Laura White

Sinopticon: contemporary chinoiserie in contemporary art (review)

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Laura White
Laura White at Sinopticon in Plymouth

There was a giddy sense of occasion as our party of seven academics in search of culture and free drinks entered the atrium of the Plymouth City Museum. We arrived as the opening speeches were progressing and huddled under the Chinese flag dresses, trying not to giggle too overtly as we were jostled intermittently by a large robot triffid.

After locating the wine, we eventually found our way upstairs to the North Gallery. I spent a while admiring some striking cyanotype prints of Chinese urban scenes, which became increasingly eerie with extended viewing. The sense of alienation was bolstered by Isaac Julien’s Hotel (Ten Thousand Waves), in which a Deco-style skyscraper loomed over Shanghai smog. Even more disconcerting were Laura White‘s kitsch composite objects, particularly her challenging way with tartan and blu-tack. In contrast, the soap vases were unambiguously decorative and lustrous – I was hoping for vague hints of Imperial Leather, but despite lacking a discernible scent, they had an individual and ensemble beauty.

I was perhaps over-stimulated by the time I looked at the Grayson Perry pot, and found myself wondering about the importance of irony as an artistic defence mechanism, to forestall judgement on aesthetic criteria. Stuff like that, you know. (I do it myself all the time, naturally…)

We tumbled over to Plymouth College of Art where the film exhibit was too crowded for comfort, so we diverted ourselves with studying the chic art crowd and wondering where they normally hid themselves in Plymouth.

It transpired once in Plymouth Arts Centre that some of the chic art crowd were indeed just passing through, as I got into conversation with a few of the artists, lurking incognito amongst us punters, including Stephanie Douet, the creator of the triffid (which turned out to be architecturally inspired), and Wessieling, some more of whose qipao dresses I saw billowing under the arches of the classical folly at Saltram by the banks of the Plym, as I went past them on my running route the next afternoon.

So we were universally happy to have been pointed us in the direction of that splendid exhibition and wished that we had more occasions for local artistic adventures. We tried to end the evening with culinary chinoiserie, but had to settle for an Indian restaurant.


Sinopticon was curated by Eliza Gluckman and is at National Trust Saltram, Plymouth Arts CentrePlymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Plymouth College of Art until July 7.

A programme of events across the city accompanies the exhibition, visit for more information or

Artists include: Suki Chan (UK), Gayle Chong Kwan (UK), Stephanie Douet (UK), Christian Jankowski (Germany), Isaac Julien (UK), WESSIELING (UK), Grayson Perry (UK), Ed Pien (Canada), Meekyoung Shin (Korea), Karen Tam (Canada), Erika Tan (UK), Tsang KinWah (HK/China) and Laura White (UK)

Lorenzo Bianchi

Lorenzo Bianchi is based in Plymouth.

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