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Beijing Calling, Shoreditch Calling – Full Rabbit: A Showcase of Chinese and UK artists

17 February 2012 | Anita Mistry

“Full Rabbit celebrates the concept of fortune and the cultural exchange of work between UK and Chinese artists, and we are extremely excited to showcase some of the most interesting emerging talent in China, on an international stage.” – Alexis Bamforth, curator

From a comisson to produce an art piece for the first Dashanzi Arts Festival (DIAF) in Beijing to an exhibition in Shoreditch, Full Rabbit is the culmination of years of collaboration and hard work. And overcoming some difficult hurdles along the way.
 
Back in 2006 Audio Architecture’s artist Experimenter En Coleur was invited to work with Chinese artist Yan Jun to produce a piece of work for the DIAF, but the Chinese authorities pulled it at the last minute. It wasn’t until a few years later, stemming from this initial idea, AA was approached by Yan Jun to collaborate with Ruan Qianrui during his British Council supported exchange to London.
 
AA grouped together these two Chinese artists with Experimenter En Coleur and Christian Krupa to produce a large installation piece named Local Whispers, a work made of samples of audio and silent video, collated to produce a work worthy of the V&A. The work was presented to the museum in January 2011, and spurned further conversations, ideas and work between the artists. Another project grew almost organically.
 
“After Local Whispers it was immediately decided that we should present more artists' work in a group exhibition. Both organisations discussed and planned much of the show via the internet and artists were invited to submit ideas. With many difficulties in communication and confirmations the exhibition came together,” says curator Alexis Bamforth. The Half Rabbit as it was named showcased solo and collaborative work by these artists and a few others displayed at Platform China Institute of Contemporary Arts, Beijing in June 2011.
 
The name was born out of the Year of the Rabbit 2011 and the theme of ‘fortune’, an idea Alexis says is of interest to both nations. “We chose the topic of fortune as it is a topic that is rarely discussed. The artists interpreted this in many ways from 'luck' and 'chance' to 'the future' and also 'wealth'. These personal perceptions of fortune are expressed for example in; Ruan Qianrui's images relating to the growth of Chinese sub-cultural events, Catherine Shakespeare Lane's reflections on international change with On Top Of Eduardo involving a Chinese rabbit sitting atop an old British pudding mould, through to Paul Davis' White Dwarf, a scientific representation of a black hole.” And as the work showcased was new it was always assumed the exhibition would return to London for the end of the Year of the Rabbit. Full Rabbit presents all the UK and China work produced since September 2010.
 
Alexis explains, “Artists were chosen for the variety with which they tackle their subjects and also because of the forms they use to express their ideas as it was important to make an exhibition that a broad spectrum of the public could engage with, from pure sculpture to sound art and new-media art.” Additionally the works also had to be easily transported for budgetary and logistical reasons, despite ‘help in kind’, the offer of commission instead of paying fees for help with administration and sponsorships from organisations like Shunt and Matbaa. “We chose smaller sculptural works or those that could be dismantled into smaller components, together with media based work.”
 
One Chinese artist Sheng Jie (gogoj) did not let that stop her. Having met Alexis through Yan Jun, Sheng Jie invited them to share her studio whilst they were working on Half Rabbit, and consequently was invited to take part in the London show. The work she has contributed is a film shot in 2009, Zhujiajiao, Shanghai. The film documents ‘breaking into’ an officially prohibited ruin. “When I broke into that space my feelings became hyper-real, almost coming out of me. The fear, strangeness, surprise, despair, trepidation, sentiments and human instincts became so real and obvious.” Sheng Jei describes the huge ruins where she roamed with her camera imagining past lives, people who had come through there. She developed the work with audio, documenting the ‘cycle of life’. “The sound represents time in a way, as it ravages the image.”
 
Chris Moon, whose first solo show featured in London last year, has astounded critics with his self-taught talent. Born and bred in Essex, his striking canvases have been compared to the work of Francis Bacon. Having met Alexis when he first moved to London, Alexis invited Chris to take part in the Half Rabbit, challenging him to think outside of the box. It was a great opportunity, but a challenge nonetheless. “Although my background is in painting, this was a more conceptual show. This was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I had a concept rolling around for a while so it was the perfect chance to start it.”
 
For Full Rabbit Chris was asked to produce works that gave him the chance to work differently and to push the concept, ask questions and open up his ideas, not to move away from painting, but to look around it – discover his ‘periphery vision’.
 
He describes his work: “In this body of work, I use 'Love Heart' sweets as the medium to reveal the fickleness of love, its manifestations and the concept of love as fortune. Collectively the individual works become a portrait of my infatuations, pursuits, and destructions of the theme. I collected various sets of love hearts, which in some way create a narrative for the different concepts of love. The work starts with the imperial nature of first love through to the chase of the new. In one set, I give key people a certain sweet, and use their saliva to dissolve the written text until it disappears. For instance, a past lover or one night stand. It’s like playing the blues with confectionary. All of the sweets are dissolved or hidden, be it by paint, saliva, wine or blood. This forms a self-portrait of my relationship with love. It suggests there is still hope, and I resort back to the medium I know best to illustrate this.”
 
The difference in works from China to the UK are varied. From exhibitions of this kind we can learn a lot about other cultures. Not just in the work produced, but also by artists’ responses to an idea and their method of working. And how we communicate with people, the translation of languages and interpretation. Alexis describes how these differences can be seen in the work: “The Chinese works are more insular, the idea behind them is often extremely subtle, reeling in personal reflection, history and reading. In comparison, the UK artists work relates more to the mass influx of information we are exposed to daily in this consumerist world and the impact of that on our lives. When working together, the act of the UK-Chinese collaborations fuses the best of both backgrounds, with each party learning from one another.”


All images courtesy of Chris Moon/ Sheng Jie

Full Rabbit is on at Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT from 24 February to 11 March.

 

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