One might love and/or hate it but visiting China doesn’t leave anyone indifferent. Last year, I was lucky enough to spend a month traveling from the Vietnamese border all the way through to Mongolia. Everyday, I would exclaim that I hated it! It was loud, dirty, in-your-face, complicated and muggy and then, in the same breath, I would declare my tugging love for it. The contradictions, the density, the depth of culture, the layering, THE FOOD and last but not least, the people – Curious, inquisitive, frank and funny.
Judith Neilson must have felt something along those lines when she visited Beijing in the late 1990’s and her fascination for “the astonishing explosion of creativity taking place in China” took form as one of Sydney’s most exciting new(ish) art galleries nestled in an alleyway close to Central Station.
The gallery occupies a bright and airy warehouse formerly used as a knitting factory (and later, Rolls-Royce showroom). The exhibition is displayed over 4 small floors all connected by a large wooden staircase and a glorious full height void. The copper hand-rail is deliciously cool to the touch and then of course, there are the artworks…
The Chinese tradition is heavily grounded in craftsmanship but these works (all produced after the year 2000) find their lightness and contemporary relevancy in the balance of craft and expression (a relatively new and still guarded concept in China), the transformation of folk art into high art, traditional techniques at the service of a true expression.
The usual guards have been transformed into informal guides who are well-informed, friendly and happy to answer any question you might have about the works or the gallery.
If you are like me, your visit of the Gallery will end in the ‘bookstore’ although this one has more objects than books and is surprisingly well-priced. The WRG also has a great little teahouse where wooden tables and chairs sit below dozens of birdcages suspended from the ceiling and where you might enjoy pale pink rosebud tea and fresh hand-made dumplings.
I was told the gallery isn’t about making money. It’s true, it’s about sharing the love for a country and a culture so foreign it will make you lose your balance. Visiting China, I felt young and wide-eyed, navigating a world full of codes I didn’t understand. I felt like a stranger, lost in a crowd, free to observe without interfering. It was scary (the hate) and profoundly liberating (the love). It was unforgettable and if I cannot go back to China as often as I would love to, I can at least jump ‘down the rabbit hole’ a couple of times a year.
The White Rabbit Gallery website.
If you are an artist or designer and have found ways to turn your passion into your livelihood, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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