COMMUNE, 27 August 2014—1 February 2015
White Rabbit’s fifth-anniversary exhibition looks at the Great Family of China: the collectives large and small that tie 1.3 billion people together.
China has always been a group-oriented society, in which individuals were expected to “sacrifice the ‘little me’ for the sake of the ‘big me’.” In Confucian culture, the family was the most important group. Each member had a role to perform, and filial duty took precedence over personal desires. Under Communist rule, people’s identities were defined by the groups they belonged to, from commune or work group to political faction. Anyone who rebelled against their designated group or was seen as belonging to an “enemy” group was ostracised or put to death.
In the late 1970s, as communes were dismantled and political controls relaxed, attitudes to the individual also began to change. Contemporary artists and writers drew inspiration from long-deplored concepts like ziwo, the self, and ziyou, individual freedom. Today, a whole generation has grown up in relative liberty, with no memory of the collectivist past. Chinese citizens can make their own decisions, marry whom they like, find their own jobs, and take care of their families as they see fit. But individualism has drawbacks as well as benefits: the multiplication of choices also brings isolation and insecurity.
In COMMUNE, 23 of China’s best-known artists and brightest newcomers explore the tensions between individual and group, community and nation, collectivist past and chaotic present. Will the liberation of a billion “little me”s diminish the “big me” that is China? The artists in COMMUNE suggest the opposite.
- Bai Yiluo’s Spring and Autumn 1 (2007), a tree whose branches are old and new farm tools
- 2010 (2010-11), in which Xia Xing, a former printer, documents an entire year in 60 oil paintings of newspaper photographs
- The Static Eternity (2012), a perfect recreation of the simple rural home of Gao Rong’s late grandmother, made entirely from embroidered cloth
- The Remnants of Images (2013), by Hu Jieming, ordinary-looking archival cabinets containing softly animated historical and contemporary photographs
- Ai Weiwei’s 500 kg of porcelain Sunflower Seeds (2010, above), created by an entire community and a striking metaphor for the relationship between the individual and the collective
- Everything from Nothing (2013), in which Wang Lei reflects on a verse from the Tao Te Ching by cutting out the faces and datelines, and literally knitting together the stories, from a year’s worth of newspapers.
Also on show: works by Chen Mingqiang, Chung Shun-Weng, He Yunchang, Jiang Jian, Jin Shan, Li Wei, Lin Zhi, Li Xiaofei, Michael Lin, Qiu Xiaofei, Shen Liang, and Zhang Lidan.
White Rabbit is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We close for the months of February and August to install new shows.