In Arts + Entertainment

First Look: Ritual Spirit Opens At White Rabbit Gallery

Ritual Spirit encompasses the work of 21 contemporary Chinese artists, each using their practice as a means of exploring the connections between religion, spirituality and modern Chinese culture.

After a month-long hiatus, White Rabbit Gallery has this week opened a brand new spring/summer exhibition, titled Ritual Spirit.

Each year since the gallery’s unveiling in 2009, White Rabbit plays host to two free exhibitions filled with pieces from gallery director Judith Nielson’s own private collection.

white rabbit ritual spirit Chen Yu-Lin, Ritual Spirit

Chen Yu-Lin, God Comes Down to Earth 1, 2013, inkjet print, 60 x 72 cm. Photo: Supplied

The once-dilapidated knitting factory turned four-storey art gallery, is known in Sydney for its unmatched collection of “post-millennial” Chinese art, a quirky gift shop, and a ground-floor tea house offering that includes dumplings. Above all, though, it’s the curation of the gallery’s bi-annual exhibitions that sets this art haven apart.

Ritual Spirit encompasses the work of 21 contemporary Chinese artists, each using their practice as a means of exploring the connections between religion, spirituality and modern Chinese culture.

white rabbit ritual spirit Chen Yu-Lin, Ritual Spirit

Chen Yu-Lin, God Comes Down to Earth 10, 2013, inkjet print, 60 x 72 cm Photo: Supplied

In a country defined by periods of intense and rapid cultural evolution, religion makes for complex art fodder; the three teachings of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have long been replaced with atheism as the nation’s official religion, and artists have found themselves constrained in a faith in anything other than the ruling Communist Party is discouraged.

white rabbit ritual spirit Yu Hong, One Hundred Years of Repose, Ritual Spirit

Yu Hong, One Hundred Years of Repose, 2011, gold leaf, acrylic on canvas, 418 x 600 cm 1 Photo: Supplied

“Chinese art was once regarded as a gift from the gods. Artists were conduits between earth and heaven; their aim was not just to capture the beauty of nature, but to convey its vital “breath,” explains David Williams, Ritual Spirit curator.

“China today is a different story, and most people are too busy making a living to spare much thought for their soul. But interest in spirituality is growing, as is the freedom to pursue it.”

white rabbit ritual spirit Tianzhou Chen_Ishvara_3, Ritual Spirit

Tianzhou Chen Ishvara 3 Photo: Supplied

“I grew up without religion,” says exhibiting artist Tianzhuo Chen. Chen is now a Buddhist, whose multimedia works comment on pop-culture touchstones – everything from New York vogue to drug use.

white rabbit ritual spirit Tianzhou Chen_Ishvara_3, Ritual Spirit

Tianzhou Chen Ishvara 3 Photo: Supplied

“I think that is one of the reasons I have this longing to believe.” For Ritual Spirit, Chen’s work delves into how spirituality is represented in a superficial, post-spiritual world.

white rabbit ritual spirit Cheng Ran Joss 4, Ritual Spirit

Cheng Ran Joss 4 Photo: Supplied

Along with Chen, the exhibition features works from internationally acclaimed artists such as Yu Hong, Xu Bing, Cheng Ran, Geng Xue, and many more.

As one of the most promising Gen Y artists to emerge from China, Cheng Ran tackles a pervading culture of materialism and the dearth of spirituality head on in his video works, while Xue’s recent solo show of sculptures made from bronze and ceramics dealt with Mount Semeru, the center of the physical and spiritual universe for Buddhists.

white rabbit ritual spirit Xu Zhen, Play, Ritual Spirit

Xu Zhen, Play 201301, 2013, at National Gallery of Aust. Photo: Supplied

The Art Gallery of NSW houses an extensive collection of Chinese art from the Shang dynasty (c1700-1027 BCE) to the modern day. After a successful inaugural event in 2016, the China Cultural Centre presented Chinese Contemporary Art Month in April this year – an interdisciplinary, panoramic exploration into the work of emerging and established contemporary Chinese artists.

ritual spirit white rabbit, Ritual Spirit

A still from Mr Sea (2013-2014) by Geng Xue. Photo: Supplied

But even so, Ritual Spirit is set to smash preconceptions of what it means to be making art in China in 2017. The exhibition is the result of the meeting between spiritual and tangential, and offers a glimpse at the Chinese art scene, simmering just below the surface.

Ritual Spirit runs from August 30 through January 28. For more information and gallery opening hours, click here.

(Lead image:Chen Yu-Lin, God Comes Down to Earth 1, 2013, inkjet print, 60 x 72 cm. Photo: Supplied)

Published 30 August, 2017