Held over three floors, the exhibition explores ideas of what it is to be human.
Art Radar takes a look at some of the highlights of contemporary Chinese artists on display at White Rabbit in Sydney.
“Vile Bodies” brings together 22 Chinese artists to White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney from 9 September 2016 to 5 February 2017. The exhibition looks at the shifting lines between humans and monsters, examining the human body from different perspectives. It ponders what kinds of so-called monsters people have made themselves, whether it is through genetic engineering, virtual reality, robots or cyborgs, or whether it is as a result of the way we live, causing pollution, overcrowding and social unrest.
This theme was inspired by stories of what was beyond the Great Wall, myths of people with claws and blue skin or one-legged goblins. These beasts were kept at a distance but they were also appealing as they called out to the wildness within people themselves. As White Rabbit explains,
the vile in us is not always evil. It can be beautiful, even glorious, as the artists in “Vile Bodies” show. In exploring the monsters we contain and the monsters we create, they enlarge our picture of the human animal.
The exhibition takes over the three floors at White Rabbit and combines a variety of media, from a number of grand-scale installations, to paintings, prints and video. In addition to the 6 profiled in this article, the 22 artists include:
- He Pengqi
- Daniel Lee
- Gong Chenyu
- Zhu Zhi
- Yang Xin
- Qiu Anxiong
- Wu Junyong
- Zhou Changyong
- Hou Chun-ming (Taiwan)
- Lu Yang
- Su Xinping
- Sun Yuan and Peng Yu
- Xia Xiaowan
- Wei Rong
- Huang Siying
- Wang Lve (Taiwan)
Art Radar takes a closer look at some of the highlights from the exhibition.
1. Zhang Dali
Zhang Dali’s disturbing installation, Chinese Offspring (2005), greets visitors to the gallery with naked bodies hanging from the ceiling. They are numbered and categorised like carcasses in an abattoir. The bodies represent the mass migration of rural Chinese workers to cities trying to find work and instead, being exploited for cheap labour. Zhang Dali positions their status as being upside down in limbo. The bodies in the artwork were cast from 30 illiterate rural workers. As Zhang Dali comments, “the spirit of the era is documented in these bodies.”
Zhang Dali is a conceptual artist who observes social and cultural changes with an analytical eye. He was born in 1963 and he studied Fine Art and Design in Beijing before living in Italy from 1989 to 1993. He works in a range of media, including graffiti, painting, photography, sculptural installations and text. Zhang Dali’s work has been exhibited across the globe and he currently lives and works in Beijing.
2. Li Shan
In Recombinant (2002-2006) Li Shan projects into possible futures by presenting Photoshopped previews of future Li Shan “artworks”. The 50 photographs are of eerily plausible insects and amphibians re-engineered with human skin and hair. This mix of human and animal reflects Li Shan’s view that neither is superior, that all organisms are equal.
Born in 1942, Lanxi, Heilongjiang Li Shan lives and works between Shanghai and New York. He is interested in molecular biology and genetic technology, which he brings into his creative work. He explains in the exhibition catalogue:
The life created by God is no good […]. I will pull three pairs out of the 23 pairs of chromosomes [in each human cell] and replace them with those of a dragonfly, and see what will happen. Maybe human eyes can be replaced by those of a dragonfly.
3. Cang Xin
Cang Xin’s Exotic Flowers and Rare Herbs (2007) is an installation of hybrid animals and plants that mix species so different such as fish and fruit, baby and mushroom, vine and porcupine. The magical combinations, made in wood, draw from Cang Xin’s Mongolian heritage, which believes that people have the capacity to shape-shift. This belief holds that no species is superior to another, but rather we are all part of a circle of life, death and rebirth.
Cang Xin was born in Inner Mongolia in 1967 and now lives and works in Beijing. He first studied music but was soon attracted to art, in which he has had no formal training. For Cang Xin, his art is more a vehicle for his modern shamanistic practice rather than a technique to perfect. His practice includes paintings, drawings, sculptures and performances, all linked through the concept that all life forms are connected by the endless transmigration of souls.
4. Lam Tung-pang
Lam Tung-pang’s work, Where Is the White Crow? (2009-2010), was inspired by an old Chinese saying, “All crows are black”, which expresses the idea that bad people are the same all over the world. He took 17 images of crows from the internet and painted them over and over again in Chinese ink for a year. He likened the repetitive and challenging process to learning how to write certain Chinese characters correctly. Through this process, he worked through personal negative experiences. As he observes to White Rabbit, “with all the political turmoil happening in Hong Kong, art is an outlet for me to express the peace I crave.”
Lam Tung-pang was born in Hong Kong in 1978, where he continues to live and work. He studied Fine Art at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and an MA at Central St Martins College of Art, London in 2004. Lam Tung-pang’s work relates to specific situations or social contents that impact his life.
5. Cheng Dapeng
Cheng Dapeng’s work Wonderful City (2011-2012) is a 3D model of a city that exposes the imperfect aspects of contemporary urban centres, including the crowds, garbage and poverty. Presented in white, the installation references the idealised and unrealistic models used by property developers. The mix of clean white figures on a light box with the desires and greed of a megacity creates a surreal scene. In the catalogue, Cheng Dapeng explains his view of teeming cities, where residents “are becoming more and more monstrous because they don’t live a normal life anymore”.
Cheng Dapeng is a practicing architect as well as an artist. He was born in Beijing in 1968, where he still lives and works. Working as an architect Cheng Dapeng needs to compromise and adjust his vision according to the wishes of big developers. As an artist, he responds to these pressures by creating works such as Wonderful City.
6. Luxury Logico
Luxury Logico is a Taiwan-based group made up of members Chang Keng-Hau, Chang Geng-Hwa, Llunc Lin and Ken Chen. Their work for this exhibition, Wandering (2015), explores the border between animal and machine. After two years of experimenting, the group created this robotic avian centipede. It consists of an eight-metre-long, 300-kilogram avian robot that moves like a sea snake with oars for fins and is suspended from the ceiling.
In explaining the work, Llunc Lin says:
You could say it’s a drifting feather, a bird, a flying insect, a dragon—whatever your inspiration tells you […]. The main thing, though, is the motion.
Between the group, they have interests in mechanics, computing, music, theatre design, lighting and photography – a diverse set of interests that often comes out in their work.
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