Out in the wild lands beyond the Great Wall, there once roamed people with claws and blue skin, one-legged goblins, women with tiger’s teeth, and fish-men that walked on four fins. Such monsters and mutants posed a threat to the civilised order, so they had to be kept at a distance. Yet they were also enticing, alluring, impossible to ignore.
That is because they were us. Their freakish forms, bizarre behaviours, even their magic powers, were expressions of the lingering wildness in us all. They gave shape to our inner Swamp Creatures – the primal fears and imaginings, the lusts and eccentricities, the built-in bugs and defects beneath our standard-issue skins.
Monsters can be dangerous. To give them free rein is to invite calamity, as China’s history shows. But while the vile in us must be restrained, it cannot be suppressed. We may do away with blue-skinned tribes and fish-people, but evolutionary ape-men and cyborgs, cloned sheep and mutant viruses soon take their place. And the vile in us is not always evil. It can be beautiful, even glorious, as the artists in Vile Bodies show. In exploring the monsters we contain and the monsters we create, they enlarge our picture of the human animal.
Featuring works by 22 artists; most are new acquisitions and have never been shown in Australia. Highlights include: Hou Chun-Ming’s mythobiography, Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea (2008) – a 7-metre-long relief in the style of a traditional Taiwanese woodcut; Li Shan’s Recombinant series (2002–06) – a grotesque presentation of transgenic creatures; and Untitled 1, Su Xinping’s meticulously realised pastel and charcoal drawing of his own hands.
Wandering (2016) is a 300-kg ‘avian robot’ commissioned by the White Rabbit Gallery from the Taiwanese collective Luxury Logico, while Lu Yang’s Krafttremor (2011) is an electronic-music video that uses Parkinson’s disease patients to explore the relationship between mind and body. Also on show are works by Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Cheng Dapeng, Qiu Anxiong, Cang Xin and Wei Rong.
White Rabbit Gallery, 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale (Sydney)
Exhibition continues to 5 February 2016
For more information, visit: www.whiterabbitcollection.org for details.
Image: A still from Lu Yang’s Krafttremor (2011)