After the Big Bang: a New Book from the White Rabbit Collection
99 Contemporary Chinese Artists:
In 2015 Judith Neilson began work on a new book about selected artists in the White Rabbit Collection. Originally it was to feature 100 artists, then 101, then 110. Various numbers were thrown around and their merits debated. Eventually it was agreed that 99 was a good auspicious Chinese number, with the great advantage that a potentially enormous and weighty book would divide neatly into 3 volumes. So began a mammoth task of interviewing artists in China, researching their work, lives and social/historical/artistic contexts, and photographing their works here in Sydney.
Now this enormous project is concluding and the book in its final form is currently being printed in the Netherlands. From artist number 1 – aaajiao (aka Xu Wenkai) – to artist number 99 – Zhu Jinshi – and from the very first draft texts through to the arduous processes of copy editing, proofreading and colour checking the proofs, this long journey has involved the work of an incredible team. From Neilson herself, actively involved throughout, to the curator, writer, fact-checkers, readers, translators, editor, photographer, art handlers and collection manager, designers, proofreaders, indexer and, finally, the expert printers at Wilco Printers and Binders at Amersfoort in the Netherlands, we all worked towards producing a text that would honour the work of extraordinary artists, and document Judith Neilson’s vision in amassing one of the world’s most significant collections of contemporary art from China.
More about the number 99
Numbers matter in Chinese culture. The number ‘9’ is auspicious because its character 九 ‘jiu’, sounds a lot like 久, ‘jiu’, meaning a long time, or everlasting, and thus is ceremonially significant. Beijing’s Forbidden City, for example, is built around multiples of the number: there are 9999 rooms, with 81 doorknobs in 9 rows on the most important doors, and 9 columns on each gate. In a Chinese wedding it is traditional for the bridegroom to give the bride’s family a red envelope containing 9999 or 99,999 Chinese yuan, to symbolise a long-lasting marriage. So, when the time came to produce this new book about the White Rabbit Collection of contemporary Chinese art, now including works by more than 700 artists, it seemed fitting to select 99 and present their work in 3 volumes: the number ‘3’ is also lucky in China, with particular significance in Buddhist ceremonies.
Who are the 99 artists?
The 99 artists selected represent the breadth and depth of the White Rabbit Collection, and the range of contemporary art from China. There are artists from Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong – and one from the USA. Some are from the first generation to emerge after the Cultural Revolution, and others were not yet born when Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, introduced the economic reforms that made China the global power it is today. There are painters and sculptors, photographers and film-makers, artists working with textiles, clay, wood, steel, and paper – with every conceivable material, including performance (called ‘behaviour art’ in Chinese). As you see in every exhibition at the White Rabbit Gallery, Chinese artists weld cutting-edge technologies to their deep knowledge of some of the oldest artforms in the world. They reflect on ancient and modern Chinese history yet position themselves as savvy practitioners in a global artworld. Many navigate the political landscape carefully and tactically; at times the necessity for double-coding and allegory makes their work even more intriguing. These artists deal with subjects ranging from Chinese history to urbanisation, from pollution to gender roles, from the spiritual to the defiantly secular. They tell a story of today’s China.
We can’t wait to see the book arrive in Sydney in its distinctive red box, so – watch this space!
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