museum tickets she had kept after a stint working there. Another had installed popular Chinese GIFs around a screen that refused to load. And of course, there was "Miss Melissa and Mr. Fish at 2:31 p.m."
Australians are familiar with the image of modern China as a place of political fear and economic power. Here was a different view from a generation of artists playing around with messages that seemed avante-garde, borderless and so very human. For those of us who have hungered for deeper insight into the country, it felt like this was one of the places to learn.
Perhaps the best example of this was on the gallery's top floor, where a woman stood at the entrance, dutifully warning viewers that the artwork contained images of self-harm. All of us there took in the photo series, a confronting seat into the psychological battle with depression, in silence. The two works, "The Bearable" and "Bees" by Chen Zhe, have led visitors to share their own experiences with how self-harm has touched their lives, said Mr. Williams.
A print from the artwork series
A print from the artwork series "The Bearables" and "The Bees" by Chen Zhe.
White Rabbit Gallery
Isn't that the kind of response that shows what art is supposed to do: help us empathize with the struggle that is life everywhere?
I'll let you be the judge of that. The exhibit is free and open until August 4.
More recently, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne is also hosting a show of works from the White Rabbit Collection now until October 6, "A Fairy Tale in Red Times." It features 26 artists and a number of new works never seen in Australia.
And I'd like to hear from you: If you've visited the White Rabbit Gallery, what did you think? What other collections of art have stayed in your mind? Unfortunately, marble sculptures from the Roman Empire have never quite done it for me. But I'll never forget the chills I had after seeing a rare exhibition of designer Alexander McQueen clothing at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.
Write to us at nytaustralia@nytimes.com or join our NYT Australia Facebook group.
Now for recent stories from here and around the region!
Australia and Asia Pacific
Climbers and porters at Everest base camp in April 2018.
Climbers and porters at Everest base camp in April 2018.
Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
It was a bit of a slow news week in Oceania for us, so here some highlights from the region:
Peter O'Neill Resigns as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea: His departure after almost eight years in power comes at a sensitive moment, with China and the West fighting for influence across the region.
30 Years After Tiananmen, a Chinese Military Insider Warns: Never Forget: A former People's Liberation Army journalist defied a political taboo to describe the bloody crackdown in Beijing and urge a national reckoning.
'It Was Like a Zoo': Death on an Unruly, Overcrowded Everest: This has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons on the world's highest peak. Veteran climbers blame increased permits for climbers, including many who are inexperienced.
Japan Rolled Out the Red Carpet. Trump Veered Off Into Personal Fixations. In Japan, President Trump acted like a man who could never be fully present, defining his trip more by a focus on politics at home than diplomacy abroad, expressed daily on Twitter.
... and here's our monthly Netflix guide with the best movies and TV shows coming to Australia in June, including "Black Mirror," "Crazy Rich Asians" and "The Chef Show."
Around the Times
In April 1989, students at top universities in Beijing began pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square.
In April 1989, students at top universities in Beijing began pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square.
Jian Liu
Four of our most popular stories from other sections.
U.S.|'Wow, What Is That?' Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects: The Pentagon is saying that the objects are extraterrestrial, but the Navy has issued new classified guidance for reporting unexplained aerial phenomena.
Photos of the Tiananmen Square Protests Through the Lens of a Student Witness: After three decades, Jian Liu decided to reveal images he took of the hopeful 1989 student movement and its bloody aftermath.
Politics|Mueller, in First Comments on Russia Inquiry, Declines to Clear Trump: Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, declined to clear President Trump of obstruction of justice in his investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Smarter Living| You Accomplished Something Great. So Now What?: Career success doesn't always equal happiness, so here's how to deal when achieving a goal leaves you feeling empty inside.
… And Over To You
In last week's edition, we asked how you unplugged from an onslaught of news.
"When it all gets too much, as it did over the past month, just switch to ABC Classic or 4MBS or Fine Music online from Sydney, and then remember all the C.D.s you haven't listened to in maybe years. It works a treat, keeps you sane and reminds you that all the world isn't too bad."
— John Nightingale
Isabella Kwai is a reporter in the Australia bureau. If you're looking for more, here's where to find all our Australia and New Zealand coverage.

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