Curator: TSAI Chao-Yi
Foreword: Looking for the Pioneers of Taiwanese Art
Fine art in post-war Taiwan has continued to renew and re-position itself as it is being impacted by external trends. When it comes to the initiation and development of the style and face of art, they are not only deeply related to the changing cultures and social structures, but also consist of several essential elements, such as the artists’ life experiences, vision and aesthetics. “The Pioneers” of Taiwanese Artists exhibitions break away from both the time-period themes and the generational categorization commonly adopted to reflect the artists’ thoughts through social and cultural changes. It uses the term “grader” in the Republic of China Calendar to pinpoint the selected artists’ period and highlight their individual characteristics in art, so as to better acknowledge their worth and subjectivity independently, in the meantime offering an alternative perspective for those who wish to study and expand Taiwanese art.
The naming strategy for this exhibition not only expresses the curatorial ideas but also embodies certain interpretive views of art. The term “grader” is referential; every ten years is a “grade” that refers to working artists of certain age. The reason that “grader” is used is to set a section where observations and studies may be made. There, the artists are not to be passively undone by as history proceeds or as one generation is surmounted by another. Rather, they are the subject matters waiting to be explored because they have made so many unique artworks.
According to the title, these exhibitions are about “pioneers.” They profess that “the spirit of pioneers” is a key element that should be acknowledged and discussed in art. But what is “the spirit of pioneers in Taiwanese art? Who are the “pioneers” in Taiwanese art? The pioneers in the Records of the Grand Historian and other ancient Chinese literatures often make a profound impression on readers because they dared to choose what is good and hold fast to it, no matter tens of thousands disagreed with them. Whether they succeeded in their attempts had not affect their historical reputation at all. Rather, it is their independent thinking deviant from social norms, their persistence in reaching their goals, and their will to take actions regardless of danger and obstacles throughout the course that make them important. Based on the above-mentioned ideas, the ground-breaking, unique artists who stick to their own styles — very distinctive styles they are — regardless of what goes on in the mainstream world are selected to be the “pioneers” of fine arts in Taiwan for this series of exhibitions. They are then discussed respectively according to the “grader” categorization. For instance, the fourth-grader artists, born between the 40th and the 49th year of the Republic of China (1951-1960), are chosen to be the leading figures for this latest exhibition.
The fourth graders were born as the first-generation artists during the Martial Law Rule (1949-1987) after the nationalist government relocated to Taiwan (1949). Although they also received basic education under the authoritarian regime like the third graders (born between 1941 and 1950) did, during their formative teenage and early adult years in the 1970s, they were influenced by the trends of “returning to reality” and “caring for the native land” affirmed by the Nativist Literary Movement initiated by the cultural scene. The socio-political environment in Taiwan, stimulated by the ever-rising civic power, also drastically transformed in the 1980s. Most fourth-grader artists’ careers developed and matured in the 1980s and 1990s when Taiwan shifted from the Martial Law Rule to a post-MLR era. During this time, industries in Taiwan were quickly upgraded and the economy swiftly advanced. The totalitarian regime first loosened and then broke down. The media and all kinds of public platforms were liberated and restrictions no longer existed. The society of Taiwan went totally crazy about democratization, subjectivity and self-awareness. People tried to deconstruct systems, subvert traditions and challenge authorities; such were commonplace in the political, social, religious, cultural and art scenes. During this unsettling period, the unique sociopolitical culture and the changing society of Taiwan inspired artists to set their imagination, creativity and thoughts free in art. The fourth graders were lucky to have been part of the great changing era as they began to work as young professionals. With courage and will, they made art that reflects the times while seeking to develop personal styles through trials and errors and innovations. They eventually became a major force that pushed art ahead into an unprecedented period at the turn of the abolition of martial laws.
In other words, the fourth-grader pioneers had started their career at a challenging point in time. They were not only faced with an open environment unfound in the history of art. That was also an era where many heroes arose, a hundred schools of thought contended, and everyone sought liberation and innovation. The twenty selected artists that we recommend in this exhibition have not only dedicated themselves to practicing their artistic believes, but have managed to establish their individual styles in a diversified world where paradigms decline.
When it comes to the phenomena of art, the pioneers’ seeking changes and differences is so intricately related to their times. To understand why these artists are special, one not only has to study their works but must also learn about the relations between their self-identities and art practices by delving into their cultural backgrounds and the art trends of the time. In this article, we will first look at the cultural backgrounds and art trends that the fourth graders faced before examining what these twenty selected pioneering artists subverted in and added to art, as well as how they have achieved personal achievements in art with what aesthetic persistence.
Cultural Backgrounds and Art Trends for the Fourth Graders
The fourth graders were born between 1951 and 1960. Although they were the “children of the Martial Law Rule” who grew up under a single-party totalitarian regime, the Nativist Literary Movement of the 1970s served as critical intellectual enlightenment for them. As the cultural community in Taiwan continued to develop and expand the care for the land, return to reality and acknowledge the Taiwan experience, such thoughts gradually infiltrated their minds and exerted an inconspicuous influence on the ideas behind and structure of their artworks.
If we look at the society at large, starting with the political movement proposed by opposition parties in the late 1970s, the 1980s saw the surge of a passionate public that outrageously challenged the system and the authorities. The power of the people burst off after long being restrained. Street protests, profoundly influenced by actionism, were staged by political and social activists to call for awareness and by the general public who wanted to save themselves. They brought a drastic impact on the society as the media published in-depth reports on them through a variety of channels.
While the abolition of martial laws in 1987 was a turning point in the history of Taiwan, the opportunities for transformations and breakthroughs that appeared during the course are the truly critical. Given the chance, a huge wave of experimentations and explorations were made in the fields of literature, cinema, fine art, theatre and music. Visual artists also began to touch on the once-untouchable taboo topics about nation, race, colonization, identity and gender politics. They set out to examine the old wounds in the fields of society, economy, environmental protection, and political system and ideologies. They reflected upon and studied Taiwan as they delved deep into its history, culture, and the mindsets and shared memories of its people.
The above-mentioned phenomena only gradually took place in the art scene. It was when it finally became an obvious trend that it strode into the 1990s. One thing must be noted, however, that “trend” is a part of the overall development of art. It was only because the artists developed their own styles and expressions so diversely that the trend of “delving into many issues” gained momentum and prospered. In fact, figurative realism, nostalgic sentiment and daily-life portrayals proposed by the Nativist Movement of the 1970s remained alive and kicking in art schools and official fine arts exhibitions in the 1980s. Modern painting which arose in the 1960s also continued to be influential and had not been washed away by time at all. It is just that, when the press introduced international schools of thoughts like minimalism, transavantgarde, neo-expressionism and neoiconography, when influential artist LEE Chun-Shan (1912-1984) started teaching modern art at a café-studio, and when younger-generation artists introduced new ideas and art forms to Taiwan upon completion of their overseas studies , the Taiwanese art scene in the 1980s gradually evolved into a competitive world where avant-garde, experimental and many other styles coexisted.
Many artists, waving the flag of “Taiwanese consciousness,” joined forces with critics by expressing their critical views through art. Such is their proactive way to transform the native Taiwanese art. Some other ambitious artists even delved into abstractionism, material, color, minimalism, structure and space to seek ground-breaking ways to make art in modern times. The passion, jointly ignited by the art scene and the society at large, was manifested by artists through their challenging against norms and seeking breakthroughs in art. Some of the artists, who stand on the cutting edge of art, have made transcendental breakthroughs in the experiments and use of materials and techniques, the deepening and expansion of aesthetics and creative concepts, and the studies and dialectics of the art form and contemporary issues as subject matters. In this way, they have also planted seeds of transformations in the field of Taiwanese art. Influenced by the profuse art practices around them, a group of artists unveiled their route of ambush into three-dimensional art from the twodimensional one in 1984 and 1985, with exhibitions like Alien: Play of Space, Transcendent: Play of Space II and Color and Shape: Avant-garde, Installation and Space. Their art experiments, referred to as “the revolution of space” and “the nuclear explosions of space” by the press of the time, served as important preludes of even more experiments starting in 1987 on mixed media, action art and space and installations as the martial laws were lifted.
In addition to reflecting the times, the diverse contents and forms of art that appeared in the 1980s and 1990s also have much to do with the increasing opportunities and places to exhibit artists’ works. The vigor and diversity of Taiwanese art in the 1980s can be seen from the painting societies and art groups and organizations, each having their own ideals, which appeared one after another around Taiwan. Three public fine arts museums, respectively in northern, central and southern Taiwan, were established in 11 years since 1983, marking the beginning of an era when the growth of art can be boosted by system. The year of 1988 saw the rise of alternative spaces, which then became important places where young artists practiced their experimental or avant-garde art. These exhibition places, all sharing a wild, organic character, are different from the “white cubic spaces” of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, for instance. Not only that they offered more inspirations for the artists to create art, they also gave a direct impact on the development of installation art that brings action, concept and space together. In the late 90s, encouraged by the government’s policies on community development and the reuse of deserted spaces, such spaces were being largely renewed. Dispersed around the island, they were encouraged to be used alternatively by artists to make art, so that experimental art events may spread throughout Taiwan. Starting in 1994, installation artworks were set up along the Tamsui River as part of the “environmental art exhibits” for four years in a row by the Taipei County Fine Arts Exhibition. Such was the chance for contemporary art to join the public space. From 1997 on, through art festivals launched by provincial, county and city governments, installation art became a popular element in communities as community development was being emphasized during that time. This in a way inspired artists to explore new possibilities in terms of concept, material and the exhibition space.
Speaking of the characteristics of a certain generation, the fourth graders are highly aware of the changing times. Their careers spanned across the 1980s and the 1990s — a time when the fine arts community expressed the strongest desire ever to comb through and integrate into the local history and culture while responding to and connect with the contemporary issues in post-war Taiwan. These artists have remained the key leaders in a variety of art since the mid-1980s. They can be seen actively working in the fields of painting, sculpture, action, performance, installation, photography and video art, even cross-disciplinary art that’s so popular today. For the fourth graders, because they grew up, live in and make art in Taiwan, they must make it a priority to understand the art and cultural environment and the various underlying issues while seeking breakthroughs. Because they look for ways to examine the present from their own past, their works are often highly controversial, full of the sense of reality and exuding an experimentalist feel. Who are these fourth-grader pioneering artists, coming from such a special time period as mentioned above? To hold this exhibition, we managed to find outstanding leaders who synchronize with the advance of art. We especially care for those who continue to make art based on their lasting aesthetic styles, themes and topics. We also try to present artists who have developed styles of their own regardless of the periods they are usually categorized into.
The Unique Creative Expressions of the “Fourth-Grader” Pioneers
HUANG Ming-Chang (1952-) is among the most representative “pioneers” who “insist on developing one’s own style while forming one’s own school of thought.” He has chosen not to join the crowd, but to make paintings of the quiet rural world that remain unaffected by roaring civilizations or changing times, one refined brushstroke after another, with perseverance and dedication, since 1986 until today. He paints so meticulously, almost to the extent of religious practice. The many faces of rice paddy fields in different hours of a day, under the sun or the clouds, and throughout the four seasons, are the most salient subject matters in his work. He uses a special layering technique to form the landscapes. By weaving the macro and the micro perspectives together, he develops a unique personal vision through which he expresses his affection for nature and land. His landscapes, so full of life, expands far and beyond while still yielding abundance. They invoke the shared feelings and thoughts of viewers on their homes, lands or just where their hearts rest. With lasting dedication to the same subject matters, untiring practice of the same techniques, and unique creative expressions, Huang has not only cemented a reputation among his “grader peers,” but also stood out among the landscape artists in Taiwan.
LEE Ming-Sheng (1952-) started practicing action art in public spaces in 1983, independently and in a guerilla-like way. He cares about nature and passionately loves hometown Taiwan. He is also quick to notice political conflicts of interest and social maladies. To put his thoughts on art into practice and to raise public awareness of the many defects of Taiwan, he uses his own body as a material to make street action art. He so outrageously challenges the system through his poignant performances that police sometimes intervene. Lee is among the early pioneering Taiwanese artists who criticizes and reflects upon social norms and political environs through body, action and installation art. He is also the most long-standing action artist with the most provoking attitude. It was during the 1980s and 1990s that he staged several risky avant-garde art guerrilla attempts as a talented “pioneer” keen to express himself. In this way, he successfully drew attention from both the art scene and the general public in Taiwan for the issues he discussed.
The career trajectory of YANG Mao-Ling (1953-) is closely linked to the history and society of Taiwan. Yang already showed an interest in the island’s history and mythologies and expressed his desire to give constructive criticism to the society in his early works. In the early 1980s, he decided to stand against the mainstream, disregarding their values and ideologies so as to discuss political, social, historical and cultural issues even more critically through art. He especially focused on two interrelated topics, “the infiltration and influence of the colonialists’ culture” and “the formation and establishment of one’s own culture.” The world started to change drastically in later years and Yang, who is quick to catch up with the changing times, diverted his attention to globalization in the mid 1990s. He gave a special and sarcastic note on how foreign cultures and local subcultures “attacked” the society of Taiwan. As he grew older and his thoughts changed, Yang’s focus changed again. He became interested in the “unforgettable, heart-felt moments in life, which become even more alive with time.” He resorted to mythologies and manga (a Japanese term referring to cartoons and comics) which he had loved for some time, and made sculptures of characters from western comics and oriental manga. In Alice in Wonderland, based on his own imagination and preferences, he brought a fantastical paradise to life. Subverting the original storyline, he even made Alice and other major characters much more gigantic than they otherwise would be. It is through these funny formations that he reveals his most private thoughts to the public. It is also with such sincerity that he hopes to seek spiritual redemption of his own.
For her sharp sense for color, space, form and material, Jun T. LAI (1953-) was quickly stood out as a talented young artist in the 1980s. She has since then worked on several motifs, such as how to bring an artwork to its full by responding to the exhibition space, and how to create that organic interaction between art and the audience. She further formed the core ideas of her works in Being and Transformations series initiated in 1983. Such include the free arrangement of color and shape in a three-dimensional space, so that “art form” becomes flexible and not fixed. It is also by manipulating color and shape that this exhibition space may inspire the spectators emotionally and intellectually. As spectators walk around in the exhibition space, they often find their perspectives changed. The participation of the spectators in turn changes the space with the energy they exude. The above variations that constantly take place are not only a way to verify the existence of an artwork. They also allow more interpretations to be given to this particular piece of art. As Lai experiments and explores more different media and looks deeper into human spirituality and people’s feelings for life, the dialogues between space and shape in her works begin to change. She has come up with several different forms and styles throughout her career. But she always cares enough to make art that echoes its environs and reflects the minds of the spectators. Her organic work allows its audience to interact with it and the exhibition space using their senses, especially their eyes.
Of all the “fourth-grader” artists, MEI Dean-E (1954-) delves into political topics like nationality, identity, civic awareness and power relationships most deeply while taking the most extensive perspectives. He has profound ideals of his own. He is good at evoking the political sensitivity of the audience with wit, humor and sarcasm. The elements of his work derive from the figures, images, signs and objects that most people are familiar with, so that he can most directly reveal the complicated cultural inter-influences and social and historical contexts behind the word “identity,” at the same time deconstructing the many values and ideologies formed throughout the years. Using critical vocabulary, he discusses the awkward stance of Taiwan in terms of cross-strait relations, domestic politics, foreign affairs, economy and trade, reunifying with China or declaring independence, and globalization, and exposes the underlying political manipulations. With paradoxical dialectics full of puns, he has established a distinct style of his own.
Contrary to a tense modern world in which most people lead an urban life, rely on technologies and are overwhelmed with information, the landscapes of YU Peng (1955-) shows a leisurely, romantic state so incongruent with the present society. But he has not painted about ancient people, nor does he make any traditional literati landscapes. Rather, he paints about the domestic life and field trips of him and his family and friends in an idyllic environ incorporating modern and ancient styles. The self-learned artist is not constrained by any academic training, schools of thoughts or formal techniques. Hence, he is able to express his imaginations of and reflections on the contemporary lives of people with a more open mind. Peng does aspire to live gracefully like the Chinese literati. His work reflects the aesthetics of learned people in ancient China, but he explores beyond the limits of Chinese ink and wash. Believing that “the sky and the earth are both mine, and the past and the present are kept in my mind,” he mixes and matches fantasies, reality and his own desired scenes, and introduces his personal views on a contemporary life full of yearnings, material pleasures, thoughts and phenomena, to create a world specifically of his own.
CHEN Long-Sing (1955-) has never received formal education at any art school. He acquired his painting techniques from dedicated self practice and experimentation. His works from the 1980s are highly critical. The artist used heavy black drawing lines and a dark scary setting to express his rage against those who polluted southern Taiwan. His style during this time was reminiscent of the “black painting” of Kaohsiung. But he became more peaceful as he grew older and converted to Taoism. The relationship between people and their homeland became his painting motif. By the 1990s, he had adopted a distant gaze and a grand vision for his works, so as to show the idyllic homeland in his mind. Vast sugar plantations, large fields surrounded by green mountains, puffy white clouds, the bright scotching Sun, land under the red sunset, and orderly paddy ridges…filtered through memories, they are turned into stylized elements in his works. Chen’s paintings are special because he uses a panoramic view, a linear perspective and a structuralized space to bring these elements together. Each “ideal landscape” that he makes has a very distinctive style. They may seem unsophisticated, but they are really based on a finely executed composition. They may even seem childlike, but they exude a kind of inexplicable, mysterious charm through the rigidly established painting structure.
WU Tien-Chang (1956-) has a strong sense of reality and is quick to notice political changes. In response to an agitated pubic trying to make their requests heard through street protests and physical violence at the turn of the abolition of the martial laws, Wu adopted a new-expressionist style and a visual language full of fear and self victimization to metaphorize the historical, social, political and cultural wounds of Taiwan shared by its people. He also sharply reflects the repression and trauma deriving from the Martial Law Rule and the White Terror which can never be eased. A spiritually wounded victim who represents the collective sub-consciousness of the mass public remains an important motif in Wu’s work. In the series he created in 1990s, Wu applies a kind of “gaudy Taiwanese aesthetics” to make the eerie images of people whose mouths are tucked and eyes are covered. While it seems the artist is nostalgic about the good old days, he really tries to indicate that people were not able to talk or to see as they liked in the past, and that they were anxious because they felt repressed. In 2001, he started showing disfigured persons making strange poses, priests practicing black magic, or people reflecting on their past and present lives in his work. They share a common fate full of wounds and traces of the past. The paintings serve as his political statements, exposing the social maladies of Taiwan and the souls that fail to find peace of mind.
HUANG Chin-Ho (1956-) shows his strong ambition to construct the “Taiwanese aesthetics” in his paintings. Inspired by the island’s sub-culture, he lavishly uses Buddhist and Taoist symbols and elements from traditional folk painting in his work. He exhibits the vitality and vigor of the local culture with bright, glowing colors, exaggerative, distorted shapes and a flamboyant, crowed painting structure. In this way, he has been able to establish the visual aesthetics of his own, based on the life experiences in Taiwan, to defy the infiltration of the homogeneous language of art in a globalized world. Huang’s “Taiwanese imagery” has a strong individual style and reflects his “radiance aesthetics.” He takes inspirations from temple festivities and people’s daily lives. The garnish stage settings of Taiwanese opera and puppet theatre, the overly strong decorations in KTVs and hair salons, and the coquettish glamour of construction promo shows and strip shows are not just his references but are sometimes transformed to be elements of his work. Huang manifests the explosive society of Taiwan through saturating colors and strange compositions, offering a critical view of how culture and people can change as Taiwan becomes wealthier and more driven by greed.
SU Wong-Shen’s (1956-) early work was primarily abstract painting full of thick texture and blocks of color, and the spirit of these paintings came from the artist’s feelings and thoughts concerning social and living environment. While living alone in Tamshui, he started to develop a unique point of view regarding the situation of the spiritual life of metropolitan Taipei and chaotic social phenomena. He painted the area where he lives his life, but from an aerial projection, maintaining the distance of a detached observer. He also painted local scenery with low houses, fenced in enclosures, old trees, land god temples, ancestral temples and graveyards, but the paintings always contained no trace of people. Animals that look like foxes, cats and dogs became protagonists in the mysterious and tranquil settings of his paintings, and formed related yet extremely alienated groups engaging in ridiculous behavior such as; standing on each other to form pyramids, tightrope walking, holding political meetings, vying with each other to talk and securing territory by driving off outsiders. These actions have deep social implications, and stand as a metaphor for all kinds of human behavior while making light hearted jokes about social forms.
At his own solo exhibition held in 1983, CHANG Yung-Tsuen (1957-) was introduced to Richard Shouyu LIN who would have influenced his career trajectory ever since. Inspired by Lin, Chang started to explore beyond canvas/frame, experimenting how “being” and “variations” may take place in a space. From two-dimensional to three-dimensional art, he moves between ink and wash and abstractionism, the minimal and the infinite, and order and chance, so that he can discuss material, space and dimension in more different ways. His creative approach to art, which largely relies on the variations between artwork and space, indicates a strong will to “act” and a desire to gain spiritual growth. It is out of this approach that Chang gradually realized art is omnipresent, omnipotent and all-encompassing. In the years to come, he would have made three-dimensional art, action art and performance art, and participated in community development and social movement. Of the variety of his works, Variations of Ink Painting Series is the most representative one. The artist executed a daring experiment on the media, techniques, expression and composition of ink painting. He not only introduced new media to this category. Using vivid visual elements and an innovative spatial arrangement, he managed to trespass the two-dimensional boundaries of ink painting and found a new path for it.
WU Ma-Li (1957-) is a pioneering Taiwanese installation artist of the 1980s with an avant-garde spirit and a critical view. With a unique approach to rearranging objects and a sharp dialectical language, she quickly established a strong personal style in her early career. On May 20, 1988, nearly 5,000 farmers protested on the streets of Taipei trying to win their rights, but the protest soon escalated into the most violent street conflict ever in Taiwan. Stunned but inspired, she started passionately devoting herself to the real world and geared her focus to contemporary social and political issues as she continued making installation art. Her work is not only about creating visual strengths when form and content are brought together at their best, but also shows macroscopic themes. Wu cares also about women, politics and nationality. Bearing people, land and history in mind, she gives a critical view on gender politics and political ideologies under the family/state system in Taiwan and speaks for minorities. She at the same time proposes a set of alternative values and some experimental solutions to problems, hoping to help people act outside the patriarchal family/state. Having taken this path for years, she further moves away from binary opposition in her recent works, focusing on how art can play a role in community and the environment through a “tolerant, inter-subjective, collaborative, time-based, sense-inspired” feminine perspective and by holding community talks.
LEE Ming-Tse (1957-) incorporates patterns and graphics unique to Taiwanese folklore and the laymen culture. At a glance, his paintings look like ordinary diary notes. But with multi-view topographical compositions and portrayals of highly regional events, Lee really aims to show his acknowledgement for the land he lives and the culture he breathes. Lee has a unique way of making art. He infuses personal observations into the stories he tells. He often places local anecdotes and folk graphics together and casually depicts all kinds of interesting stories. These stories derive from his thoughts on life, childlike jokes, strange daydreams, and eerie black humors. Sometimes he would even introduce heroic characters from old Chinese martial cartoon strips. In all, his narrative is incongruent in terms of time and space, and his painting structure is like a maze. Multiple perspectives, such as horizontal and birds-eye-views, make the figures, buildings and objects look even stranger and more disproportional. The artist enjoys moving between imagination and reality, while bringing fantasies and life together. This is not only the way Lee presents his social and cultural observations. By indulging in this fantastical world, the artist escapes the tension and anxiety he feels in reality. He tries hard to elbow a way between between reality and dreams, so that he can do as he pleases.
CHOU Pang-Ling (1958-) takes “people” as the essence of her work. Due to her family upbringing, she likes to incorporate ceramics and found metal to make art. This unique combination reflects her profound thoughts on human existence. Her artworks may look childlike or whimsical at a glance, but they do illustrate the contrasts between clumsiness and smartness, and powerfulness and softness. There is a dialectical sentiment in her narratives, which she infuses her reflections of pain/ fun, sorrow/joy, love/hate and life/death into. From literature, drama to ceramics, Chou’s crossdisciplinary trainings are merged to be outstanding artworks. Chou is noted for her “transformation of objects into human figures.” She tends to make meaningful, sentient ceramic bodies and often “talks about the whole by presenting just a part of it.” She tells big stories by providing subtle details; in this way, the signifiers of the ceramic work can best manifest the visual storyline and the background of that certain story. Her work contains a strong theatrical aura, a stage tension, and lots of literary elements. In fact, naming the artworks for her is like writing a narrative. The work titles always seem to indicate something. They provide clues for viewers to read into the artworks or learn about their backgrounds. Sometimes they also create suspense and leave plenty of room for imagination.
In a post-war era when economy rocketed to the extent of a miracle, the marginalized minorities and the suppressed underclass were the first to be exploited and sacrificed. Having made numerous penetrating portrayals of these people and their circumstances, LU Hsien-Ming (1959-) became the visual artist who delves the deepest into these motifs, provides the most caring views, and renders the most powerful expressions in Taiwan. Lu witnessed the rapid development and the dramatic landscape changes of Taipei as he was growing up, and so suffered the adjustment problems of a resident adapting to new things and a new environment. His work principally interprets metropolitan experience and memory with a focus on people, and uses this to examine contemporary living environments and the structure of human affairs. His imagery is always permeated with a strong sense of loneliness belonging to someone who does not have a home and cannot find a home. No matter it is his early works’ alienation scenes which feature urban transport infrastructure, or the paintings after 1995 which feature ordinary citizens as well as the oppressed group, these daily scenes and familiar figures all show a sense of emptiness and hopelessness as if they did not know where to go. Sometimes an overwhelming sense of ruin can also be noticed. Through his works, LU Hsien-Ming invites viewers into the collective experiences of contemporary urban life to reexamine how civilization has changed human’s life.
The paintings by LIN Ju (1959-) are full of dark, alienating occult elements. The artist often takes quasi-holy spirits to be the protagonists in his work, and illustrates his thoughts on the difficulties of life through these deformed characters. He likes to study canonical Buddhist and Taoist texts and has substantial knowledge of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. To form a painting language that can best express his thoughts on life and his religious and philosophical views, he delves into Renaissance painting, Chinese ink painting before the 11th century, and Buddhist and Taoist statues hoping to be inspired. His painting vocabulary also has to do with childhood experiences. He used to run about in a slaughter house where his father worked. The intestines dropping out of pigs’ bellies and the blood gushing out from their throats are part of his early memories. Most of the human figures in his paintings appear to stand in silence and alienation on a deserted land where no other living beings exist. The displaced body organs, scattered heads and limbs, reversed genders and even cannibal scenes make these pictures look dark and gloomy. In his work, LIN Ju presents the most absurd, savage and distant depths of the human soul. Through a bloody and ruthless examination of death motivated by the desire for rebirth, he awakens our instincts and ultimately offers a trace of salvation; although it is impossible to pull suffering souls from the abyss, at least we can send a message of everlasting hope down to their world.
WANG Wen-Chih (1959- ) uses Taiwanese bamboos and rattans to make large installations these days. He is famous for these works which have special shapes and distinctive styles. But back in the 1990s, he used to make art out of raw hard wood. Those sympathetic works show the wound, trauma and sorrow that his countrymen suffered after a major disaster hit Taiwan. The artist cares about how man and nature can thrive together. Having lived in the mountains for years, he has developed ideas that he wants to share. Rattans and bamboos are now the main materials that he uses. Because they are resilient, soft and easy to weave, he has been able to create gigantic “containers” in which “people may be fully in touch with nature,” meaning that one can set his or her body, mind and soul free through these works. Wang’s large installations are both sculptures and architectures. In this cave-like space, the audience’s bodily memories, touches and senses are awakened to be in touch with nature again. Because there are little cracks and bumps in this woven structure, the audience is forced not only to walk, but also to crawl or even jump as they move around in this constructed space. The artist hopes to invoke the audience’s survival instincts long forgotten in an urban world, so that they can interact more with nature.
CHEN Chieh-Jen (1960-) is a master in speaking the unspeakable experience of people in Taiwan through images and historical reviews. With interwoven images of different time periods, his video installations illustrate the relationship among the past, the present and the future. He also explores issues such as the authenticity of history, the dynamics between a subject matter and the others in terms of gaze and control, and the living circumstances of people. The contemporary Taiwan built upon history is his biggest source of inspiration. From both a macroscopic historical perspective and a macroscopic personal view, he looks into the lives of laborers and minority groups, who are marginalized as traditional industries decline on this globalized island, and explores how their life experiences are linked to social change. Through images, Chen discusses the current issues of Taiwan with a critical eye. He thinks that the social circumstances, the lives of the mass public, and the modes of economic production are influenced by complicated cultural and historical factors. He takes a critical stance in studying the workings of politics and power, and shows the underlying oppression of a social and political system through powerful images.
From the vague anxiety, dark melancholia and commotional disturbances in his works, it can already be seen in the early 1980s that KUO Wei-Kuo (1960-) has an acute sense for observing the nature of things. The Martial Law was lifted in 1987, and the people of Taiwan were eager to find a subjectivity of their own. The art community enthusiastically responded to this, and so did Kuo who created plentiful artworks which not only serve as innuendos of the current issues but also indicate people’s desire to escape the confining system. These works are more than the artist’s political statements, however. They illustrate how good he is at revealing the innermost thoughts of mankind. By the late 1990s, civic awareness was less under the spotlight, and the “nature of art” started receiving attention again. Using his own body as imagery, the artist created the Diagram of Commotion and Desire Series. These self-portraits, mainly inspired by his own inner experiences, indicate that the artist has directed his focus from social criticism to one’s spiritual exploration. He has since then taken a path to self-breakthroughs, self-criticism and self-awareness. Inspired by his own memories, emotions, experiences and fantasies to masquerade, Kuo turns his body into an incarnation of his mind. It is by revealing his many inner desires in these paintings that he feels he’s purged and thus able to take a break from the suffocating reality. It is also by comforting his inner self through art — which is impossible in daily life — that he feels liberated and redeemed.
The coexistence and relationship between mankind and nature are the most important motifs in the works of HUNG Tien-Yu (1960-), and the Landscape with Blanks series which he still continues to expand today encompasses most of the subject matters that he cares. To make these artworks, he conducts field researches like a real scholar on the geography, history, animals, plants and ecology of certain places, and then incorporates his own observations and literature left by his predecessor to tell the stories of the mountains and forests of Taiwan over the last hundreds of years. Also, in these serial artworks, by juxtaposing the “primitive landscapes” and the “blank landscapes,” which represent the parts of nature affected by human civilization, he aims to show how the island is being trampled and exploited by mankind as the society advances. Not only that the “space” where the landscapes are located is an important subject in his works. “Time” is also a key motif. Taking a symbolic approach, he captures the course of time and the space/blank landscapes affected by human civilization and places them in his paintings, so that space and time may “speak to” one another. The forced blanks are like mirrors that reflect the truths. The blanks are constructed upon reality, and reality is made up of the blanks. Together they gracefully tell stories of the long wounded land.
Taiwan in the 1980s experienced drastic changes and social uproars, and so did the fine arts community. In a time of transformation when mainstream values were subverted, diversity was promoted, paragons fell apart, and new perspectives were introduced, the aforementioned “fourth-grader” artists decided to take alternative paths, moving along with the times while still trying to be themselves. Of these twenty artists that we recommend, some are cutting-edge artists, some become leaders of art trends, and some choose to take guerilla art actions. But more have just dedicated themselves to making art regardless of the trends. Although their life experiences and career paths may differ, they all have the “pioneer’s spirit.” With a caring perspective, alternative ideas, and a unique artistic expression, they have each established their own style in the diverse world. It can be seen from a historical perspective that their uniqueness and contemporarity are deeply related to the era they have lived. Just like the ever-expanding ripples in a pond, they shall all cast an influence on the Taiwanese art as it continues to move on.