Sun, Jan 07, 2001 - Page 19 News List

Statements on straw: the frailty and impermanence of the conceptual man

By Chang Ju-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chen Shang-ping's assemblage using an old clock inserted on top of his decapitated straw dummy explores the topics of time and space.


Contemporary art has challenged the function and appearance of space in a museum. Chen Shang-ping's (陳尚平) Landing exhibition is one example. Filling the room with straw, he has turned a section of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) into a barn. Some straw dummies that Chen calls scarecrows lie in the hay. A sign at the entrance says, "You are free to take off your shoes and sit, lie or walk on the straw," encourages viewers to relax and imagine themselves on a farm, feeling the natural touch and the smell of straw.

Chen, who grew up in the countryside of central Taiwan, has been using straw, often formed into dummies, as the main material in his conceptual art shows. He is probing the subject of nature and its relationship to humans. Farming, for example, the mother of human industry, is part of Chen's nostalgic thoughts of the simple lifestyle of the old days. But Chen has gone beyond looking back. He places his straw dummies everywhere, in and out of buildings, in the mountains or by the sea. He intends to look into how humans interact with different spatial situations. In this instance, with his conceptual barn, the space is more standardized.

Chen's straw dummies lie flat in the hay, some piling up in a stack. When the exhibit opened, kids were a bit cruel to the straw men, according to Chen. The somewhat violent kids have played themselves into a role that fits into the theme of Chen's conceptual framework. Straw dummies are fragile and trivial, like those people in our society that are subjected to authority and the powerful. The shy and quiet artist is passively revealing his discontent as well as concern about the injustice in our society.

Art Notes:

What: Landing: Solo Exhibition of Chen Shang-ping (岸:陳尚平個展)

Where: B2, Gallery D, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 181 Chungshan N. Rd., Sec. 3, Taipei (台北市立美術館:臺北市中山北路三段181號地下2樓)

When: Until Jan. 28 (Closed Mondays)

There is also a standing straw dummy next to the barn. Decapitated, an old clock has replaced its head. With arms lifted to shoulder level, this assembled sculpture reflects Chen's interest in the exploration of time and space.

Chen's work is remindful of the Dada movement that challenges the traditional art presentation and uses non-art materials to make conceptually oriented art. Chen said that having been with him for almost 40 years, the clock has started another life as an art object, over and above its function as a machine for recording the passage of time. To draw viewers' attention to that transformation, he breaks the glass on the clock as a sign of rebirth.

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