Hot Blood

The central premise of Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery is that the institution should (and indeed, does) house works of contemporary Chinese art. There is a captivating tension, then, between the concept of White Rabbit’s current show, ‘Hot Blood’, and the concept of the gallery itself. It isn’t that the works on show here are not by artists of Chinese residency, descent or cultural heritage – they are. Rather, the curatorial concept emphasises the place of the exhibited artists as part of a globalised, rather than a straightforwardly national, artistic community.

Across three floors of the gallery, ‘Hot Blood’ is pitched as transgressive. That is, it steps over the categorical limits of nationality, age, and gender, as well as confronting audiences affectively and intellectually with unapologetic treatment of topics ranging from desire to death to all manner of social taboo. The works of twenty-three artists in the show traverse a broad range of media, too, and date from the late twentieth century to 2017.

It’s interesting that so many works in an exhibition that is angled as cutting-edge and confronting turn toward historical material with a degree of reverence. Hsieh Chun-Te’s RAW – Bitches is the oldest body of work in the show. The Taipei-based artist’s long running practice deploys documentary-style photography, here, in an apparent condemnation of the trafficking of women and girls in rural Taipei. The imagery is grisly, and an affront to our comfort; especially, perhaps, as the aesthetic of documentary photography often seems to beg questions about tone and intent. The tension between historically and geo-politically situated content and globally-relevant themes, here, is evident.

So too is this hazy duality apparent in Liang Tao’s Luofu Dream: Pink Pink (2006). This sculptural work takes up seventh-century Chinese myth, and twists its iconography toward the more universally uncanny. Hairbrushes, slippers, and a bed are covered in ambiguous writhing forms; is this phallic imagery floating to the surface, or are these more open-endedly unsettling worm-like creatures wriggling up through narrative history?

Just as Liang Tao brings myth out of its strict historical context and into the more universal realm of the psychoanalytical, Peng Yun’s Melissa and Mr Fish at 2.31pm brings together references from an array of art-historical situations in order to examine deeply personal embodied experiences of desire. Material from White Rabbit positions this piece as responsible for the initial ideational spark of the exhibition. Curator David Williams saw the work at the artist’s studio on a visit to China two years ago, we learn, and the exhibition grew from the notions of universal bodily and emotional experience that the piece encompasses. Here, the irony that reverberates through the whole show is particularly strong, and rewarding: the artist reflects on inherently gendered experiences in an effort to transcend limiting categories such as nationality and, indeed, gender.

The way in which White Rabbit categorises ‘Chinese’ art allows, happily, for flexibility. It is not rigidly defined by an artist’s residence in China, nor by their formal adherence to notionally ‘Chinese’ aesthetics or practices. This malleability of definition works well with the idea of ‘Hot Blood’, and also allows for the opportunity to present exciting work from artists like LA-based Patty Chang. Moving away from the performance work that defined her earlier career in New York, the pieces from Chang here include a blown-glass female urinary device, which the artist constructed as a replica, and memento, of the improvised device that she used as she made a journey across China tracing the country’s South-North Water Diversion Project. Here, again, the premise of the exhibition is deftly distilled: the body is situated within geographical and cultural specificity, but there is still room for it to traverse and, indeed, transcend.

Hot Blood
15 March – 4 August 2019
White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney


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