319-1 East End Art Zone A, Caochangdi Village,Chaoyang District, 100015 Beijing, China
The title “Half Rabbit” here refers to the fact that we are now half way through the Year of the Rabbit, in the Chinese calendar. The animal years represented in the Chinese zodiac run in twelve-year sequences, so for anyone born in a “Rabbit” year, the current annual cycle is a particularly auspicious time. Following the custom of reading one’s prospects based when you are born, the theme for “Half Rabbit” attempted to address issues of identity and fortune.
This was planned to be the return section of “Local Whispers,” an exchange project between Audio Architecture in the UK and SubJam in China. The first part having taken place in January at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the follow-up show at Platform China was to have seen the British artists collaborate with their Chinese counterparts. These collaborative efforts are often promoted as a way to use cultural activities to improve relations between countries. But this does not easily happen without a suitable environment in which to foster such a result, and how much it occurs in practice very much depends on local conditions and effective support from both ends.
As it happened, unforeseen circumstances complicated the return of this show to China, and although there was a strong group of artists and great potential, the divided nature of the title could equally refer to the half-fulfilled final product.
As a result of these unexplained (and probably unexplainable) reasons, all but one of the Chinese artists were unable to take part in the show. Audio Architecture reported that it was “recommended” that they should go so far as to remove all these artists’ details from the show’s website, effectively erasing any memory of them from the show. Without knowing the details that led up to this result, it’s difficult to judge such a drastic change in the programme. However, such an occurrence is not exactly unheard of here. Nevertheless the show went on. However, the disappearance of the collaborators on the Chinese side seemed to undermine the aim of the show, leaving many of the displays somewhat isolated and divorced from the theme and their new environment.
The works that successfully engaged with the theme included Christian Krupa’s Reluctant Rabbit, a rabbit hutch illuminated from within by a revolving light. The artist had plastered the surface of the hutch with old notes on those scraps of paper that you just can’t seem to throw away because of their personal value. Krupa’s answer was to present them on the box for anyone else to remove as long as they replaced them with their own scrap. The hutch became an ever-renewing personal record of wherever it was shown, slowly accreting the messages of whomever came into contact with it.
Ruan Qianrui was left as one of the two remaining representatives for the host country and his collaboration with Experimenter En Couleur created the most effective piece in the show. Their Rabbit Sequence was a series of figurines of a stylised rabbit in Peking Opera garb, riding on a tiger. These clay figurines are produced as ornaments to celebrate rabbit year and the artists modified each one with a photograph of an interviewee’s face and a small recorder playing their interview, the participants relating their hopes and dreams for the future. These rabbits multiplied over the course of the exhibition, growing to populate the entrance to Platform’s gallery spaces with their slight forms but vocal contributions.
As cynical as I am, it seems to me that right now we need all the connections we can get between our respective cultures. So it’s a little disheartening to see the potential that this project exemplified go unrealised. The artists produced interesting work, and those that were able to be present in China benefitted – as their final works suggested. The seeds for a great show were all there to be exploited, but the lack of resources and inability to connect became a stumbling block holding back the show’s success.
-- Edward Sanderson
(All images courtesy of Platform China and the artist.)