White Rabbit Collection News

China Diary: Artist Interviews in Beijing and Shanghai

17 Artists in 13 Days

As part of Judith Neilson’s commitment to fostering the deep understanding of contemporary Chinese art shared by staff at the White Rabbit Collection and at White Rabbit Gallery, Research Manager Luise Guest visits China regularly to interview artists in the collection for the Judith Neilson/White Rabbit Collection Archive. In April she was accompanied by White Rabbit Gallery’s Hannah Toohey, making her first trip to China.  They traversed highways outside Beijing in search of hard-to-find artist villages, walked across railway lines, braved Shanghai taxis, and caught the high-speed train to Hangzhou. The purpose of the trip was to visit artists in their studios so that Luise could record new interviews for the Judith Neilson/White Rabbit Collection Archive. Undertaking a marathon 17 interviews in 13 days, the conversations that ensued were intense – and intensely interesting. In between visiting artists they visited exhibitions in museums and galleries, and met arts writers, curators, gallery managers and museum directors to discuss the ever-changing Chinese art ecology


In He Sen’s peaceful Beijing studio. The interview focused on his appropriation of classical Chinese paintings and his love for lianhuanhua, or Chinese graphic novels


Chinese contemporary artist He Sen, with Luise Guest and Hannah Toohey from White Rabbit Collection

Research Manager Luise Guest, artist He Sen, and Gallery Coordinator Hannah Toohey

The artists visited on this trip included acknowledged pioneer of Chinese video art, Zhang Peili; iconoclastic young creator of Electromagnetic Brainology, Lu Yang; influential painter and conceptual artist Zhu Jinshi; magical realist Yang Shen; deeply philosophical Qiu Anxiong – creator of the sublime and terrifying New Classic of Mountains and Seastrilogy of animations – and painter Dong Yuan, who is creating a new version of ‘Grandma’s House’, documenting in paint every room, and every object, in her grandmother’s house in Dalian.

Chinese contemporary artist Yang Shen with Luise Guest from White Rabbit Collection

Research Manager Luise Guest with artist Yang Shen, Beijing April 2019, following an interview that covered topics ranging from Cultural Revolution propaganda to the novels of Marquez and Borges and the painters of the Leipzig School. 

Dong Yuan with part of her new version of  ‘Lao Lao Jia’ (Grandma’s House) in Beijing

Dong Yuan with part of her new version of  ‘Lao Lao Jia’ (Grandma’s House) in Beijing. The discussion ranged from memories of her rural childhood to her inability to attend ancestor worship ceremonies at her grandmother’s home now that she is a married woman (and hence attached to another family).

Lu Yang, Chinese contemporary artist

Lu Yang in her natural habitat – behind multiple computer screens.


Research Manager Luise Guest, artist Chen Hangfeng and Gallery Coordinator Hannah Toohey in Shanghai, April 2019



And the outcome? The trip was inspiring and thought-provoking – it is such a privilege to spend time in conversation with wonderful artists from the collection. It could not take place without the assistance of many people: thanks must go to Research Team members Suna Xie and Chelsea Wang for coordinating all the artist contacts and coordinating arrangements. On the ground Luise (whose Chinese is improving – but too slowly!) is assisted by translators Jane Liu in Beijing and Xiao Yu in Shanghai. Mr Zhang, our indefatigable and kind-hearted Beijing driver, deserves a special mention. Back in Sydney the interviews are transcribed in Chinese by Suna Xie and Chelsea Wang, and in English by Luise. Donations of archival materials are collated and catalogued by archivist Minerva Inwald, and library assistant Nichola Palazzi catalogues additions to the White Rabbit Research Library. And, of course, none of this important work could take place without the commitment and support of White Rabbit Collection and JN Projects patron and founder, Judith Neilson.


Research Manager Luise Guest in conversation with Zhu Jinshi, assisted by translator Jane Liu


The Judith Neilson/White Rabbit Collection Archive

Chinese and English transcripts and recordings are available in the archive for students, scholars and researchers. Apart from the interviews, the artists enthusiastically embraced the possibilities of donating their own archival materials to the White Rabbit Collection Archive, to be kept together with their works at the collection storage facility and research centre, Dangrove. Visit the ‘Archive’ page on this website for more information and a glimpse of some of the treasured objects donated to the archive in the last 12 months.  https://www.jnprojects.net/white-rabbit-collection/white-rabbit-collection/archive/ 

For more details about artists visited and photographs in their studios, you can check out the blog page on this website in the coming weeks:https://www.jnprojects.net/blog/

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