White Rabbit Gallery: 'The Dark Matters'

It's the last chance to catch contemporary Chinese art show 'The Dark Matters' at Sydney's White Rabbit Gallery


Much as we love colour at DesignFizz, we're also enchanted by black. This week marks the last chance to encounter noirish thriller 'The Dark Matters', a brilliant exhibition at Sydney's contemporary Chinese art space White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, which runs until Sunday 30 July. Spanning darkly delicious sculpture, installations, painting, tapestry, and video works, it's an inspiring fusion of classical and cutting-edge techniques, drawing on calligraphy and computers to generate provocative pieces. Black, grey, cream and white star in its minimal, zen palette, albeit charged with political and emotional content.

TOP: Yang Mushi 'Grinding', 2013-2016, wood, lacquer and metal plate
ABOVE: Lin Yan 'Sky 2', 2016, paper and ink; Yang Yongliang 'Infinite Landscape', 2011, Blu-Ray video still

We were wowed by this introductory text by Elizabeth Keenan, which sums up the eternal appeal of black to China's creatives: ‘The ancient Chinese got their ink from smoky oil lamps, brushing away deposited soot and mixing it into a paste that hardened into “stones”. The black was pure, indelible and did not fade, and they fell in love with it. They used it not only for writing but for painting, which they saw as just another way to express their thoughts. By adjusting the ink’s dilution and the density of their brushstrokes, painters could create a multitude of shades, from deepest blue-black to palest dove grey. Black had always been the colour of mystery, night, the void. The better the artists got to know black ink, the more superficial, even gaudy, colour seemed. As the Daoist philosopher Laozi declared: “Colours cause the eye to go blind.” Black – utterly simple yet infinitely subtle – allowed one to see the truth.'

'Chinese artists no longer live in a simple, natural, orderly world. They get their blacks not just from ink stones but from printer cartridges, spray cans, propane torches, X-ray film, newsprint, polyester, computer bits and steel. And they use blacks to convey realities the classical masters never dreamed of: oil spills, air pollution, megacities, mass production and political machinations. The artists in this show don’t shun light or colour, but in using them they follow Laozi’s advice: “Know the white, but hold to the black.” Containing more than ever, the dark also conceals more than ever. And it matters more than ever that we see.’

ABOVE: Gao Ge 'Trinity', 2010-2013, carbonised wood, detail

Curated by David Williams, the show's standout pieces include Lin Yan's 'Sky 2' (2016) sculpture in the atrium, a suspended dark cloud formed from ink-darkened handmade Xuan paper, a comment on China's industrial pollution. On the top floor, Yang Mushi's spectacular installation 'Grinding' (2013-16) took three years of hard labour to complete, consisting of hundreds of black-lacquered wooden blocks, shards and scraps, sanded and shaped to form a graphic landscape. Wen-Ying Huang reinvents tapestry with 'Searching II' (2014) – shine a torch on it to reveal hidden images in reflective thread. Blu-Ray video 'Infinite Landscape' (2011), by Yang Yongliang, is reminiscent of traditional Chinese painting but on closer inspection you'll spy moving traffic, cranes, cable cars and construction workers amid its densely populated peaks. 

BELOW: Feng Mengbo 'Not Too Late', 2010, video installation still

Feng Mengbo, Not Too Late, 2010, video installation still.jpg
Tang Nannan, Billennium Waves, 2015, video (colour), 4 min 3 sec.jpg

ABOVE: Tang Nannan 'Billennium Waves', 2015, video (colour) still

Don't miss Feng Mengbo's video installation 'Not Too Late' (2010), which fuses calligraphic brushstrokes with the Quake III Arena combat game to mesmerising effect. You'll also be seduced by Tang Nannan's 'Billennium Waves' (2015) video, replicated endlessly in the room's surrounding mirrors, an inky-blue ocean that's both beautiful and threatening. And we go back to black...

'The Dark Matters' is at White Rabbit Gallery, 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale, Sydney until 30 July 2017; follow-up exhibition 'Ritual Spirit' runs from 30 August 2017 to January 2018, Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm (the gallery closes for the re-hang in August).

Pictures: Courtesy the artists and White Rabbit Collection