Snippets: Taiwan, Apr 2015

One pleasant Taichung memory is sitting on a mat surrounded by casually displayed art at 無為草堂, a rustic and serene tea house that befits the description of an oasis within the urban sprawl. The next day, I visited the astoundingly large National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art 國立台灣美術館, which had 5 shows ongoing on top of exhibiting pieces from its permanent collection indoors and outdoors. The main showcase is “TYPEMOTION”, “an international research, edition and exhibition project” sponsored by the Goethe-Institut, which aims to explore typography in moving images since the early 1900s. Browsing a multitude of looping videos within an intentionally dizzy layout, one forsakes deep appreciation of its compendious exhibits, to focus on twelve works by Taiwanese artists.

Tsai Charwei 蔡佳葳 - Incense Mantra 香咒 (2013)

Chinese ideograms make great figurative representations, and different approaches – from computer animations to a robot installation – are equally effective. Leaving wonderful impressions are Tsai Charwei’s (蔡佳葳) meditative video of burning incense, and Lin Shu-Min’s (林書民) remarkable interactive room, which translates chosen words into evocative three-dimensional landscapes. Walking past another three solo displays, the group exhibition “Finish and Unfinish 『不满』之见” intrigues with its curatorial premise. 30 artists present two works – one completed, one regarded as 70% finished – hung side by side, which prompts thinking about the aspiration for perfect form, a requirement stated in art competitions (popular in Taiwan) which obsolete notion harks back to salon paintings in 19th century Europe.

Installation preview video of Lin Shu-Min 林書民 - Literary Encounter 文字遇 (2015)

Unfinished forms describe Louis Kahn’s philosophy in architecture, whose drawings, ideas, aphorisms, and building mock-ups are presented in a thorough exhibition at Taipei Museum of Fine Art 臺北市立美術館. For one who said “a room is not a room without natural light”, this exhibition “…is in a room that is not a room, but a space whose bland, blind whiteness makes a mockery of the work of an architect obsessed with the quality of light.” (Edwin Heathcote, on the same show in London) Photographs of archaic structures are easier to stomach than “The Testimony of Food: Ideas and Food” upstairs, an incoherent exhibition that brings together art which refers to food. Chocolates in the shapes of war machines and a recreated poppy garden briefly piqued my curiosity, otherwise the walk through failed to whet my appetite.

Tai Ming-Te 戴明德 (2015) - [l] Androgynous - Girl with Flowers; [r] Androgynous - Girl with Scissors

Escaping from dreary self-realisation to Taipei Contemporary Art 台北當代藝術館, one is greeted by an organic 15-feet tall screen on the outside, then a 15 cubic metre cloud hanging on the inside. Yu Wen-Fu 游文富 utilises craft to shrink the space that one experiences, effectively enveloping and enthralling the visitor with thousands of bamboo sticks and feathers. Analogies matter little when the visual effect is so powerful, as one projection of a running man leads into an imaginary field of reeds, and a pair of legs emerging from one floating cloud of feathers inspire awe. The artist displays a strong grasp of volume and scale, especially in the mildly claustrophobic but always threatening ‘Wall of Thorns 朿刀辟土(刺壁)‘, and for the room filled to the brim with feathers, which demands the visitor to climb steps and ruminate upon a surreal scene.

Chou Ching-Hui 周慶輝 - Animal Farm 人的莊園 No. 02 (2014)

This sets the mood for more fantastical scenes upstairs, where Chou Ching-Hui 周慶輝 presents tailored photographs of people trapped in their surroundings. Photographed in zoo enclosures, modern life concerns are staged in captivating sets, each exploring themes like beauty, identity, isolation, and helplessness. Utilising a readymade background of real trees and forest murals, the artist injects formal compositions with a multitude of figurative and metaphorical layers. Objects used in the photographs like syringes and glass bottles, are displayed in between galleries together with ornamental wallpaper, as animal noises line the corridors to create an immersive experience. Easily the best piece of art seen this year, I exorcised my regret at missing Au Sow Yee’s exhibition at Guling Street 牯嶺街. This August at Lostgens' then!

Installation views of Yu Wen-Fu 游文富 - Build 竹工凡木 <築> (2015)

“Seeing something again is an important aspect of art. You don’t ever see all at one time. You could see it indefinitely, and there would always be something you haven’t seen, because art is a product of the intuitive—the most powerful instrument within us. The intuitive is the most accurate sense we have. Science can never reach it. Knowledge can never reach it. The beautiful thing that the intuitive gives is a sense of commonality, a sense of human agreement without example. Something can be produced for the first time, and somehow it has a quality of having always been there. That is the quality of human agreement.”
- Louis Kahn, in an imagined interview with Carlos Brillembourg, BOMB #40, Summer 1992

Chou Ching-Hui 周慶輝 - Animal Farm 人的莊園 No. 03 (2014)