Story by Emmjay
When I was a pup, fresh out of high school, it was fashionable to pretend to have a handle on the world according to Chairman Mao. The bible de jour was Mao’s Little Red Book – the handbook for China’s Cultural Revolution.
Our naiveté knew no bounds – with the blinding light of hindsight, but actual information of the last decade of Mao’s reign (1966-76) was thin on the ground – far thinner than it was when we all watched in horror the massacre of the students in Tiananmen Square. For me, “cultural revolution” connotated Australia making an exciting breakout from the stultifying British Empire. I had no idea that the Chinese Cultural revolution meant violent social chaos, repression of intellectual elites, murder, deprivation and starvation.
Forty years on, we see a generation of new Chinese artists tiptoeing amongst the repression of the current communist regime, but still never-the-less making bold, even heroic statements through their art – especially commenting on massive environmental degradation on an almost unimaginable scale – and it’s twin – rampant western materialism.
There are some fantastic works in the current White Rabbit Gallery exhibition titled most appropriately “Heavy Artillery” closing August 7th 2016. Not the least – the banner image above of a library of 1,000 numbered and ordered blue books in their blue library and the massive sculptures made out of extremely compressed paper from obsolete school textbooks.
These massive objects weigh tonnes – and the White Rabbit Gallery had to have the floor on the second level strengthened before installing them.
By far the most amazing piece was He Xiangyu’s Tank Project (2011–2013), a full scale replica of a Soviet-Chinese tank made entirely from hand-stitched fine Italian leather.
Our guide said that the artists collective repeatedly broke into a military storage compound over a six month period and measured the tank, making extensive drawings. The piece is massive (note the scale against the humans in the background). It weighs two tonnes and the gallery had to remove a wall and a section of the roof on the top floor – and crane the piece into position.
The guide said that the piece took two years to construct – by a team of 30 women leather workers. Monumental ! The precision of the work is unbelievable. I swear that one could take a huge spanner to the leather wheel nuts and expect to be able to remove one. It is described as a statement by the artists about how luxury consumerism was making China soft.