The White Rabbit Gallery’s (aka the nation’s best white-people run gallery of contemporary Chinese art) Sep ’15-Jan ’16’s edgily named Paradi$e Bitch exhibition sounded like a promise to spill some “sik truths” about the shallow acquisitiveness of societies East and West, whilst simultaneously anointing its attendees with exorbitant degrees of culture and coolness in its paradisiacal womb.
It was kind of subpar, actually. Certainly not a paradise. Perhaps Purgator¥ Bitch might have been a slightly more apt moniker in light of its mediocrity; what’s more, it even has the yuan sign which is certainly a more accurate reflection of Chinese materialism.
The collection proved to be meagre and largely forgettable. That is not to say that it wasn’t without highlights. The best was a monumental sculpture located on the ground floor of the Parthenon Marbles with headless, upside-down Buddhist monks superimposed onto the equally headless necks of the chiton-clad maidens.
This piece was particularly evocative and also strangely beautiful. It has a lot to say about uncomfortable cultural exchange, whether it be the East-West clash which has left Eastern culture strangely bereft (the monks are upside-down, disoriented in this cultural clash), or the subtle commentary on “stealing” culture (as the British Musuem “stole” the Parthenon Marbles from Athens, the West has similarly appropriated aspects of Asian culture as curios).
Another work which I liked, Li Hui’s The Cage, was interactive; it was situated in this dark room with a “cage” constructed of lasers. The curious thing was that the artist actually predicted how people would feel towards the penetrable cage in their statement, which shows a rare instance of actual thought being put into one’s work in this exhibition. In essence, the concept was about intangible barriers and, though easily overcome, we often choose to trap ourselves in them (which was how we acted initially when presented with the light-cage).
And besides those two, I found all the other artworks either vaguely amusing or incredibly irritating.
Vaguely amusing prizes go to the six videos by Bu Hua and the abandoned nightclub thing, mostly because other people I knew liked them but I felt mostly impatient during the videos and the nightclub took up a lot of space to say very little.
But since vague amusement, and even mild irritation really, is less fun than INCREDIBLE IRRITATION!, I am compelled to move on to entertainingly pour scorn over the works with which I was most displeased.
One essentially featured this traditional Chinese rendering of a young girl. It was a video, and in the video, she basically just stripped off all her clothes, over and over again, in a tiresome and sickening loop of stripping. The artist statement blathered on a bit about how Taiwanese movies used to be censored or something – bullshit. Even if you really felt the need to do a work about the predicament of the Taiwanese porn industry in 1918, it is hardly an acceptable excuse to create your own personal stripper over whom to slobber – one, not to mention, who looks barely out of prepubescence. And, O Tired Trope of Tired Tropes, sporting a demure smile on her blushing, virginal face. Oh, I do love me some clichéd submissive Asian chicks. Hooray for yellow fever.
Really, we’ve all seen men justify their boob obsession as high art because hey! it’s goddess boobs, which is ok, because the ancient Greeks didn’t wear clothes; honestly, it’s a bit of an old trick by now. We’re all a bit tired of it. Stop fetishising women in your art and pretending that it’s about history.
The other one which itched my nerves was, in fact, the eponymous piece. It was a music video featuring the dude below the next paragraph and his twin (or maybe it’s actually also himself, can’t be sure) panting over the legs of this shorts-clad girl.
His concept statement pretty much said that he liked to “have fun” and “be outrageous”. Such creativity and originality is nothing but astounding.
Aside from the rampant male gaze/female objectification of this work and eye-rollingly insipid statement, there was also the general issue of cultural appropriation with his “fun” tattoos of Hindu symbols. Now, I am generally one to be all for cultural exchange and tend to avoid “cultural appropriation” accusations, but the appropriation of sacred symbols for the sake of rather shit and meaningless “art”about “having fun” is kind of not on.
By all means, you could say that his concept aim of “being outrageous” has been fulfilled through me, but I suggest I am not quite the outrageous he wants me to be. He wants me to be outraged at his open sexuality and weird dancing and the fact that he is calling a rap video art. But by that, I’m not outraged. In fact, it’s a bit, y’know, run-of-the-mill in the art world. I’m just generally displeased at his blinding lack of creativity and taste.
I think my intense dissatisfaction with Paradi$e Bitch also stems from the sheer brilliance of its predecessor, State of Play. From the oddly solemn BDSM spires, to the tragic, heartwrenching photographic series of Chinese transgender sex workers, to the whimsical-yet-oddly-profound David music video about the commercialisation and subsequent trivialisation of art, the intensity offered by State of Play simply was not matched by Paradi$e. And backlit by the brilliance of the previous exhibition, perhaps Paradi$e was merely silhouetted into mediocrity.