Heavy Artillery is the startling new exhibition at Chippendale's White Rabbit Gallery. Dedicated to displaying groundbreaking and innovative Chinese art, each exhibition at the gallery is beautifully textured, showcasing thematically similar but resolutely varied works that delve deep into the social and political climate of China and how it relates to the world. Heavy Artillery may be one of the most surprising shows at the gallery yet, demanding repeat visits to absorb all of the fascinating interplay between materials, formats, tones and textures that the exhibition offers. True to its name, Heavy Artillery tends to be visceral and immediate.
Starting at the top of the gallery and working your way down is the best approach. Taking up the entire third floor, He Xiangyu's Tank Project can be smelled as soon as you step out of the elevator. You are greeted by the pleasantly warm and musky smell of leather before you see the work sprawled out on the floor like a beast in waiting. It's a replica of a Russian tank, the kind purchased by the Chinese government, entirely in gorgeous tan leather. At first it resembles an enormous handbag - a potent symbol of capitalist wealth - its detailed replica of the destructive machine eloquently drawing links between destruction and wealth.
Much of Heavy Artillery is all about contrasts, between hard and soft, heavy and light, life and destruction, presence and memory. When you first enter the gallery, you are greeted by Xu Zhen’s European Thousand-Armed Sculpture. Constructed from unbearably heavy white marble, a conga line of European sculptures stand in a row. Viewed from the side, they are stentorian and imposing, but viewed from the front, they form a many armed Buddhist deity that seems to hover in its pure white effulgence. Its themes are echoed in Geng Xue's sensual video piece The Poetry of Michelangelo, which combines sculpture and poetry in a hypnotic and moving way, contrasting dense, malleable clay with words of devotion.
Other works deal in similarly surprising contrasts. Pieces in porcelain from artist Ah Leon recreate old and splintering wooden school desks and chairs, giving off a curious aura of being old and new at once. One of the most visually striking pieces in the exhibition is Polit-Sheer-Form Office group’s enigmatic installation Library, an oppressively uniform all-blue space filled with thousands of painstakingly ordered books that are in fact blank and free to be interpreted as the viewer will. Nearby, Liu Wei's Density consists of thick, rigid geometric shapes that, once viewed up close, are revealed to be made of the pages of books, held together with visible staples.
The epistemological and the spiritual combine with the scientific. Geology informs some of the more abstract, but still highly affecting works, including Japanese guest artist Shinji Ohmaki's illusive Flotage - Tectonics which combines harsh straight lines with the unwieldy chaos of topographic contours. Each piece in the Heavy Artillery collection invites you to lean in close and take in the texture and feeling of the work, and unlike certain other galleries there are no obnoxious alarms to warn you when you get too close. It is a fully sensory experience that truly invites you to consider the personal nature of the artist's work, rather than view it exclusively from a detached, theoretical perspective.
Heavy Artillery, like all exhibitions at White Rabbit, is a rare window into a world that can often feel inaccessible or overly remote. Looking at the works, be they photographs, paintings, sculptures, installations or video art, one can sense a profound poetry even just from their unusual and fascinating aesthetics. The exhibition doesn't really feel like an intellectual exercise, but an opportunity to connect directly with these unique and fascinating pieces and consider everything they have to say.
Heavy Artillery is on display at White Rabbit Gallery until 7th August 2016. The gallery is open 10am - 5pm Wednesday to Sunday.
Liu Wei, Density 1–6, 2013, books, steel, wood, dimensions variable
Hsu Yung-Hsu, 2011-27, 2011, porcelain, 218 x 460 x 30 cm
He Xiangyu, Tank Project, 2011-2013, leather, 150 x 890 x 600 cm