White Rabbit is one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary Chinese art and is tucked away in a cosy corner of Chippendale, Sydney. The gallery building is a lovely old converted knitting factory with four floors of exhibition space (with a lift – hooray! for those toting strollers) – much larger than my sister and I expected. We started our visit with iced tea and dumplings in the Tea House downstairs before exploring the gallery, and finished by ooohing and aaaahing over all the colourful curiosities in the gift shop.
It was the name of this gallery that first caught my attention when the it opened a couple of years ago, and I wanted to visit ever since. Like many others, I associated the name ‘White Rabbit’ with the tardy character that Alice follows down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I was wrong. However, the gallery does welcome the connection, acknowledging that “people associate the name ‘White Rabbit’ with serendipity and surprise”. And so it seemed quite fitting that when I did finally get around to visiting during Art Month Sydney, the current exhibit on display was called Down the Rabbit Hole.
Down the Rabbit Hole is a seemingly random assortment of works from China and Taiwan – the only common theme being a sense of imagination and surprise. My favourite piece was the video installation Old Brands Made New by Wang Duo where the artist poses in a series of 20th century-style posters where the products being advertised have been replaced by 21st century consumer brands. Although the artist keeps very still in each frame, the blink of an eye, the rise and fall of the chest and the occasional shift in position draw you in and make you study the work in a way you may not if they had been still photographs. Therefore, showing stills of the work does not do it justice – it is the fact that these elegant models are actually alive that make the work so fun.
“Audacious and provocative in their day, these (moving) figures now seem sweetly old-fashioned, their poses almost demure. The products they originally promoted, meanwhile, have been replaced by up-to-the-minute counterparts: Estée Lauder cosmetics, Louis Vuitton handbags, cigarettes, an iPad. The advertising slogans bridge the two eras: some are quaint, some contemporary.“
Interestingly, the other two works that stood out for me were both light installations. The first was a set of dancing bars (artist unknown*) that mesmerised as they ever so slowly shifted position creating beautiful waves of humming light. The second was the strangely hypnotic discarded lamp installation by Luxury Logico – a strobe-like light show set to jerky mechanical sounds which had the same effect as listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. Again, it is very difficult to capture these works in a photograph, but I tried my best (below).
I like galleries that make it easy – admission was free, it’s not at all pretentious and the exhibition didn’t feel like a huge commitment. You could, as the name suggests, get lost in the gallery for hours, immersing yourself in the works and the general ambiance, or you can stop in for a quick drink, bite to eat and a fix of fun, colour, culture, humour and inspiration, like we did.
White Rabbit Gallery
30 Balfour Street
*Unfortunately while i was in the gallery I did not take note of the names of the works or artists as I photographed them, incorrectly assuming they would all be on the website. I apologise to those artists whose work is not credited correctly.