Digital print on paper

John Young Zerunge: The Lives of Celestials

Town Hall Gallery will unveil its latest exhibition entitled John Young Zerunge: The Lives of Celestials ­– a survey exhibition that invites audiences to journey through the lives of significant figures of the Chinese diaspora in Australia from 1840 onwards, showing Saturday 31 August – Saturday 20 October.

This will be the largest presentation to date of John Young Zerunge’s History Projects, presenting installations of chalk drawings, photographs, video works and paintings, that invoke memories of the local Chinese elite, abject madmen and fearless women. The exhibition is a culmination of three recent history projects by Young, disrupting typical misperceptions of the Chinese historical presence in Australia, and bringing to the surface important stories and events of Chinese-Australian history from the last 180 years.

The Lives of Celestials reflects the forces of survival, memory and otherness that continue to shape Australia’s contemporary social context, spotlighting significant figures from all strata of society, including Lowe Kong Meng, a multilingual merchant elite, and illiterate miner, Jong Ah Siug, as well as fearless itinerant Australian women in the modernist hub of Shanghai in the early 1930s; Daisy Kwok and Alice Kim Kee. The exhibition also traces the events of the Lambing Flat Riots of 1860-61: the largest racially motivated riots in Australia’s history, and the acts of violence and benevolence that characterized them.

Of the exhibition, Young has commented: “In our hyperreal present, it is important that we don’t lose sight of time and resonance. The Lives of Celestials pay homage to the events and stories that have gone before us; through their re-imagining, they become part of us.”

Drawing from his own bi-cultural experience, Young incorporates elements of philosophy, aesthetics and art history to consider the sociological impacts of technology; the culture surrounding globalisation and migratory dislocation; as well as his own implicit meditations on time, resonance and melancholia. His recent focus on transcultural humanitarianism has taken the form of interdisciplinary and multilingual projects that amalgamate historical imagery, citations, mappings and commemoration with contemporary artistic reimagining of a previously omitted chapter of Australian history and identity. The development of these projects has been supported by an Australia Council Visual Arts Fellowship received in 2013.

Originally from Hong Kong, Young moved to Australia in the late 60s and has presented numerous solo and group exhibitions, including representing Australia at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Young is one of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists, noted for his discursive and deeply scholarly approach that combines innovative painterly practice with traditional technical rigour. Of late, he has completed the building of Open Monument: a permanently installed architectural monument to acknowledge the contribution of the Chinese people in Ballarat, and collaborated with prize-winning novelist Brian Castro on the book Macau Days, funded by Nobel Laureate J.M Coetzee and published by Art + Australia.

Town Hall Gallery features a diverse range of contemporary public programs, curated exhibitions and exhibitions drawn from the Town Hall Gallery Collection, celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the City of Boroondara. A member of the Public Galleries Association of Victoria, Town Hall Gallery supports local, national and international artists at varying stage of their careers and offers a space for local artists and community groups to exhibit professionally in a gallery environment

John Young Zerunge: The Lives of Celestials – FREE
Opening: 31 August 2019, 2pm – 4pm 
Walk and talk: Saturday 31 August, 1pm – 2pm and Wednesday 18 September, 11am – 12pm
Panel Discussion: Saturday 12 October, 1.30pm – 3pm

Exhibition dates: 31 August – 20 October 2019
Town Hall Gallery, 360 Burwood Road, Hawthorn