Exhibition: SUPERNATURAL and the thrill of the unreal
September 26th 2018
Li Shan, Deviation, 2017
SUPERNATURAL brings the unreal and the real together in an exhilarating critique on the intersection of politics and the environment.
We’ve always been morbidly fascinated by the supernatural, from ancient myths of divine beings to contemporary fears of the robot uprising. While the fixation is at its most gripping in childhood, the lure of the supernatural follows us into adulthood – you only need to look to the proliferation of TV shows, films, writing and even games that feature the uncanny and magical to prove it. It’s not always rooted in fear, but can instead become thrilling as we learn to embrace it.
White Rabbit Gallery walks the line between the terrifying and the thrilling with their new exhibition, SUPERNATURAL. Exhibiting exclusively contemporary Chinese artists, SUPERNATURAL explores the political and environmental concerns that China and the developed world are facing through images of the absurd and impossible.
Li Shan, Deviation, 2017
Upon entering the exhibition, you’re greeted by a swarm of human-dragonfly hybrids. Vaulted from the ceiling, these hyperreal sculptures by Li Shan stare down at brave visitors with mirrored eyes and human genitals. Simultaneously confronting and enticing, they pose an ominous question: what will it mean to be human in the mythical world where genetic engineering becomes capable of such a creation? These mystical gatekeepers invite us to venture beyond their watchful silence to find out.
Moving through the upper floors of the exhibit, we come across two paintings hung side by side: Yang Shen’s works Ducks Mocking Sailor, 2016 and Sailor and Monster, 2016. At first glance, the bilious green of Sailor and Monster makes it seem like Ducks Mocking Sailor was dunked in a vat of highly radioactive uranium, changing the world of the painting forever through some mysterious magical process.
Yang Shen, Ducks Mocking Sailor, 2016; Sailor and Monster, 2016
Upon closer examination, we can see that both works are a mish-mash of characters and icons from pop culture and memorabilia that the artist has known, including Tintin, Japanese anime, propaganda from his childhood, magic realism and sci-fi comics. The symbolism in both works offers cryptic commentary on the way sinister truths are sugar coated, obscured and manipulated by political authorities in China.
The show also features Chinese celebrity artist Ai Wei-Wei’s work from 2006, Oil Spill. These black ceramic disks are mounted on the wall, rather than placed on the floor as done in the past at other galleries. At this new angle, the work takes environmental disaster to its full dystopian potential: the spills now resemble dark portals and threaten to suck us into a parallel universe that is soaked in sticky oil.
Of course, the supernatural doesn’t have to be scary. Out of the darkness and into the light, we find a painting by Zhu Jinshi entitled Spring Festival is Coming. It’s a work of excess and beautiful chaos: painted with large miscellaneous objects, including a shovel, and stretching several metres wide, the canvas is laden with enough paint in enough colour for a million paintings. You can even smell the work from around a metre away, because under the dry sculptural surface of the paint, the unseen underground of the work remains soft and wet, even three years after the work’s creation. The work’s fertile splendour – its extravagant lashing of paint and colour – provokes a strong childish desire to roll your whole body in it, to feel it, absorb it.
Yang Wei-Lin, Ocean of Cloth and Wheels, 2013-2016
The top floor of the exhibit, as always, is a world of its own; occupied by only one installation by Yang Wei-Lin that fills the whole room. Delicate cotton discs dip-dyed in indigo are folded into shapes resembling flowers or coral are arranged in clusters of foliage that hang low to the floor from the ceiling. Inspired by the hidden depths of the ocean, Wei-Lin imagines an alternate underwater realm where humans can wander freely. Ostensibly innocuous, the work carries a concealed warning: this imagined world may be imposed upon our reality as we are reminded of the looming threat of global warming, climate change, and the possibility of being submerged by our oceans.
Simultaneously sinister and light-hearted, cautionary and alluring, SUPERNATURAL is an opportunity for us mere mortals to enter & engage with the thrilling world of the unreal.
The portal will be open at White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale until 3 February, so you have plenty of time to experience it all for yourself.
By Saira Krishan