Sun, Dec 14, 2003 - Page 19 News List

How to play mind games

`Parts of Toys' is a more conceptual exhibition than it sounds

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lai Chiu-chen (賴九岑) won one of three Taipei Arts Award in June of this year for his deconstructionist study, Parts of Toys (零零種種). Now visitors to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM 台北市立美術館) can see the complete collection in an exhibit that opened yesterday and runs though Feb. 15.

A cursory look at Lai's dozens of uniformly sized paintings might leave you wondering what the judges of the Taipei Arts Awards had in mind when handing the prize to Lai. The dozens of 60cm-square portraits elicit lackluster curiosity which most viewers articulate as "what is it?" Each of the paintings surely seem to be of something, but lack a completeness of identity if only because we the viewers have never seen them before. Or have we?

What Lai, an avid toy collector, has painted are pieces of busted apart toys -- the kinds of things that might be swept off the kindergarten floor at the end of the day or that make their way behind the dresser in a child's bedroom: the head of a plastic doll, a robot arm, a non-descript piece of plastic with a spring attached and other widgets that have come apart at the seams. They're piled in three small Lucite boxes at the exhibit's entrance and are worth studying twice.

The initial study is to demonstrate how little you think you know. Where, for instance does the painting of the one-eyed doll come from? It's not in the box. But it is. We assume that the doll's head seen in the Lucite box would be painted as it might look atop the doll's body. But a second look shows that Lai has painted it instead as it might be seen on lying on the floor, looking down the neck.

It's an interesting study in still-life that every art student must do; "paint what you see." Lai, however, has taken it a step further and given his tiny obscure subjects identities of their own beyond their erstwhile identities of "doll's head" or "robot's arm".

"When these incomplete parts appear in a painting they become a complete whole," Lai said. "This is a kind of metamorphosis, where the entire body goes from being a whole to a series of parts back to becoming whole again."

For Lai, the study is philosophically self-referential. "One may see this exhibition as a cognitive painting game," Lai says. "Is the abstract hiding in the

concrete or is the concrete hiding in the abstract, or is the concrete hidden in another concrete? ? When viewers find the concrete hidden in the painting, do they understand the painting? Is this the object that they are looking for? Perhaps all of this can begin at the entrance of the exhibition."

Maybe it's worth studying those broken toy parts a third time.

Parts of Toys runs now through Feb. 15 at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, located at 181 Zhongshan N Rd, Sec 3 in Taipei City (北市中山北路三段181 ).

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