In Thus Spake Zarathustra Friedrich Nietzsche opined that anyone whose task it is to create has first to destroy and "break values into pieces". This same belief lies at the heart of works by the artist Gunther Uecker, whose collection of 17 works of art are installed at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum now through Jan. 11.
Uecker's star rose in the international art scene during the 1960s as a core member of the group Zero, along with Heinz Marck and Otto Piene. The Dusseldorf-based group was strongly influenced by French artist Yves Klein and advocated taking art to its root -- starting from zero.
His first use of techniques radically invasive to his materials came when he began shooting arrows at the paintings adorning the walls of his studio. He was thrilled by the way the stark shadows of the arrow shafts divided the picture visually and shared his discovery with other Zero members.
The group would later experiment with embedding packets of paint under a huge canvas covered with white distemper, then firing rifles at it. Bullets that happened to strike a paint packet would result in paint splattering and oozing from the "wound" -- a visceral reaction that fascina-ted Uecker.
Thus, "inhumanity" became a central theme of Uecker' s work and nails invading wood became his preferred means to convey man's relationship with the world around him -- a fact which is obvious to visitors to the exhibition. What is not obvious is the inspiration for the works on display, each of which was created between 1990 and 1992.
The wall dividing Uecker's native Germany had fallen the year before and it was among the more turbulent times the country has known.
One event in particular that struck Uecker was a period of about a week, when hundreds of neo-Nazis went on a rampage chasing, beating and in some cases killing migrant workers in the country. Skinheads pulled foreigners from their homes into the street and their violence was cheered on by thousands of onlookers.
Piles of tires burned while music was played nearby and hawkers sold beer out of carts on the street.
Uecker holed himself up in his studio following the riots and began producing works of striking, disturbing visual textures: Tree, a 90cm-tall stump with topped by a canopy of tangled nails; Painterly Garden, a 2m-wide panel of wood brushed with white distemper with sharp, fist-sized stones pounded through; and one of the more disturbing, Aggressive Field, a 2m-square panel with a grid penciled onto it of 5cm squares. At each of the pencil-mark intersections, a large nail has been driven from behind.
The varying shadows from the protruding nails combine with the perfectly straight graphite pencil markings to create a dizzying effect akin to an optical illusion. Like many of Uecker' s works, it' s simultaneously intriguing and off-putting.
Of note in the exhibition is a work that Uecker has transcribed for a Chinese-speaking audience. 60 Words from the Old Testament gleans from that work a complex vocabulary regarding hurt and pain. The Chinese characters for each word have been brushed onto separate panels to replace their German counterparts from the original.
Gunther Uecker -- Man' s Inhumanity runs from now through Jan. 11 at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, located at 181 Zhongshan N Rd, Sec 3, in Taipei (