Art and Its Discontents1
By Iris Shu-Ping HUANG
Art and reality are perpetually entangled in an ironic relationship. Not only do they depend on each other, they are also one another’s “stone of trials”. The path of aesthetics paved by artistic developments can sometimes be the course where one tries to head towards reality, but sometimes, it is a reverse route where reality is confronted. It also sometimes takes on the form of a utopian stairway that transcends reality, but it can also roam in the crevices of reality, moving alongside it. A state of content can never be achieved by art in the parameters defined by reality, with discourses and room for intervention based on art arising from this sense of “discontent”, which is an analogy for a state that has yet to be reached. The subjective position derived from this discontent is often recognized as backed up people of divergent thinking（or “assassins” that are out to gauge or probe the system of reality）, because they are always out to expose those unaccomplished and incomplete matters. What’s lacking, insufficient, and yet to be understood ironies in reality are revealed through the existence of these people.
Artists born in Taiwan between 1971~1980 grew up in a liberated era after the lift of martial law. They’ve experienced Taiwan’s economic boom, democratic formation, and diverse developments with popular culture and consumerism. Compared with artists from the previous generations, this generation of artists did not experience the martial law or political authoritarian era in a profound way, nor do they hold memories that are heavy with historical burdens or collective social traumas. Internationalized developmental trends have allowed them to become a part of the cultural context in a state of globalized capitalism and neo-liberal economy, with political influences imposed upon them no longer just coming from a single tangible authoritarian entity; instead, the impact they are under comes from the mass media and everyday consumerism, an implicit system or an inherent politicalness that is hidden in day-to-day details.
Artists born in the 70s have lived in a materially resourceful yet spiritually lacking era. Growing up in the period from 1970 to 1990, they have witnessed Taiwan’s steady economic progression, with the economic growth prompting for the rise of popular consumer culture, as Taiwan became a capitalistic consumer society. In the 90s, through student movements, the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion（a series of constitutional amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of China effective from 1948–91）and the Non-reelection Congress were rescinded in Taiwan. Under such great ideological changes, the era saw the rise of many social movements, including gender, labor, environmental, and Taiwan independence movements. With people actively voicing their beliefs, democracy and diversity in society also began to take shape. Along with the open mass media and internationalization, people born in the 70s came into contact with an influx of information and conceptual stimulations through intermediaries that have been media-ized and digitized. Art schools were gradually established in Taiwan after the turn of the millennium, with different specified art departments formed individually. Due to the generation shift with the educational system, artists or critics with great influences in Taiwan’s modern artistic developments are now included in the institutional system, with an educational environment focused on contemporary art thus created. Those born in the 70s received their art trainings in a professional environment, which, consequently, have cultivated their contemporary art related mindsets and aesthetics. At the same time, various art awards were also being established, including Taipei Arts Award that places emphasis on personal style and contemporary spirit, or Kaohsiung Award, Taishin Arts Award, and also grants for overseas residency programs, and exhibition and collection policies catered to the younger generation; all of these have helped to provide art education and a more creative environment supported by rich and diverse resources for artists born in the 70s compared to the conditions that artists from the previous generations were in.
1“Art is the release of concepts; it is philosophy, life, action, and also ideology.” This quote is from the book cover of Third Wing: Art Concept and Its Discontents by art critic KAO Chien-Hui in 2014. It declares the actualization of contemporary art is shifting to the release of concepts. In the book’s origin, Kao writes: “The extension and expansion of art concepts have both originated from “art and its discontents”. The discontent includes issues pertaining to both inside and outside of the vessels of art, such as with the various forms and attitudes that art can use to respond to developments of philosophy, politics, humanity, and material civilization, in order to resolve the sense of discontent, and the suspended unresolved issues between reality and art. Regarding the definition of the parameters of art concepts, it is analogous to rock climbing, which includes a site, a focal point, a pressure point, a peak point, and also a state of suspension. This state of suspension is related to the discontent, but it can also be regarded as an open space, a resonating arena for art and its conceptual activities and social actions.” By naming this essay Art and Its Discontents, the intention is to analyze the core axis of art by Taiwanese artists born in the 70s and how the discontents and suspensions have become a site for them to realize their artistic concepts.
However, under such setting, a confident stance has not yet been demonstrated by this particular generation’s artists, and instead, they have continuously been reflecting on the frustrations and confusions they’ve been facing in their everyday reality. This sense of psychological frustration is a response to life’s intangible coercion and overall impact that have been caused by globalized and media-ized power play, which is a result of Taiwan’s liberated and diverse developments. Another cause for their frustration is due to the powerful upsurge of China’s cultural forces. These political factors are hidden in our everyday reality and embedded in life’s every detail, forming a production network controlled by materialization and systematization that we cannot help but to dwell in.
“This inescapable everyday scenario of ‘total enclosure’”2 has caused an omnipresent dominance over each individual, which has led to a “tamed” relationship between people and society.”3 Under such liberated veneer, “individuality” is increasingly dominated by various social norms and daily systems, as individuals are forced to fit in with mass and quantitative values. In their era of abundant resources, social utilitarianism caused by political economic reality has inflicted the internal frustration felt by artists born in the 70s. Taiwan began to depend on and to develop its economic prowess after it lost its political subjective voice in the international political arena, and such trend has also wrongfully led the entire Taiwanese society to shift its subjective development to be based on utilitarian values, and this wrongful direction has not only neglected art’s inherent critical position, but through value manipulation and the production performance system, art’s sensuous subjectivity is forced to become “fictitious entities that are impossible to quantify”. Cultural orientations guided by utilitarianism, including cultural manipulations such as blockbuster shows, the cultural and creative industry, “carnival-ized” art festivals, all share the following common ground: To quantify the effectiveness of the arts and to achieve maximum satisfaction of the masses.
Critical thinking for the arts that artists born in the 70s have been trained and inspired by in schools is the basis of their perceptual experiences, but a great chasm is formed as they enter into the utilitarian everyday reality. The chasm then becomes a rupture: as art’s philosophical subjectivity and perceptual experiences are unable to effectively form corresponding linkages with the production subjectivity in the system of life. The phenomenon has pushed individual art practices into a corner of immense empty void, suspended in a place that is extremely deprived.
2Amy Huei-hwa CHENG, Role of Avant-garde Art in Contemporary Society – On Frustration and Politics in Art, ARTCO Monthly, July 2007, p.147-148.
Suspended and Internal Anxiety
Although born in an era of material affluence, however, the generation born in the 70s deals with tremendous psychological frustration and anxiety. Growing up in a media-ized and globalized setting, the rapidly shifting, moving, and eradicating reality has pushed them to acquire the ability to quickly adjust to the countless competitions and changes around them. Behind the competitions and changes is the rule-utilitarianism supported by rational calculations. Art by artists born in the 70s is predominantly based on the two major subjects of everyday reality and survival conditions. At the one hand, they are responding to social realty with their personal experiences, and on the other hand, a disparate subjective image is presented by them as survival conditions change. Due to modernization and globalization, many ruins have been left behind in Taiwan in the past two decades, as a metaphor for a dissimilated emotional experience is projected by those emptied and abandoned spaces. Many perceptual entities that have been categorized as being outdated are suspended in such position of empty void, leading to their disappearance in the recording of history. Social system and even aesthetic system have long simply regarded qualities such as “sensibility”, “empty void”, “breakdown”, “boredom”, “ambiguity” to be “matters that need not be accounted for”4, which shows that these qualities are excluded from the significant production framework, as they become things that are lacking in reality or discarded remains. In other words, they are unable to be controlled by the delegation principle of utilitarianism.
And a simple sensation,
Just a sensation, but it was denied.
For all the days that you live,
you will be driven by sensations. But you really do understand the nouns or adjectives that you sensed.
I have admiration, but not for those words or those papers,
But for the real,
The simple, the thoughts and the sensations.
All that I saw was denied in admiration.
The fall in the great mountains,
Is where the trail lies.5
The above is how TSENG Yu-Chin describes his personal experience in his artist statement for Who is Listening? The powerful emotions and the parts that are rejected have become the creative motive and content of this artwork. A question raised by the artist, Who is Listening? asks when the artist’s deep and internal emotional experiences are revealed, is anyone listening? Or what have they heard? The subject of “who” is ambiguously used to refer to the audience or perhaps a greater social subjectivity. Has this “who” become the recipient of this artworks’ emotional experience? Has the experience been felt by this “who”? Or has “who” declared this expression and communication to be ineffective?
4HUANG Chien-Hung, Micro Sensibility: Overview of the New Social Sensibility, ARTCO Monthly, Volume 177, June 2006, p.124-126.
5Artist statement for TSENG Yu-Chin’s Who's Listening? http://cargocollective.com/TsengyuChin/
WANG Sheng-Hung has proposed several thought-provoking views for discussing the creative contents produced by the younger generation Taiwanese artists, including autologous production6, uselessness 7, futility 8, remains 9, with these points quite different from the ways that traditional art critics have reviewed the creative generation born in the 70s. He places emphasis on how to observe and scout out the contexts and the creative stances behind the artworks of these young artists, and does not use conventional aesthetic rhetoric to interpret them. However, when most audiences are unable to understand, see, or feel what’s being presented to them, we must think about how the system of our cognitive thinking has been constructed by a web of colossal and invisible social norms and conventionalities, and does this signify that society as a whole has rejected “art” as a possible perceptual subject and a subject of desire?10
The metaphor in CHENG Shih-Chun’s The Kingdom shall not be Shaken shows that the kingdom is, ultimately, unshakeable, as members of the audience are put through a restlessly shaking experience, with the artist tripping comically on the platform. Cheng’s creative contents are usually a process of self-release11 or self-indulgence.12 His artworks are difficult to describe in words, with release outweighing production or with production out of the picture, as seen with this other artwork, Unspeakable Secret. Perhaps, ultimately, a “secret” is not even contained in this artwork, with the content of this so-called secret kept a secret till the end, as words remain to be lacking. How can art become effective when words have become ineffective? As artists strive to experiment and explore the possibilities of those that have yet to be expressed, formed, or things that are uncertain, can art emerge once again under a new stance or form? Or is art eventually preserving its final subjective right of speech through the application of incomplete blanks?
As we continue to boldly ask the question, “what is art?”, artists are also boldly continuing to experiment with this question, as they continuously explore what art is, and what are its possibilities. To experiment is to incessantly rearrange and clash together the “known” and the “unknown”. It also means that artists must endlessly travel in between the realms of the known and the unknown and to seek for opportunities to further discuss and investigate. The artists such as CHEN Chien-Jung turn their art making process into an endless exploration about what’s possibility and challenges the established form and convention. Their art practice suggests a kind of “specious ambiguity” to dissolve the previously constructed structure. Standard norms and any nonchalantly-formed restrictions can only be truly rejected when art continues to remain open and standby the secret it contains within, as artists are able to continue on with their pursuits. Because the final destination for this process of pursuit will never be clearly defined, therefore, a moment within the state of production is where artists will dwell in, as this moment that is physically experienced requires no further naming or defining, because it is self-identifiable.
6WANG Sheng-Hung, Autologous Production‧Production of Autologous, Perceptual Display of the Lumping of the Soiled, Useless, and Remains, ARTITUDE, Volume 32, May 2012, p.58-62.
8WANG Sheng-Hung, Taiwan Contemporary Art Abstract 2000-2010 (III) Keyword: Futile, ARTITUDE, Volume 23, August 2011, p.62-63.
9WANG Sheng-Hung (2012), loc. cit.
10The mentioning of “the heard or the unheard”, “the incomprehensible” and the structure of power dominance involved (the system of society’s customary cognition and norms) are pointed out in French contemporary philosopher Jacques Ranciere’s Le Partage du sensible: Esthetique et politique (The Distribution of the Sensible: The Politics of Aesthetics): The visible and the invisible, the sayable and the unsayable, the audible and the inaudible, what’s recognized as similar and dissimilar, beautiful or ugly, harmonious or noisy are all interconnected and inter-positioned…When specific features are defined by political logics and power structure as the principles of the overall foundation and regarded as a shared entity, they then are negated from being a part of the calculated logic, such as different languages, lineages, or origins, making them unable to participate, which is what Ranciere refers to as the “part des sans-part”((literally those 'without a share' in the community).Unconsidered by the logics of language is the reason why the part des sans-part are unable to emerge, to be seen, and are to be without ability or to be understood. Within the rational parameter of political dominance, any collective dominating principles or the definition of shared attributes have the potential to fall into the hands of violence caused by oppressive division. (Ranciere, “Community” 65-85)
11CHENG Shih-Chun’s performance art is a form of self-release, as seen with his 2002 Cycle, Feast of the Mind, and 2003 Love and Clay Buddha Crossing a River, etc…These earlier works were actions created with the artist in the nude secreting semen, urine, and feces, or showing off his penis. In the buff, he secrets semen and ingests it in Cycle; in Feast of the Mind, he urinates onto a table full of food and then eats them up hurriedly; with Love, he is once again in the nude and defecates for two weeks to spell out the word Love, and the Clay Buddha Crossing a River shows his erected male private part and the weak state that follows. These works show an artist that is unreserved and unabashedly youthful. His body is used, toyed with, exploited, and the actions are experiments dealing with cultural customs and customary norms, as they are also genuine declarations and confessions. (Chia Lin WANG, Die While Still Alive -- Murmurs of Living Dead Doll, http://artobserverfield.com.tw/index.php/2012-06-24-08-35-08/105-art-observer-footprint/independent-arts-andsee/266-2012-07-31-12-25-10)
12SU Hui-Yu, Helplessness and Thrill are Both Important: CHENG Shih-Chun’s Depressed Acrobatic Show, ARTCO Monthly, Volume 169, October 2006.
This is the edge of time and also a ruin of images.
“Instant” is a segment of useless images from reality, and it is also a segment of elapsed time. What I’ve created with this is the one and only gaze, which is displayed in an everlasting or an immortalized manner.13
Instant by LAI Chih-Sheng “does not deal with indulgent criticism, confounding rugged individualism, or ideology, nor does it hold any anxious yearning for new formats or issues; instead, all of these aforementioned have been directly abandoned to allow for complete clarity, which entails space, lines, routes, gazes, objects, concepts, time, body, existence, and at the same time, an “incident” is transformed by concepts to allow for mediations, and for different aesthetic propositions to be stitched together by the “incident”, and for each mediator and proposition to go through direct encounter, pure coincidental interaction, and to give birth to individual meanings, which will lead to the formation of a group based on private subjectivity.”14 Critic, JIAN Tzu Chieh, proposed the following as a “stance in life” in his 2007 essay, From Subjectivity to the Degenerated Body: Contemporary Art Keywords in Taiwan from 1996 to 2006: “Emphasizing on the production condition that is of the ‘physical body’ yet is also ‘outside of the subjectivity’”, with observations on how “time” and “coexistence” are manipulated by Lai through controls of the body to form a distinctive form of subjectivity. If the timeframe of “year” is used as the unit for HSIEH Teh-Ching’s artworks and while the body is treated as tracks of time that deals with the notion of “coexistence, in this case, the concept of “instant” is used by Lai as a segment of the perpetually extended time, and it forms an uninterrupted “coexistence” with the artwork, like the two sides of the same coin. With the art concept restored through physical manipulation, subjectivity (artwork/life) is gazed at, while the body/art also simultaneously becomes the subjectivity.15
We’ve seen inconclusive attempts, ineffective actions, unanswered questions, futile periods of time, or emotions that are unable to produce rational utilitarian values; however, why are artists continuously devoted in and are zealously and anxiously involved in these “suspended matters”? What they are conducting is a form of “social measuring action”, as they intend to augment the standards used to understand reality, with in-depth concerns placed on how individual physical experiences are adjusting and negotiating in the relational context of space, time, incident, and object. “Obscene, useless, and leftover things are mixed and clumped together by artists, with the objective of intentional pulling away from the systems of language and symbols. An expressive process that embodies multiple possible readings and meanings is applied to stray away from the absolute and the singular, and as language is made obsolete, possibilities for heterogeneous expressions are forced to emerge. Its intention is not to focus on the sources of fear through the effects of abjection but to continuously loosen any existing symbolic order and to refuse to replicate any fundamental forces within any structural processes.16
Art created by artists born in the 70s places more emphasis on the attitude they take in art more than the artistic contents, and this echoes with art’s “rhetorical strategy” as proposed by J.J. Shih. From the politics and reality issues that are exposed through rhetorical strategies, arguments, subversions, and confrontations towards ideologies are expressed.17 Back to the point of art’s perceptual subjectivity, it is fighting against the ideology that is projected on the individual by society (in other words, the aforementioned existing social order). What’s being proposed by artists is also an ideological psychological stance, which demonstrates a paradigm shift observed with the art created by artists born in the 70s - "Instead of being based on ritual, [art] begins to be based on another practice – politics." 18 (Walter Benjamin)
The superficial “absence” and the sense of “lacking” emerged from the rapid progression can be thought of as an insinuation for a certain form of “transference”.19 In addition to declaring a beginning of a contemporary aesthetic philosophy, the transference is also a new actualization strategy for artists. Many artists have opted for the leverage approach, with rearrangements of existing symbols, objects, contents, and meanings, leading to their lost of effectiveness or the formation of other unexpected effects.20 This strategy of transference also prompts for a paradoxical and elusive sense of absurdity, with the originally serious and unshakable enormous image or order awkwardly skewed and becomes absurdly humorous.
From minute everyday details, artists attempt to slide ever so slightly through their every unseemly manipulation, and through alternative exploitations and untimely inappropriate political positioning, “good and evil, rights and the lack thereof, and the rationalization of distribution which are supported by any conventional rhetorical logics are reevaluated.”21
Although this disturbance of the internal order has originated from discontent with life’s existing system, it does not, however, intend to overthrow the entire system. The politics they have indicated is derived from the identification of divergence and the possible space for the existence of different subjectivities; what it is not is the re-construction of another power system. Therefore, the born in the 70s generation places immense focus on the realization of the personal subjectivity, perceptual experiences, and survival conditions. They also put emphasis on individual differences, life’s experiences, and documentations when dealing with interventions of social and political issues. This signifies revolutionary spirits are fulfilled through individual actualizations with how life’s values are regarded and also critical cognitive thinking, with these regarded more highly than being a hero of the times or overthrowing of authoritarian regimes.
13Excerpt from LAI Chih-Sheng’s artist statement for Instant. Provided by the artist.
14Lin Hsin-Yi, Subtraction Incident, Mediated Coexistence, Anonymous Views, ARTCO Monthly, Volume 215, August 2013, p.105-107.
15JIAN Tzu Chieh, From Subjectivity to the Degenerated Body: Contemporary Art Keywords in Taiwan from 1996 to 2006 (II), http://www.itpark.com.tw/columnist/curator/106/299
16WANG Sheng-Hung (2012), loc. cit.
17J.J. SHIH, Hot View of Politics, Cold Stare at Art – On the Two Creative Capabilities with Taiwan’s Political Art, Artist Magazine, August 2002, p.406-409.
18Walter, Benjamin. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Schocken/Random House, 1 Feb. 2005. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm>
19WANG Sheng-Hung, Murmuring Again: Issues of the Younger Generation’s Interpretation of the Art of Frustration, ARTCO Monthly, Volume 178, July 2007, p.149-152.
20The references of the political strategies of “leverage power” and “transference” are a type of “logic subversion and revolt”. For further readings on the distribution of the sensible, wrongful manipulation, torsion, please refer to Ranciere, Politics of Aesthetics 12; La mesentente 19-67(Ranciere 17-82). Ranciere talked about the emergence of the “part des sans-part” from actions of revolt, which causes breakage, twists, or torsion in the preexisting stable logic. The break in this linguistic logic is what Ranciere refers to as the origin of politics. When twists or torsions are created by artists on the preexisting order or logic, the blanks or suspensions created within this deviated difference thus become available for (expressive) freedom. (Joyce C.H. LIU, Count as One” and “One Divides into Two”: Disagreement between Ranciere and Badiou on the Concept of the Void, Chung Wai Literary Quarterly, Volume 42-1: 15-64.)
21Joyce C.H. LIU, Count as One” and “One Divides into Two”: Disagreement between Ranciere and Badiou on the Concept of the Void, Chung Wai Literary Quarterly, Volume 42-1; 15-64.
Incompatible and Absurd Mode of Harmony
As an explanation for the sense of subjective and objective rejection felt by individuals when in an objective setting, the notion of “being incompatible” can also be described as a declaration of being different: “I am different from the other groups and can’t be homogenized.” The shaping of self-image and value has always been an integral subject matter for artists born in the 70s, with self-portraits by artists such as LIAO Yu-An, TANG Jo-Hung, and Isa HO focused on the identification of self-image and its differences. The process of doubt, division and reconciliation with the self shows the interconnected influences and crossovers that historical background, social experiences, and self-awareness that the generation born in the 70s has gone through. Through a series of direct and genuine self-confessions, the characters painted by LIAO Yu-An are metaphors of his internal emotions, as seen with his: Fat is not a Sin, We are out of sorts to each other（I am Not Ok You Are Not OK）, What a Boring Time, Zero Gravity, Confusion, Banging the Wall, Unreasonable Vomiting Practice, Disgusting Pearl Bubble Tea, Urban Lazebone, Annoyingly Pretentious Love, Fondle Without Tenderness, Fake Cate – Act Dumb, Lame Syndrome, Intellectual Numbness, and Distorted Biting Practice. Although interpreted through symbols depicted in his paintings, his emotional subjectivity is, nonetheless, clear and direct, similar to how the titles of his paintings are named. The expressive mode opted by Liao is quintessential of the new generation’s expressive logic, which is straight forward, humorous, unadorned, and full of selfridicule. Self-ridicule is a critical stance that this generation of artists is customary to, which is often used to enhance one’s incompatibility and maladjustment to the external world. The chuckles let out from this self-ridicule is oftentimes an ingenious way to turn and resolve from states of incongruity.
French critical theorist and philosopher, Jacques Ranciere, argues the gap（differences）between the distribution of the perceptible and the existence of self-susceptibility as expressed by the words expressed in the politics of literature and art. “Through the narrative mode of the times, people learn about the position they hold for social engagement and also learn to accept the missions they have been assigned. When the body enters the word-based order showing its visible values, the body’s purpose is then defined by this order, with its social position assigned. However, injustice is bound to exist under the surface of this seemingly stable social position, with an unquantifiable gap between the self and the order of symbols, and it can only be experienced in individual settings.” 22 Emphasis is placed on individual’s perceptual experience as the origin of subjectivity, and this process of origin also goes through a division between the self and the overall order – as seen with the multiple reflections of the self, dogs, symbols, images in TANG Jo-Hung’s self-portraits, with them crisscrossing and also cancelling out each other. The artist is always exploring and experiencing subjectivity within those unquantifiable gaps.
Alter-ego as a division of the self signifies the re-evaluation of the original self. A self-reflexive approach is observed in some art, with theatrical-like aesthetical expressions applied. Through the role-playing of the self and others, multiple individuals are presented in a dissociated state: Isa HO’s I am Snow White series showcases multiple overlapping of values with the feminine role, social expectations, one’s own body, commercial image, and more. When she completed the Signing of the Peace Treaty for the series, Ho stated that her multiple personalities have finally reached a compromise, a way to coexist. The artwork following that, I Got Super Strong Courage, then shows when the various characters are coexisting peacefully, a sense of courage for the self to face society thus emerges. “The birth of subjectivity and also the shaping of its form and characteristics can only be understood through dynamic exchanges with the system of symbols, power relations, communal memories, and also cultural identification.”23
23WANG Sheng-Hung (2012), loc. cit.
Useful Uselessness: Production in Ruins
Taiwan’s materialism, popular culture, new media information, and technological advancement all saw rapid progressions after the turn of the millennium. Through information distribution, material and visual consumptions, the borderless world formed by social media, relationships between people, objects, time, and space are also rapidly changing. The sense of speed has sparked alienation and detachment between people, things that are in surplus or outdated, and the disappearance of the sense of spacetime. As noted by contemporary philosopher Jean Baudrillard, “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning…to the extent that information is directly destructive of meaning and signification, or that it neutralizes them. The loss of meaning is directly linked to the dissolving, dissuasive action of information, the media, and the mass media... the medium and the real are now in a single nebula whose truth is indecipherable.”24
Materialism has prompted for multiple choices with objects, images, or identities, with mass production leading to massive wastes. The “remainders” from the “surplus” have become what’s considered “meaningless” and “valueless” in the mainstream system. However, these "discharges" have become the biggest paradox of the mainstream system: They are the culprit of many social problems faced in Taiwan since 2000, including environmental and labor rights problems, with extended issues covering the social production system, mainstream values, and natural ethics. Living in such time and setting, artists born in the 70s have placed more focus on different people, incidents, and things relating to “heterogeneity of minorities”, “remainders”, “loss of production value”, and “marginalized or failed circumstances.”
Increasingly more things are excluded and rejected as material and technology simultaneously evolve. The le nom vide or empty name that is suspended by modernized values found in capitalistic or technology driven society is investigated, and these artists are recognized by the system as “blanks” or as “failures.” By reincorporating them into an arena where words and documents are treated openly, “good and evil, rights and the lack thereof, and the rationalization of distribution which are supported by any conventional rhetorical logics are reevaluated.”25
At the one hand, I am ecstatic for my about to evolve body, but on the other hand, I am also scared of going back to being a material…What is real? Seeing is not believing.
I repeatedly confirmed this sense of existence throughout the creative process, and this affirmation was always accompanied by an immense power right when the superficial disappeared. Like the instant when bubbles burst, they seize to exist after the faint popping sounds ended…After that instant, the bubbles will forever just be something that once were.26
24Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations - VIII. The Implosion of Meaning in the Media" Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.egs.edu/faculty/jean-baudrillard/articles/simulacra-and-simulations-viii-the-implosion-of-meaning-inthe-media/>.
25Joyce C. H. LIU, loc. cit.
26HUANG Zan-Lun’s artist statement
HUANG Zan-Lun’s art is predominately composed of sculptures of biomimetic characters, which are resulted from combining technology and biology. His art often uses emotions of biological creatures to present technology-driven violence or related reflections. Anne, a bionic beast created by Huang, differs from his earlier works of cyborgs that combine humans with machine parts. Anne is a hybrid of different biological creatures, including the human body, deer antlers, horse mane, and tortoise shell. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is placed over her mouth for respiratory support, with her breathing ever so faintly. She seems to be foretelling what’s to come in the future with genetic engineering. The artist has also purposely bestowed her with the “Deer and Turtle Immortals Gelatin”, a legendary Chinese medicine derived from deer antlers and tortoise shell and is said to have great healthful benefits. She seems to be the perfect creature, but to the contrary, she ironically appears weak and frail. Anne quietly awaits for the unknown future, while being placed under surveillance. Another piece by Huang, David, is a product of science and is also a biological creature. However, he is ultimately left unfit in many social settings. The sense of insecurity projected is observed from the hypersensitive characteristic that the artist has intentionally given him and also from the sadness in his eyes. This state of not belonging to anywhere signifies his ironic existence, with the artist’s reflective viewpoint on technology ethics also presented.
As technology continues to advance, people’s perceptual senses are slowly being replaced by more and more digital and mechanical devices, and as technological mobile devices become more prevalent, people’s visual and physical conditions are also moving forward from our former primal functions; our everyday lifestyles also seem to be evolving. However, along with the rapidly updating technologies, increasingly more wastes are being produced, and as technological functions begin to replace our sensory system, we can’t help but to wonder if our primal instincts are starting to degenerate. These issues are reflected in HUANG Shih-Chieh’s art, with the link between technology, biological beings and wastes reconnected. Through hands-on experiments, he rearranges each component’s functions and forms an organic state that runs under a positive cycle. Connectivity and interaction are two integral creative factors in Huang’s art. By using wastes or second-hand objects that he has salvaged and to connect them once again through creative gestures, the seemingly broken and detached objects are once again given a purpose in an organic system.
LIN Huang-Ti is another artist who applies rejected objects from life into his artistic production. His art focuses on the recycling and repurposing of things, messages, and icons within the production system, and the endeavor certainly reaches further than discussions of resource production and operation; he also deals with how art can reclaim its subjective significance from the ineffective connectivity, what art critic Yu Wei has proposed as “to regain the right to interpret”.27 Art’s critical significance is hidden within the order dictated by social norms and is prompted to form a political stance through the artist’s systematic rearrangements. Also through the operation of the alternative space, the Paint House Studio, the identity of being an “artist” is retrieved and reincorporated into the production value chain. The Paint House Studio is considered the backstage of Lin’s creative endeavors, with the shop always filled with countless spare parts for his artworks. Some are parts from the Paint House Studio dismantled structures from past exhibitions, and others are construction wastes from when the space was renovated, which all have become creative sources for Lin. This small building that appears like it was illegally constructed is maintained in a perfect studio condition, with remainders from exhibits being processed and new exhibitions continuously taking shape. “…between LIN Huang-Ti’s art and the Paint House Studio is an art logistic that’s being operated, including production, recycling, and repurposing. It signifies objects are being applied and also shows that through administrative mediation, those objects are able to be incorporated meaningfully into the art world.”28
Aesthetics of the past in Taiwan were heavily influenced by classic Confucian thoughts, and thus the “laborious body” was not considered as a creative subject under the literati values. However in the modern capitalistic society, the “laborious body” is still not regarded as a possible “sensible creative subject”. By combining the laborious body with transformed objects that are then reproduced, the workplace is then turned into a site where artistic value takes place. CHEN Chun-Hao makes art with the common “mosquito nails” used in construction. The mass produced industrial object is closely connected to laborious work, but the artist is using it to quantify landscapes through his own dedicated laborious efforts. The two elements of “repeated labor” and “quantification” are completely different from the core values upheld in the traditional literati art system, and Chen has opted to use this creative approach to reconsider artistic values.
Faced with a social setting dictated by capitalism and consumerism, artists have ingeniously used the aesthetic strategy of “transference”29 to apply objects or apply them in a different manner to reinterpret the values and meanings of those objects. This form of expression echoes with Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi’s teaching of “useful uselessness”, with the rejected surpluses from the mainstream transformed into creative possibilities in art.
27YU Wei, Recognizing LIN Huang-Ti, http://www.itpark.com.tw/people/essays_data/174/1733
29The strategy of “transference” is what Ranciere calls “torsion”, a shift in thoughts. Alain Badiou uses esplace (splace) to explain the logic behind the symbolic order of state. Compared to esplace, it is a state where the subject is detached from stability, with the force of torsion applied, making the specific internal aspects belonging yet also not belonging to the horlieu (outplace) and the emergence of the non-lieu. The bringing out of the internal “outplace” by continuously exerting force from the internal extending outwards is a process where thoughts are continuously changing through dialectical materiality. (Theory 8-12, 32-36）
“The kind of art actualization that focuses on the basic production from “everyday life” is conducted by developing the various known, unconventional, or previously deemed inappropriate ways.”30 For artists, unconventional manipulations can push for the subversion of the internal order, and can also rearrange value norms, rhetorical logics, perceptual orders that have dominance over us. Parodies, illogical rhetoric, absurd and futile actions, empty abandoned places have become unique ways for artists born in the 70s to practice their art. Through the displacement of the systems of language and symbols, existing dictations of meaning are subverted and rearranged. For example, the icons of aliens and objects found in LIN Huang-Ti’s art repeatedly bring together existing templates, with the attempt to search for any gaps pointing to undiscovered meanings, and when found, the gaps are embedded with the artist’s unique discourses and subjectivity, with the art creating disturbances to the collective order. Parody is a common political ploy used by contemporary artists, as seen with CHEN Ching-Yao’s art. His artworks use the self to mimic popular images and icons, and through roleplaying, appropriation, misplacement, two or more unconnected elements are purposely collaged together. The superficial mimicry is so realistic that it shows how cultural differences are being eliminated by superficial segmented images under the influx of mediaization and globalization. However, the absurdity projected by the artworks also reveals the unrealistic sides found in reality, and how the unrealistic is so real. “Media-ized body” and “iconized interpretation” are two important subjects in the artworks created by artists, which are seen in the works by Agi CHEN and SU Hui-Yu. Chen’s art focuses on how digital media is reshaping the contexts of people’s lives and putting all of our sensory systems into a system of pure symbols. Su’s art is heavily influenced by the mass media culture, with the works dealing with the omnipresence of today’s media and information, and how they have infused with our tangible bodies. We are left without a choice but to become both the media-ized products and also the producers.
The icon system proposed by JAO Chia-En focuses on various historical incidents of Taiwan under the impacts of colonialism and globalization, and also how new systems and contents are transformed or intermixed from foreign cultural impacts and influences. His art not only focuses on the objective backgrounds that the applied symbols hold in their respective historical incidents; it further focuses on how individuals recognize and project those symbols. On the other hand, CHIU Chao-Tsai’s art takes mobile personal experiences to initiate structural shifts and transformations. Through game playing and spectators’ participations, changes begin to take shape on the external forms and symbolic meanings of his artworks, and through different shifts such as with the height, the texture, and the roles of you and I, the meanings and cognitions that people once held for the objects and the symbols begin to change. The rearrangements of the rhetoric of these symbols do not just represent those everyday found objects or their related incidents; they signify the artist’s gestures and engagements with them and also the significances they hold, whereby the everyday dominating order and logics are once again loosen due to the artist’s perceptual experiences.
“Literature, theater, and art are imprints of various perceptions. Like being on a stage, the scene of the confrontation is once again presented.31 Through the antithesis etched by words, the damage/mistake (le tort) created, or the imprints of the gap of differences (ecart), we are then able to comprehend the oppositional stance of the different logical structures within words. Therefore, either the identified mistakes or the damage experienced through words, the deviation or twist prompted by the deliberate emergence of the subject, or the gaps or differences imprinted by words, the obstacle and blind spots of the structure or the limits of logical calculation model and the rejection manipulated by the logic behind words are all exposed. Political subjectivity is composed of various activities that deviate from a singular structure, as it strays from conventional experiences of subjectivity, breaks and moves existing orders, and allows former outcasts to emerge, participate, and voice their opinions.32
30WANG Sheng-Hung, Strategy of the (Small) Objects Adjacent to Everyday Life, ARTCO Monthly, Volume 218, November 2010, p.126-128, 145.
31Politics of Literature, (Ranciere, Dissensus 152-68); Aesthetics as Politics(Aesthetics and Its Discontents. By Ranciere. 2004. Trans. Steven Corcoran. Cambridge: Polity 2009. 19-44.)
CHEN Po-I and KAO Jun-Honn began to focus on issues of ruins, humanities and history between the years of 2004 to 2007, with a sense of belonging reinstated in many “forgotten” local contexts, historical incidents, and narratives of people through extensive field researches, interviews, document organizations. Chen’s project involves photographing vacant residential spaces after people’s relocation, with emotional narratives created through objects applied by the artist onto those empty subjective spaces, as the former residents’ names are once again labeled. Kao’s project has led him to industrial ruins resulted from changes in Taiwan’s economy, with certain industries made obsolete or relocated to China, and he has also traveled to military ruins or ruins of political prison with violent history related to imperialism. Through charcoal drawings, physical theater, interviews, oral narratives, written stories, he takes on the identities of being a labor worker and an artist, and once again imprints emotional entities that were obliterated by capitalism or imperialism back in the voids of these ruins, forming critical marks through such endeavors.
“With the arrival of the globalized capitalistic era comes the development of the globalized system and its network. The world has not consequently expanded, and to the contrary, it has tightened the global economy and its industrial division – the global village has therefore become a giant machine. Every move in this global system has the potential to change the entire world. There seems to be exchanges between the center and the marginalized, but the global power relation within has thus become increasingly more complex. Taiwan appears to be a lead original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in the global system; however, it is also oftentimes marginalized in global politics and strategic structure.33 Values of capitalistic economy has dominated Taiwan since the 90s to the present day, with our lives dictated by the “majority”, including social resources, power, mainstream values, residential spaces, land, etc…This dominance has fully negated the opinions of the “minority”, with the minority’s values compromised, and their existence overlooked. Therefore, our cognitive thoughts, values, social ethics are oppressed by such utilitarian system, and forcibly becoming ruins with emptied out contents.
“Dissipation of the sense of history” is often used to describe artworks by Taiwanese artists born in the 70s, and it’s a reflection of the ruins resulted from utilitarianism, mistaken developmental projects and political strategies sparked by impacts of Taiwan’s modern urban developments and the globalized free economy. The formations of these empty voids are not only accounts of what the capitalistic economy and national policies have abandoned; they also represent the emotional traumas embedded in people’s torn memories. These artists born in the 70s are largely identified as Taiwanese, and the ways they form links with historical sentiments are conducted through connections with local memories, including familial relationships and everyday spaces. However, the existence of history is continuously stripped away by the large narratives supported by mainstream values, and under the considerations of capitalistic values and economic benefits, the rejected “ethics of time” and “emotional space” have resulted in an empty void of sentimental subject.
When artists can no longer discuss the symbolic significance behind the cultural symbols resulted from historical accumulations, the site of empty voids that hold no prior references then becomes the place that artists return to. These artists are extensively devoted in the excavation of cultural objects, narratives, and emotions, as seen with CHEN Po-I and KAO Jun-Honn’s field works. What they are trying to resolve is the “lacking of historical subject”, and at the meantime, “we should be focusing on how to allow for a beginning of the problem and for it to become a revelation for the future.”34
33Chia Chi Jason WANG, The Spectre of Freedom, La Biennale di Venezia - 51. International Art Exhibition Taiwan Pavilion Catalogue, 2005, Taipei: Taipei Fine Arts Museum, p.23-33.
34CHEN Tai-Song, Subjective Revelation - On Contemporary Art’s Hybrid Dialect Strategy, ARTCO Monthly, 2001, p.97.
Back to Everyday Life, Continue to March on to Reality’s Empty Land
“It’s better to start the disturbance from the inside then to begin a revolution from outside of the system.”35 This is the remark made by critic CHEN Tai-Song in 2003 for TSUI Kuang-Yu’s creative strategy used in The Shortcut to the Systematic Life: Superficial Life. He has observed that this particular generation’s artists no longer treat social system that dominates their life from an oppositional outsider position; they seek out aesthetical ways for actualization or criticism from real life scenarios. “Like a butterfly that appears like a leaf, these artists know how to take on an undercover and merges with today’s social system and find ways to adjust and survive.”36 Through self-dictated involvement, artists “roam between the cracks of experiences and the rational realm.”37 Within the many “inappropriateness” and “absurdity”, links to cut in to everyday reality is discovered by the body’s survival instinct. From what appears to be disturbances of social norms and logics, unexpected correspondences are formed. “Room for interpretation is formed from the cracks within the misplacements, and as the formidable structure of reality is nonchalantly slightly moved, [the artists] freely roam in between the two.”38
TSUI Kuang-Yu’s creative stance reflects the attitude that artists born in the 70s hold towards life’s issues, with emphasis placed on physical involvement, responding through perceptual experiences and discussions for life’s mechanisms and systems. They attempt to “create countless axes in reality and to continuously linger, penetrate, push through, and subvert life’s internal patterns and for its creases to become clearly visible.”39
Compared to serious political issues, artists feel that the intricate politics found in everyday life is a more pressing matter. The complex connections between life’s various incidents and objects, with their production, making, transmission, transcription, symbols, and space, have made it difficult for anyone to detach from it in life’s situations or for surviving in the everyday life. After urban modernization and with the borderless spatiality in today’s mass media era, today’s everyday life is comprehensively wrapped around our space, body, and even senses. Therefore, political critiques and viewpoints, including its rhetoric, content, and approach, are all largely changing.
Within contemporary art trends, artists born in the 70s have broken free from traditional creative media and genres, with their art dictated by individual thoughts and attitudes and their expressive lingos quite diverse. The core concept of their art has shifted to question art’s intrinsic motive. What artists have pressingly noticed is: “How the self is being shaped? This is a matter related to the system. How artists should deal with the system? How should they deal with systems from small to big?”40 This also signifies that as Taiwan shifted from authoritarianism to democracy, political issues have also shifted from single entity and subject to focus on the underlining political influences of the “individuals” and from the “everyday life”.
Tape Music- Social Measurement Through Sound by LIN Chiwei is a project he has been working on in the recent years. The project involves a long tape with different alphabets and syllable provided to the audience without any prior instructions, with different sounds created by the participants. Tape Music is a measurement of the relationship between individuals and collective order, and it is also about how sounds (or silence) are produced by individuals. Do sounds come from the body instinctively? Or are sounds the result of the training from the extensive invisible order in society? From this creative experiment, “have we come to the realization of how we are obeying and accepting the way that the world is and all of its norms, as stated by artist, Chen Chieh-Jen, ‘We live with tamed senses and in a passively created reality.’”41 Or we can choose to become a self-awakened individual and use unrestricted “improvisation and randomness” to replace dominance and control. Lin has also mentioned that this artwork is a technique of “sound calling”, with the intention of encouraging the audience to seek out the right to create themselves.
“A mission of heterogeneous expressions is bestowed upon art. It can prompt for sharp, unharmonious, loose sounds from a singular set of language and lead to the possible new indications on the path of subjectivity re-initiation. As words and things are loosen, at the cracks of the signifier and the signified and between the broken walls resulting from linguistic compression and combustion, the position of subjectivity is then able to faintly emerge.”42
“What is art?” This is the original question, and it will be questioned perpetually.
35CHEN Tai-Song, The Dead Leaf Butterfly Strategy: TSUI Kuang-Yu’s The Shortcut to the Systematic Life: Superficial Life, ARTCO Monthly, January 2003, p.102-105.
37Amy Huei-hwa CHENG, How can I Stop Anxiety and Love My Life? After Seeing TSUI Kuang-Yu’s Art…Modern Art Volume 119, April 2005, p.40-49.
39WANG Sheng-Hung (2012), op. cit.
40Content from CHEN Tai-Song’s talk given in 2007 for the symposium of Art of Frustration in Taiwan. The symposium consisted of critiques given by GONG Jow-Jiun, JIAN Tzu Chieh, and CHEN Tai-Song, and published in ARTCO Monthly’s March 2007 issue. For further details of the symposium please refer to ARTCO Monthly, volume 174 (March 2007), p.124 -141.
41Amy Huei-Hwa CHENG, loc. cit.
42WANG Sheng-Hung (2012), loc. cit.