Curator: CHANG Cheng-Lin
Here, the loss of aura is not traced to a change in reproduction techniques but to an intent on the part of the makers of art. The change in the "overall character of art" is no longer the result of technological innovation but mediated by the conscious acts of a generation of artists.
－ Peter Bürger 1
Thus the life of someone whose existence has somewhat preceded our own encloses in its particularity the very tension of History, its division. History is hysterical: it is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it — and in order to look at it we must be excluded from it.
－ Roland Barthes2
Artist and Environment
In classical art theory, an artist, his or her artwork and the society are often dialectically linked to one another. Thus if we were to understand the artistic actions taken during a certain period of time, we should perhaps study some of the key topics like the artist's personal history, his or her artistic style and language, and the social and cultural circumstances of the time, through discourses, testaments and narrative structures. This methodology can help to construct history and bring in context, but sometimes it can also homogenize our perceptions. In more straightforward terms, this can over-simplify differences, contradictions, impacts, confrontations, interlacing discourses and marginalized zones. How shall we bring vitality back to the art world? How shall we instill dynamic energy into the discourse of Taiwanese art? How shall we further re-present all those disparaging artistic languages and experiences while looking at the existing studies? These are the key questions that we hope to answer in this exhibition. Art, after all, has to do with the human history. Thus, in reviewing history, an artist's personal artistic experiences and his or her works of art become vital. The artists who not only can profusely express uniqueness in their works but also benefit, influence and change the visual language of art in Taiwan are who we refer to as the "pioneers" here.
The term "pioneer" derives from an ancient Chinese literature, Historical Records. All of the pioneers in this book were determined to confront a certain structure so as to break new grounds. They stood out among the crowds and their voices were sharp and loud. Despite the ups and downs, they constantly looked for chances to strike back and refused to live in ordinarity. Taking these characters into account, one shall realize that an artist becomes a pioneer more because of how he or she makes art and less because of his or her career success. In Pictures and Tears,3 James Elkins questioned the excessive rationality found in the writings of art history and noted that the perceptual relationship between an artwork and people is often missed. But the truth is, an artist's characters and his or her understanding of humanity expressed through the artwork, as well as viewers' thoughts and feelings for the artwork, should never be omitted in artistic discourses. Just on the contrary, they should be more eminently described. Artworks are meant to evoke people's subjectivity, not making them the objects of knowledge. One may feel inspired by Elkins as to the definition of a "pioneer”: it is the artistic practices made by those men and women in a certain era that have inspired us to take different perspectives to study the relationship among artwork, artist and that specific period of time. The sheer existence of pioneers can therefore thrust into, prick at and bring stabbing pain to our collective memories or resounding personal feelings whenever we encounter it. And this echoes the origin of art, too.
Looking back at the starting point of art is like re-examining art history. The "fifth-grader artists" (born between 1961 and 1970) joined the professional art trade when all existing value systems were redefined, the totalitarian regime was dissolved, the capitalist economy rocketed high, the country was pushed into a new international community, population, information and commodities flew about, and social empowerment became an eminent symbol in Taiwan. All of these took place during the late 1980s and the 1990s. This is undoubtedly a crucial period when the creative power of visual art burst high. It can even be considered the beginning of a truly "contemporary" art period in Taiwan. Compared to other periods, the art community in Taiwan was much livelier than before during this time. All kinds of artworks were made, and artistic languages flourished like never before. New aesthetics and concepts were applied to challenge the existing systems, sparking fervent discussions. Each gaining a solid ground, they eventually formed a vigorous and diverse landscape of art.
1Peter Bürger (1984), Theory of Avant Garde, trans. Michael Shaw. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 29.
2Roland Barthes (1981), Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, p.65.
3James Elkins (2001). Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings . New York and London: Routledge.
Universals and Particulars
But a smooth function can never be formed just because the changes of a society help to boost or repress artist's creative power. More specifically, even under the same social circumstances in the same time period, these artists' works can never constitute a homogeneous entity. In other words, the art world is still so powerfully ridden with differences today even when universals exist. The acknowledgement, even the approval of particulars, must be considered a core motif, in addition to being the premise for discussing the "pioneers" of art in this exhibition. It is when individuals pursue artistic differences and alternative styles that an indispensable tension between the greater environment and artworks dealing with private experiences can be kept.
Based on her observations of how the avant garde artistic community in New York evolved between 1940 and 1985, Diana Crane proposed that there is a tension between experimental art and the external environment. 4 Although this tension is inevitably restraining to a certain extent, it still helps to boost artistic productivity. If we look at the times that the fifth-grader artists were in, we shall also find out that even though many contemporary art concepts had only been initiated back then, the post-martial law Taiwan society was already able to give back to two knowledge fields. One is the rediscovery of history. The special historical, political and cultural circumstances in Taiwan form a fertile ground where art can flourish. Because the local culture was repressed for a long time, the study of Taiwan’s subjectivity and people’s everyday experiences became inspiring, precious resources for making art. Furthermore, when political and economic spectrums started to shift drastically, not only that individuals and groups were given ample space for reflection, it also became much easier to deconstruct existing aesthetic systems while renewing Taiwan’s visual language.
The other is the formation of an aesthetic open ground. All kinds of artistic concepts and cultural theories flowed in, such as post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-colonialism, feminism, semiotics and psychoanalysis, and were integrated into Taiwan’s context, transformed along with it, and even render newer and more meanings — such is a distinguishing feature of the peak of post-martial law days. In fact, studies on Taiwan’s subjectivity quickly rose to the mainstream after the lifting of the martial laws in 1987. Localization and globalization shot into the core of the art community in Taiwan like two arrows. Private and public museums were established on after another as alternative exhibition spaces suddenly emerged like a new force. Art foundations were inaugurated in all parts of Taiwan, and art competitions were so many that they were like spring bamboo shoots sprouting after the rain. As more curatorial ideas were introduced and commercial art galleries flourished, contemporary Taiwanese artists were offered the publicity they needed. The inter-influence between regional awareness and cross-national trends became not just a vision but a truth. More importantly, through publications, media, academia and overseas student groups, new forms of art, such as installation art, behavior art, conceptual art, video art and new media art were all brought into the Taiwanese artistic inner circle, which had largely focused on painting before. A prelude to an artistic revolution was made, and artists were ready to make moves. At the same time, new approaches to writing about art criticism and art history were also taken, fueling and firing up all the alterations, arguments and commotions of the time. These new art literatures help both artists and viewers to define the “myriadness” in front of them.
“Myriadness” is most eminently embodied in multi-media, which refers to using different artistic mediums beyond an existing framework to make art and breaking ground for new visual and intellectual experiences. In a way, this "jumping out of the box" was practiced so fervently that it was close to an aesthetic revolution in post-martial law Taiwan, and long-lasting, fundamental influences were hence formed. This leap of faith is based on one core idea: question everything and redefine the world today. The aesthetic revolution has not only changed the artistic landscape in post-war Taiwan, but has also brought the form and content of contemporary Taiwanese art to a peak of innovation in history. With the revolution's influence lasting until today, artists are keen to identify problems and discuss aesthetic issues, discourses and languages. All of these constitute the core of Taiwanese art. As Dutch scholar Kitty Zijlmans wisely said, the meaning and value of an artwork is not decided by its material or form, but rather the role it plays in a dynamic art system. An art community forms its message-coding system through the cross-referencing of artworks. But this system is also influenced by other knowledge fields in this world. Judging from this, not only visual presentation should be discussed as we delve into art history. We must figure out how a certain work of art created in a certain period of time has been perceived and cross-referenced when taking synchronicity and diachronicity into account. 5 How an artwork should be created or interpreted is deeply related to how it aims to twist the existing coding of art around. Creation is to give new meanings to the present art system, to reflect and criticize the old ways of endowing meanings, or to invent new meaningful perceptual symbols. In the times they live, these fifth-grader “pioneers” are undoubtedly the frontier-explorers who can recode the language of art. They are also the forerunners who dare to challenge art’s boundaries so as to carve unique paths for themselves. How have they deconstructed, appropriated or ridiculed conventions? How have they expressed their individuality? How have they faced contradictions and frustrations in the course of change? How have they gained energy from the depths of society and humanity, so as to persevere in making art? These are the key issues that we should study.
4Diana Crane (1987). The Transformation of the Avant-Garde: The New York Art World, 1940-1989 . Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
5Kitty Zijlmans (2009). "Intercultural Perspective As Context: Beyond Othering and Appropriation? The Case of John Mawurndjul." In: Volkenandt, C. & Kaufmann, Chr. (Eds.), Between Indigenous Australia and Europe: John Mawurndjul. Art Histories in Context., pp.113-121. Berlin: Reimer Verlag.
Post-modernity and Contemporaneity
Taiwanese professor HSIAO Chong-Ray uses two key phrases to described Taiwanese arts' course of development from 1987 to 2004, “taking diverse perspectives to show care after the lifting of the martial laws” and “installation, action and digitality influenced by the popular art biennales.” The "fifth graders" as defined in this exhibition became artists exactly under these circumstances. Some were self-trained, others embarked on a career journey after leaving art schools. They were not only faced with drastic changes to art concepts and the art environment but also a fast-changing society at large. They were lucky enough to be standing at the turn of a new era, but they also had lots of missions to accomplish. Nonetheless, they were truly liberated to an unprecedented level. They were able to re-invent all the genres, themes, approaches and perspectives for their artworks in response to a society being deconstructed. One can find great talents joining the art community, no matter they were trained in art schools or inspired by the laymen's world.
Taiwan's scopic regime was shifted to a different direction after the lifting of the martial laws. Benefitting from effort made by the preceding generations (especially the "fourth graders"), the fifth-grader pioneers enjoyed substantial success. The two generations were active in overlapping- -not just consecutive — periods of time; is there a fundamental difference between them? Briefly speaking, we may say these two generations are like modernity/avant-garde versus post-modernity. This may not be a perfect analogy, but may still serve as an answer to the question. In fact, until today, we have yet been able to come up with a finer period-division method for post-martial law times. Thus we have not been able to yield the sharpest observation of how the two generations evolved during this aesthetically ambiguous, refined and yet crucial process. One thing we can be sure of is that most of the fifth-grader pioneers couldn't relate to the most intense period (end of the martial law rule/beginning of a post-martial era) and all those clashes as much as their predecessors did. The avant-garde fourth graders of the early post-martial law period went so far as to attack or discard the restraining traditions. They would also subvert or confront the meta-proposition of art in order to release their repressed energy. Such avant-gardeness was transcribed into an intuitive, transcending, expressive and talented artistic language. This not only turned their artistic expressions into heroic attempts but also enabled their artworks to touch the depths of one's heart.
Fourth-grader artists' remarkable protests resulted in the golden days of post-martial law art in Taiwan. From an art history's perspective, this also implies the coming of contemporaneity right after modernist and realist art reached their peak in Taiwan. The fifth-grader pioneers would soon hop on the stage to deal with the kind of "post modernity" that I just appropriated. Andrea Hyussen said,
My main point about contemporary postmodernism is that it operates in a field of tension between tradition and innovation, conservation and renewal, mass culture and high art, in which the second terms are no longer automatically privileged over the first; a field of tension which can no longer be grasped in categories such as progress v.s. reaction, left v.s. right, present v.s. past, modernism v.s. realism, abstraction v.s. representation, avant-garde v.s. Kitsch. The fact that such dichotomies, which after all are central to the classical accounts of modernism, have broken down is part of the shift I have been trying to describe. 6
As situations in the post-martial law era evolved, not only classical definitions of art were dissolved. Art itself was, too. This is not saying that art theories or artworks no longer existed. It is unified and predominant visual styles that were expelled. Looking at the overall coding of art in the mid 90s in Taiwan, one shall find that not only art/non-art barriers have been thrown down. Core motifs like visual styles and the essence of art were challenged, too. What's interesting is that, nowadays, it is not by answering "what is art" that an artist establishes his or her career, but by proposing such a question. The more different ways an artist takes to expound on this course of questioning, the more he or she may be acknowledged. Art in the contemporary society can only be observed meta-cognitively when it is no longer written with a big A. Arthur C. Danto, when referring to "posthistorical art," said, "anything could be a work of art, and it meant that if you were going to find out what art was, you had to turn from experience to thought.” (Danto, 1997, p. 13) 7 Thus, the key to discerning and understanding art is not its appearance, but how it fits our thoughts, ideas and feelings. Art practice is not just about creating an aesthetic object, but forming a meaningful text. It must respond to everyday life and the outside world.
The same rules apply to Taiwan. It can even be said these aforementioned phenomena constitute the contemporaneity of Taiwanese art. In the post-martial law era, the emancipated Taiwan society had helped to solidify artists' power to question and observe. Thus, speaking of the qualities of a pioneering artist, not only that the ability to recode art must be taken into consideration, the "tendency to reflect on the world" is also vital. As we curated this exhibition, this tendency was naturally included in our artist evaluation list. Now that Pandora's Box has been opened, not matter an artwork delivers messages based on the author's intuition, experience, judgment or insight, it is intriguing because it touches on the real circumstances of life and evokes intellectual conservations about them. In a fast changing world, the fifth-grader pioneers propose questions regarding many crucial issues of our time through their works of art. Perhaps we may also say that, Taiwan, an island under many different tensions, also proposes questions back to us through their works. These questions embody the artists' understanding and intervention of the modern life, their reflections and explorations of the term subjectivity, their study into cultural identity and recognition, their representations and analyses of ideological syndromes, their observations on body and desire, their anatomy of the system of art, their gaze at the marginalized parts of society, their effort to repair and pursue eco-ethics, their embracing/alienating consumerism and autonomy, and their caresses on humanity's twilight zones. There are never ultimate answers to these questions. But these artists have at least make these questions known to their viewers, through artworks in different forms and based on diverse mediums, as they continue to go after the experimentality of art.
6Andreas Huyssen (1986). After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism . Indiana: Indiana University Press, p.216-217.
7Danto, A. C. (1997). After the End of Art: contemporary art and the pale of history . Princeton, new jersey, USA: Princeton University Press.
Experimentality and Multi-tone
The experimentality of art has to do with a new existence, an artistic sensitivity and a changing environment. Such experimentality can only boost art and cultural production from within or rewrite people’s collective cultural memories when it is based on the reflections of the present society and everyday life, and when it can garner people’s attention and evoke wide discussions. Thus, only when we study art’s development by “generation” can we further demonstrate the meaning of art’s experimentality. We need to lay solid groundwork by delving deep into the relationship between an artist, his or her works of art, and the times he or she lives in. And we must select pioneers who have sufficient artistic energy to change such a relationship.
The fifth-grader artists grew up in a critical era of change. Their artworks and styles matured as they experienced more in life. From their youthful years until mid-life, each of these artists constructed their own artistic spectrums. Such spectrums are encompassing yet full of individuality. They enable us to learn how contemporary Taiwanese art has been developed through a long course of time. 8 Although multi-text and multi-tone have become two salient features of these artists, what brings their core spirits together still has to do with an experimental attempt, or, momentum. When looking at these 22 pioneering artists, one shall find that art experiment is no longer a metaphysical phrase but an enriching and tangible reality. Aiming to express their thoughts and ideas, they seek the most appropriate materials, techniques and mediums for their artworks. They try to most effectively utilize cultural constructs and aesthetic systems, such as tradition/modernity, superiority/inferiority, elite/ laymen, center/margin, self/other and fantasy/reality in a contemporary backdrop. They also want to find out how to rebuild the relationships between art and society and the public and ecology, as well as how to avoid the unavoidable clashes between art’s autonomy and the surrounding environment, people and events. They are dedicated to exploring new visual experiences and mediums so as to give more room for imagination and to communicate with viewers in more different ways. This includes evoking viewers’ emotions or acts like alienation, shock, simulation, transference, conversing, self-revelation and exoticism. There is an interesting quote from Jean- Paul Sartre: “The literary object is a peculiar top which exists only in movement.”9 This is also true with contemporary visual art — experiment has to do with a continuous motion. It is by moving forward that these pioneering artists have found different ways to live their artistic lives.
If we were to acknowledge the fifth-grader artists’ importance in the development of contemporary Taiwanese art, we must find a good way to select the most fitting artists for this exhibition based on the complicated intertextuality that they have constructed. To overcome this essential methodological challenge, we must study aesthetics, art theories and the history of Taiwanese art, moving in and out of historical texts and art literatures while comparing details. We came to the conclusion that a pioneer of art must have a number of crucial features. His or her artworks must demonstrate specific styles. He or she must be innovative in using artistic mediums. The images and visual elements in his or her works must be unique. When it comes to their artistic ideals, the artist must be able to respond to, expand and inspire the current trends, thus able to define related aesthetic issues. Finally, his or her work must provide reference to other artists of the same generation within a meaningful context so as to invigorate an existing art system.
While planning this exhibition, we tried to further discover pioneering artists by subject matters, form and imagery, aesthetics and thoughts, artistic mediums, difference and similarity, individual styles, and an artist’s artistic career, creative experience and philosophies of life. This is an intriguing mission that involves the re-reading of history. In simple words, an artist (subjective artistic entity) is what we truly care about. By studying art’s aesthetics, epistemology, rhetoric, practice and classics, as well as the social and cultural contexts, we managed to make a profile of the complex history of art, which then serves as our reference in searching these pioneers.
8About experimentality, art movements and artistic practices, please refer to Terry Smith (2011). "Experimentality: Theories and Practices". Studies in Material Thinking , vol. 8, pp.1-11.
9 Jean-Paul Sartre (1988). "What is Literature?" and Other Essays . Massachusetts, President and Fellows of Harvard College, p.50.
Future, Present and Past
As we emphasize the pioneering role of the artists and place them under public examination, we will naturally be expected to reconstruct art history and let it form a dialectics with the existing artists’ practice of art. In this way, these brilliant artworks shall be able to challenge our old perceptions of the world, remind us to jump out of the box, and even find new momentum for writing the history. In this “post-history” time, the pioneering fifth-grader artists have indeed demonstrated to us how diverse the dialectics among art, subjectivity and the world can be. To a certain extent, they have paved many different ways to explore art for the next generation as they take over the legacy of their diligent predecessors. The story never ends.
Let’s just take post-martial law Taiwanese art as a congregation of streaming images and multiple views. Gillian Rose believes that the meanings of streaming images are generated from the symbols that echo one another within these images. 10 It’s therefore clear that meaning can derive from changing dynamics. In our views, the 22 artists selected for this exhibition are the forerunners who have subverted/recoded the existing value systems. Taking the lead, they bring up profound and meaningful questions on the (native/cross-national) particularities of the contemporary societies. From green to ripe, each and every participating artist has attained artistic maturity and testified the formation of aesthetic thinking and signifying practices. In simple terms, by presenting all kinds of typicalities, we hope to form a space where these aesthetic narratives may be referenced by one another. We also hope that these powerful creators of art may show viewers their differences and similarities through their representative works.
LIN Hong-wen proposes the question of how land ethics may possibly be practiced on this island, and adds poeticness and the vitality of life to the re-presentations of such practices in his works. CHANG Chien-Chi documents the marginalized underclass’s barren state of life. SHIEH Juin takes a gender-conscious perspective to explore the bounteous deconstructive and creative force of feminine writing, hoping to find alternative ways to present gender through painting. A forerunner of video and technological art, WANG Jun-Jieh ponders on the relationship between reality and virtuality. In the forms of prints and Chinese prophetic illustrations, HOU Chun-Ming’s works demonstrate the philosophical motif of body, desire and void. Taking a metaphor-like approach, CHEN Shun-Chu pursues the images and breathtaking moments in the society’s shared memories through individual photos. SHI Jin-hua ruminates over the human existence as he pays manual labor to make spiritually inspiring art. Michael LIN appropriates popular cloth floral patterns in post-war Taiwan so as to pry into a strange world where public and private spheres intermingle. LIU Shih-Fen’s artistic talent has been nourished by her unusual career. In profuse details, she gives a critical view on body and gender. Bringing together symbols, metaphors, video and digital art, YUAN Goang-Ming delves into the labyrinthine depths of humanity to conduct a poetic exploration of the human mind and human consciousness. HUANG Chih-Yang liberates himself from norms and traditions and comes up with a combination of ink and installation art. The finely portrayed living beings in his artworks represent the changes of social life and human relations in the present day.
Turning unwanted objects into mechanic installations, SHYU Ruey-Shiann has axed a new path for mechanic art in Taiwan. He blends his unique and resounding life experiences into his works. A crossdisciplinary artist, HUANG Hsin-Chien experiments different kinds of artistic mediums while telling stories of how people’s lives evolve in the technology age. TSAI Hai-Ru mixes objects with visual imagery to express women’s subjective views and their life experiences in the real world. LI Jiun-Yang has never been trained by art schools. Not only that his works exude a strong secular energy. The artist also often moves in and out of different fields of art to transform people’s daily happenings into contemporary artistic settings. HUNG Tung-Lu introduces a special sensual experience and mesmerizing imageries through the representation of virtuality, consumerism and human desire. In his mixed-media paintings, PENG Hsien-Hsiang questions how real or fictitious ethnic identity can be, and tries to understand the city immigrants’ complex feelings for their hometowns. YAO Jui-Chung discusses the absurdity of the human life through meta-subjectivity. He explores the ideological boundaries set by these subjectivity discourses, whose subjects include history, politics, desire and ruins. With the Dog series, PENG Hung-Chih successfully garnered people’s attention. Delving into the views of “the other,” he mulls over the social schema and myths constructed by multiple powers and systems and tries to subvert the culture of certainty. FANG Wei-Wen, a man of diaspora, is good at building an artistic time and space for himself (“home” for him is all the accessible things and events in life) with ready-made or inconspicuous objects. The artist provides a visual path which viewers can freely follow as they embark a spiritual journey of diaspora/nostalgia. HUNG Yi finds inspirations in the everyday symbols and shapes in Taiwan and comes up with a bright, daring and unique color scheme. The art community began to notice LIU Shin-Tung for his Regeneration series. Over the past years, the artist has gradually developed a style that’s both fun and constructively criticizing. He invites people to ponder on the strange consumer society and the volatile contemporary ethics.
22 artists, 22 typicalities, 22 penetrating artistic practices, and 22 aesthetic questions— referencing one another, they are woven into some of the most important art statements and actions in contemporary Taiwan. There are reasons to believe that their artworks play a critical role at the turn of two different generations and several artistic trends, and that these artists have continued to gather and express artistic energy at the forefronts of art. The transformation and programming of a contemporary Taiwanese art system is still going on. By studying and analyzing this course of development, we shall be able to find new paths and inspirations for writing the Taiwanese art history.
10Gillian Rose (2006). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. London: Sage Publications Ltd.