Ever since a private collector of Chinese contemporary art, Judith Nelson, opened the doors of her White Rabbit Gallery to the public in 2009, this Sydney venue has become my regular place of art-pilgrimage—offering frequent encounters with cutting-edge contemporary ceramic art. The Gallery is registered as a charity institution funded solely by Nelson and it curates two free exhibitions a year based on a particular subject or theme.
Considering China’s long-standing tradition of ceramic practice, almost every White Rabbit exhibition features at least one exceptional up-to-date work using the ceramic medium. Some of the ceramic installations of the continuously growing collection include Ai Weiwei’s Oil Spill (2006) and Sunflower Seeds (2010), both made from porcelain, as well as artist Liu Jianhua’s Fallen Leaves (2012) made out of 5000 porcelain pieces, and Water Drops (2014) by Kung Wen-Yi and Ko Yu-Cheng. However, one of the artists introduced by the Gallery who explores the potential of ceramics in a unique way is Geng Xue. She gives clay and porcelain a poetic, sublimely beautiful and sensual dimension in the context of her multimedia practice. Geng is represented in the White Rabbit collection by two stop-start animation films; Mr. Sea (2014) accompanied by a porcelain installation, and Poetry of Michelangelo (2015). Both films add a new dimension of life to the porcelain and the finished works she has created.
Geng Xue was born in 1983 in Baishan, a city in the Chinese province of Jilin. In 2007 she graduated with a ceramics major from the Sculpture Studio of the prestigious Chinese Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. She also completed her master’s degree in the Department of Printmaking at CAFA in 2014, and remained in Beijing following completion of her formal education. In her May 2014 artist statement for the two exhibitions of Mr. Sea (one being a group graduate show at CAFA Museum, and the other a solo show at Zero Art Centre in Beijing) she explained the reasons for being drawn to working with porcelain:
My preference traces back to my passion for Chinese traditional art, and porcelain carries a long history. I was playing with modelling clay since I was a kid, and the first time I tried to craft some pottery was at school. I was fascinated by the richness of transformation this material can undergo.1
The short film Mr. Sea (13 minutes and 15 seconds) took an entire year to make and it was Geng Xue’s first work using stop-start animation in combination with porcelain puppets. By using puppetry, she acknowledged yet another of the ancient Chinese art forms. Geng Xue said about making of the film:
I wanted to try a new language and combine it with my love of porcelain, so Mr Sea can be considered my first experience with video. I did everything on my own and I had friends from the industry teaching me know to deal with a camera and lights.2
At the point she completes the male form, she kisses the man’s mouth breathing life into the clay.