February 11 – March 18, 2023
Yesterday’s Dream – Chang Li-Ren
Dates | February 11 – March 18, 2023
Opening | 3 – 6 pm, February 11, 2023
Gallery Hours | 1 – 6 pm, Tue – Sat (by appointment)
Artist’s Talk | Your dreams don’t deserve to be remembered
Date | 3 – 6 pm, March 18, 2023
Venue | Video Lounge at Chi-Wen Gallery (Limited capacity, RSVP required)
Chang Li-Ren – Battle City Trilogy (2010- 2022)
Chang Li-Ren’s Battle City Trilogy [戰鬥之城] (2010 – 2022) is a sprawling, madcap piece of political satire, a picture of the future that sees Taiwan in a permanent state of emergency. Widely known for his work as an animator, in Battle City, Chang drops a cast of roughly hewn models into an urban environment that bears an uncanny resemblance to Taipei, a world brought to life by a combination of CGI imagery and miniature dioramas, hand-made by the artist from found materials. Single-handedly crafted, shot, edited, voiced, and drawn, Chang squeezes the familiar cinematic and narrative conventions of action movies into a homespun piece of visual storytelling.
The title of the trilogy’s first part, The Glory of Taiwan [台灣之光] (2010 – 2017), cites a turn of phrase that has become a cliché in national news media, used to refer to Taiwanese celebrities who have found international renown, from sports champions to Oscar-winning actors. The incessant celebration of these ‘stars’ has been acerbically derided by some commentators as evidence of a nationally endemic inferiority complex, born of Taiwan’s ambiguous sovereign status in the geopolitical sphere.
In The Glory of Taiwan, we meet Zhi-Qiang, a nihilistic incel at the heart of the trilogy, in effect the antithesis of the ‘glory’ of the title. After being rejected by his would-be sweetheart, Xiao-Ming, Zhi-Qiang is thrown into despair and decides to destroy the world. Despite his apparent inability to carry out such an act, the nation is thrown into a state of panic by the prospect of catastrophe and martial law is instated, in echo of Taiwan’s troubled past. After the island mobilizes its forces, the Americans quickly arrive on the scene to launch an unwelcome intervention. Ultimately, disaster strikes at the hands of another downtrodden character, Rung, an old classmate of Zhi-Qiang, who finds an opportunity for ‘glory’ in nuclear martyrdom.
In the trilogy’s second part, Economic Miracle [經濟奇蹟] (2018 – 2022), a reference to Taiwan’s boom in the latter part of the twentieth century as one of the ‘Four Asian Tigers’, we arrive in a hyper-capitalist future in which Taiwan has risen from the ashes of nuclear disaster to become the economic capital of the world. Civilization is brutally segregated, with an impoverished underclass living in the shadow of the city, surrounded by barren countryside. The corruption of political power by private financial interests has become absolute, with management of the island in the hands of a sinister corporation, JJ Enterprises.
In the wake of the nuclear catastrophe now known as ‘The Glory of Taiwan’, an apparently infinite source of energy was discovered and exploited by JJ Enterprises. In the ‘Neo-Special Economic Zone’ established by the corporation, much of society is populated by ‘economic animals’ to be farmed as human livestock kept in servitude. In an absurd nod to the Wachowski Sisters’ The Matrix (1999), the brains of the poor are exploited to produce electricity, while the rich and powerful swan about in ‘Poverty Exclusion Zones’. As the seeds of revolution foment in the underworld, before long a guerrilla class war leads to yet another spectacular catastrophe, with Zhi-Qiang at Rung at its heart.
In a departure from the moving image, the trilogy’s final part, Formosa [福爾摩沙再度偉大] (2021 – 2022), is presented as a graphic novel. Taking us yet further into a future post-apocalyptic landscape, society remains segregated along class-lines, as the social elite set about harvesting organs for body modification. Further developing themes of geopolitical intervention, individual autonomy, and resource extraction, Formosa concludes a portrait of civilization that is defined by permanent struggle. In his extrapolation of the destructive tendencies of our contemporary world to reveal its potentially disastrous future, Chang harnesses far-fetched narrative conventions to present an image of violence at a comic distance.