Summer of Discontent – Exhibition View

Summer of Discontent

James T. Hong, Yin-Ju Chen, Yuan Goang-Ming, Yu Cheng-Ta
August 24 – September 21, 2019

Exhibition Views

Chi-Wen Gallery is delighted to bring a special film screening of presently relevant sociopolitical videoworks by 4 local artists: James T. Hong, Yin-Ju Chen, Yuan Goang-Ming and Yu Cheng-Ta.

Yin-Ju Chen’s video “One Universe, One God, One Nation” seeks to evoke a sense of closure and despair in the face of the inescapable cycles of history. The particular moment evoked here is the age of space exploration in the 1960s, juxtaposed with the forms of imperial, ideological, and totalitarian power existing at that time. The inspiration for the work came from Hannah Arendt’s analysis of space exploration as a form of “world alienation,” and also from the astrological horoscope of Chang Kai-Shek, which predicts his charismatic and authoritarian character. How is it that most modern movements for a better future, and all attempts to break free from the chains of power, ultimately fall prey to their own mythologies? Here we enter the slippery ground between “science” and “collective dream image,” between the knowledge and the fantasy of an epoch. One Universe, One God, One Nation is a visual meditation on power, modern forms of totality and totalitarianism, mass mobilization, devotion, the auratic, and the supernatural. It works through the juxtaposition of images taken in outer space with images of war and submission to power. 

Anchored by an excerpt from the 6th century BC text, the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), Yin-Ju Chen and James T. Hong’s “Dogs of Straw” is both a portrayal of Taiwan’s 2008 presidential election and a meditation on democracy, manipulation, and nationalism. In Taiwan’s fledgling democracy, it is only during a presidential election when the “people exists” as a formless abstract multitude removed from concrete social structures. 

Yuan Goang-Ming’s “Everyday Maneuver” is a video that documents the annual Wanan Air Raid Drill, when the hustle and bustle of Taipei comes to a halt the moment the air raid sirens sound over the city. From its inception in 1978, the drill is mandatory for all Taiwanese to join. Despite the lifting of martial law in 1987, the drill continues to take place nationwide every spring. Today this ritual serves as a reminder that the threat of annexation still lurks across the strait. At the same time, this everydayness of warfare conjures a ghost city in modern-day Taiwan that becomes the perfect selfie spot for Taiwanese young people. 

Yuan Goang-Ming’s “The 561st hour of Occupation” presents the students occupied the Taiwan’s parliament for 585 hours in 2014. The chamber place of the Legislative Yuan, in terms of painting, resembles a stable form of triangle composition, like half of the Colosseum. The vanishing point of perspective in this place locates on the lectern and the portrait of Sun Yet-Sen, below which the hours of students’ occupation is marked. The soundtrack of this documentary is derived from Taiwan’s national anthem, a song that symbolizes the eternity of the country. Yuan slows down the playback speed of the anthem by 50%, turning the chamber into a church pervading a sacred and sacrificial atmosphere. As a result, time flies back and forth among the past, present, and future, and among abundance, decadence, and void. 

The linear scan of the unoccupied chamber enables and compels audiences to review the objects that previously do not belong to this place, for example, the video cameras on tripods, backpacks, jackets, food, drinks, banners of declarations, and posters and oil paintings created on-site. These objects that outline the background of this venue, exhibit the pattern and odor of the movement all inspire the imagination of the future development after the withdrawal. In other words, this space fosters non-linear senses of time and history. This vanishing ephemeral scenery transforms the chamber which is made familiar to Taiwanese by the mass media, presenting a calmer spectacle more magnificent than the media spectacle. 

In “She is my Aunt”, the main protagonist (the Aunt) is not the artist’s aunt in reality. By adding this non-real aunt in this work, Yu Cheng-Ta develops a kind of connection between the signifier and the signified in his narrative and makes himself the medium of the medium (the video) in the work. The camera envelopes the whole event like a predator’s tentacles entwining its prey and captures all people inside the frame, turning them into characters. The combination of these characters, post-produced sound effects often used in variety shows, and the Aunt has morphed this video clip into a new event, deviating from the original reality. This process also displays how presentation in video media can alienate us from reality and make viewers more willing to believe the virtual. The video media becomes the truth maker, and the virtual images are truer than the true reality. 

Yu Cheng-Ta creates through the video work “Exploding Taiwan” a “miniaturized media.” In this video, each one with an anonymous interviewee describing in detail the first hand information they have obtained. There are discrepancies in the story of each person, explained perhaps by the confidentiality of the information itself. However, they all point to a common fictitious scenario: Taiwan’s head of state is getting prepared to blow up the entire island, and plans to invite world renowned demolition artist for assistance. The event would be broadcasted live globally, in order for the world to see this historical moment of madness. In the two years during which the project had been planting explosives across the nation, those who knew had sought asylum in other nations. On the day the island sinks and disappears, the Taiwanese people would be scattered across the nations of the world. The work imitates the “repeat what others are saying” game of the media, allowing the public to experience the possibility of Taiwan as an object of fantasy.

“Ode of the Republic of China” by Yu Cheng-Ta is remembered as a political song about Taiwan in Taiwanese people’s collective memory. However, when one of cultural China, while the term “Republic of China” is only mentioned in the climax of the song. This absurd construction of the lyrics push Yu to reconsider the historical meaning of Ode of the Republic of China. In the video, the artist taught each non-Taiwanese a fraction of the song and put the fractions together, as commentary to such absurdity and incongruity as well as Taiwan’s nebulous identity.