"Paradise will be a kind of library" (Jorge Luis Borges): Establishing the White Rabbit Collection Research Library
Developing a research library in the highly specific field of Chinese contemporary art from scratch is no mean feat, and when I began this work two years ago I was keenly aware of the problems I would encounter: key texts may prove to be out of print or obscenely expensive, the cataloguing process was an arcane mystery, and the task of creating a library that would be a significant destination for scholars, researchers, university students and curators seemed daunting indeed.
What I did not predict was what a joyful and absorbing task it would be as row after row of shelves in the beautiful Dangrove library were filled with neatly labelled, catalogued books and journals. We decided early on that our library collection policy would be dictated by what the artists in the collection speak about in their interviews with White Rabbit, so beyond art-specific texts the library also contains books about Chinese history, politics, sociology, religion, philosophy and the traditional arts and crafts of porcelain, textiles, wood-block printing, carving, inkstones, papercutting and even garden design. It also became clear that it is not possible to understand contemporary (post-1980s) art from China without an understanding of how art developed historically, in both imperial and revolutionary eras. Our net widened, and important gaps were filled in this ongoing process of providing a background and context for understanding the work of artists in the collection, in conjunction with the archive.
We are fortunate, too, that artists have been keenly interested and supportive, often sending books and catalogues or even bringing them to us on their travels to Sydney. When Liu Xiaodong and Yu Hong came to Dangrove in mid-2018 they each donated significant and rare catalogues and monographs. Other artists have donated to the library and archive with similar generosity, ensuring that the Dangrove Library has research materials that are simply unavailable elsewhere. The team working on developing the library included Lee Fitzgerald, an experienced librarian and library educator who began the important task of establishing the catalogue, assisted by Nichola Palazzi who continues cataloguing and provides guidance for students and researchers using the library, Minerva Inwald who manages the archive, and Suna Xie and Chelsea Wang who provide much-needed Chinese translation expertise of some of our more obscure books and catalogues.
Perhaps the thing that gave us all the most joy (apart from drinking a celebratory champagne with the entire Dangrove team when the catalogue was finally in place and the first shipments of books were shelved!) has been opening the library and archive to visiting Masters, PhD and postdoctoral researchers in October 2018. Our hopes for 2019 are to see the Dangrove Library firmly established as a place for serious research like no other, in tandem with the White Rabbit Collection itself and its growing archive.
Luise Guest, 7 January 2019
More to Explore
An interview with the pioneer of Chinese video art in Hangzhou
White Rabbit Gallery's Hannah Toohey muses on her first impressions of Beijing in this personal