Down the Rabbit Hole, the current exhibition in Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery, explores familiar themes, such as the disjunction between appearance and reality, or between the real and the fake. Layers of the past and present, preoccupying so many artists, provide insights into the psychological whirlwind resulting from the pace of change in today’s China. Ideas about materialism, globalisation, wealth and power, corruption, and identity confusion are evident in many works.
Wang Luyan’s ‘Breathe Series – ATM’ appears to be a real cash dispenser, until you realise its soft silicone rubber surface moves gently as if breathing in and out. Wang’s earlier work, ‘Breathe – Manager Zhao’s Black Cab’ is a dusty battered van with one working headlight, its dented sides expanding with each breath. A homage to the entrepreneurial spirit of ordinary people making their way through the changed universe of post-Mao China? Or an ominous warning about the relationships between human and machine? His machines are not shiny high-tech objects, however, but imperfect, slightly flabby, soft and squishy, much like humans themselves.
Taiwanese artists in this show include the tech-savvy members of the Luxury Logico collective, whose installation ‘Solar,’ created from old lamps, evokes a mood at once nostalgic and futuristic, reminding me irresistibly of ET phoning home. Tu Wei-Cheng’s ‘Bu Num Civilisation Revealed’ simulates the archaeological discovery of an ancient civilisation, a ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ style temple and its artefacts, whose elaborate ‘stone’ wall carvings turn out on closer inspection to be computer keyboards, iPhones and brand logos.
Wang Duo’s “Old Brands Made New’ features the artist as a 1930’s Shanghai seductress in ‘posters’ which initially appear to be traditional advertisements. Then we realise that the featured cigarettes are Marlboro, the beauty products are Chanel, and the handbags are Prada and Louis Vuitton. The advertisements themselves are video installations which make us question how we interpret what we see. Shanghai’s short lived early 20th century modernity and sophistication are evoked in a way which queries the fate of today’s modernity, our reliance on technology and the obsessive quest after wealth and conspicuous consumption.
Fung Ming Chip reinvents traditions of calligraphy and ink-painting. His sand script is written with a brush dipped in water, and then filled with gusts of dried, powdered ink which adheres to some of the still-wet strokes of his brush. Like Xu Bing, he is interested in the connections between calligraphy, language and meaning, and like Xu Bing he challenges our assumptions about what we are seeing and ‘reading’. ‘Departure’ is a meditation on air travel, and references sacred sutra scrolls as well as the traditions of the literati. It reads ’36,000 feet up and 763 kilometres per hour’ – a ‘floating world’ indeed.
Down the Rabbit Hole presents a world much like Alice’s, where appearances can be deceiving and meaning is subject to change.