27 August 2014 – 1 February 2015
EXPLORING THE CONNECTIONS THAT BIND ONE 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’,” as an old proverb says. In Confucian culture, people were encouraged to develop their inner selves, but the family came first. Each member had a role to perform, and filial duty took precedence over personal desires. The Communists were determined to smash the old culture, but they shared its suspicion of individual freedom, which they saw as a threat not just to social unity but to their hold on power. Under Maoist rule, people’s identities were defined by the groups they belonged to, from family to commune to artists’ associations. Those who rebelled against the group, or were accused of siding with “enemy” groups such as landlords and imperialists, were 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 exalted once-deplored concepts like ziwo, the self, and ziyou, individual freedom, and explored them in their work. As economic liberalisation gathered pace, so did individualisation. The status quo of the 1950s and ’60s was turned upside-down: where people were once forced to cooperate, now they had to compete; where their future was decided by others, now it was in their own hands.
In COMMUNE, some of China’s best-known artists and brightest newcomers explore the tensions between individual and group, community and nation, collectivist past and chaotic present. Their works include tender affirmations of family love, meditations on loneliness and death, and evocations of private and public memory. They look at individuals alone, in marriage, at work, on society’s margins, and among the madding crowds. Will the liberation of a billion “little me”s diminish the “big me” that is China? The artists in COMMUNE suggest the opposite.
COMMUNE is drawn completely from Judith Neilson’s renowned White Rabbit Collection.
CURATOR: Bonnie Hudson
Please click on the artists’ names below to discover more information about each artist and their work.
The Great Wall Plan, 2011–2013,
pigsty; communal oven
350 x 225 x 120 cm, 115 x 100 x 65 cm
Little Shrine, 2014,
bricks, tiles, metal 95 x 95 x 86 cm
Assembly Line Series: A Foreign Boss, 2011, HD video, 9 min 46 sec
Assembly Line Series: A Printing Plant Worker, 2011, HD video, 6 min 58 sec
Assembly Line Series: A Women’s Federation Director, 2011,
HD video, 6 min 46 sec
Assembly Line Series: A Workshop Director, 2010, HD video, 6 min 12 sec
The Return: The Resurrection of Old Lady Gao, 2008, C-prints, 50 x 150 cm (x2)
The Return: Old Lady Gao Comes Home, 2012, 3 videos, 14 photographs, found objects, various dimensions
A Pictorial Study of Marriage Certificates in the New China, 2013,
dissertation documents, 16 volumes
State Banquet and Civilian Food, 2010, watercolour and acrylic on handkerchiefs 30 x 30 cm (x42)
The Remnants of Images, 2013,
old file cabinets, video, screens, motors, various dimensions