Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fear, anarchy and hope behind flourishing creativity

Edmund Capon

Edmund Capon: Exhibition is "very much of the now". Photo: Tamara Dean

Edmund Capon is examining a giant pair of pink knickers parked at the entrance of the White Rabbit Gallery, recalling how he once stood underneath them to deliver a speech.

Next to Wang Zhiyuan's Object of Desire fibreglass sculpture of women's underwear is another example of Judith Neilson's eclectic collection of Chinese contemporary art - Shi Jinsong's sinister Baby Stroller - Sickle Edition.

''It looks like something from Mad Max,'' he says. Both works have been selected by Capon for the Serve the People exhibition, which opens at White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale on Friday.

MadeIn-Immortals-Trails-in-Secret-Land-2012-mixed-media-on-canvas-350-x-240-x-20-cm

Served up: Contemporary Chinese artwork in the White Rabbit Gallery exhibition Serve the People, by artist MadeIn.

The exhibition's title was a slogan used during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and one encountered by Capon during visits to China in the early-1970s.

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Back then, Capon belonged to ''an arcane group of mad ideologues'' and was one of the few Westerners to China.

''I remember going to cadre camps, factories, hospitals, communes,'' he says. ''Everything was political discussion, nothing else was discussed, and I came away thinking this was the great utopia.''

Su-Meng-Hung-The-Album-of-Immortal-Blossoms-in-an-Everlasting-Spring-by-Giuseppe-Castiglione-2012-acrylic-on-wood-259-x-194-cm

By artist Su Meng Hung.

For artists, Serve the People was a exhortation to serve the cause of socialism by creating Soviet-style socialist realism or ink painting depicting revolutionary themes.

However, the works chosen by Capon from Judith Neilson's collection of works by more than 300 Chinese contemporary artists reflect the dramatic changes experienced by that country in the past three decades.

''It's very much of the now, the 21st century, and it's absolutely hot off the creative press. And don't forget, it's very much Judith Neilson's instinct,'' he says.

Yan-Siwen-His-4-2012-wet-plate-collodion-on-black-glass-40.6-x-40.6-cm white rabbit

By artist Yan Siwen. Photo: John Saxby

''It's got a very distinctive - you could almost say idiosyncratic - but very personal touch to it.''

The exhibition includes Sun Furong's Nibbling Up - Tomb Figures collection of threadbare Mao suits and Shen Shaomin's Laboratory - Three-Headed, Six-Armed Superman, a heap of bones encased in glass that looks like a science experiment gone wrong.

Serve the People is grouped according to three themes: fear, anarchy and hope - which Capon admits is ''a bit of a curatorial conceit''. He says the themes reflect what he believes are important aspects of Chinese society.

white rabbit Chili-Red-Star-Motel-2009-c-print-80-x-80-cm-9-of-12

By artist Chili.

Chinese artists, most famously Ai Weiwei, risk persecution if they offend the authorities, he says. ''The fear factor is a potent one, it's still there.'' But, he says, ''once you let out a vital force that has been constrained, there is a flourish of activity that does indeed border on anarchy. But in that freedom there is a sense of hope''.

Capon says some of the works could not be shown in a public gallery for fear of offending Chinese authorities. ''A lot of [Neilson's] collection is very provocative,'' he says. ''I think again in a publicly funded institution you could not do it but you can do it here.''

Neilson, White Rabbit's director and one of Australia's richest women, thanks to her stake in financier husband Kerr's Platinum Asset Management, says she is delighted with Capon's choices.

''They've been unexpected,'' she says. ''Last night I couldn't sleep because I just think it's the most beautiful show, and he's chosen so wisely. He hasn't been sentimental, he's made a story, and he's chosen artworks that work.''

Neilson says her collection seldom follows themes but is a reflection of her personality. ''With the collection, sometimes, my personality will come through. And although I don't have any favourites, sometimes I will be sentimental to a cause or situation, and I might choose works because of that,'' she says. ''But Edmund has just come in and chosen what's important.''

Serve the People runs at White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale from August 30 to February 2 next year.


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