Sun, Apr 25, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Searching for something lost

By Susan Kendzulak  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Xiao bai! Xiao Bai! by Chen Shun-chu.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN KENDZULAK

Chen Shun-chu's (陳順築) recent photographic installation Journeys in Time at IT-Park brings to mind the work of French author Marcel Proust who used the metaphor of jealousy, linking it to the dread of dying: a breakup is like death.

The novel's jealous lover, whose body has been replaced by another, wonders if his time is truly over and if there is any space in life for him. In pain and desperation, he vainly searches for lost time in the hope that by recovering the past in all its sensory and esthetic details he can get over his apprehension.

Like Proust, Chen is also searching for lost time. But in Chen's world there is no jealous lover and a ceramic tile becomes the transporter to childhood memories rather than a madeleine. Chen tackles the deep metaphysical issues of life and death poetically, yet with the distancing effect via the use of photographic technology. Chen's recollection is in black and white, as achromatic images have a tone of authority telling the viewer this is a factual image; this is the truth.

The exhibition consists of 15 enlarged black-and-white photos in zinc-plated frames with inlaid-kiln-fired tiles. The photo enlargements of his family photo album with its glitches and scratches are much like the wrinkles of an aging body. In other words, Chen is not taking us on a sentimental or maudlin journey of looking at these old pictures. Actually there's an absence of emotion as the work is studied, reflective and based on cinematic theories.

The format of Sandimen mimics a large movie screen in which the artist is represented by an inlaid tile. This deliberate distancing removes the artist from the original scene but he installs himself later as a cameo appearance. Literally manipulating his past memory (which is like a movie image), Chen rewrites the script of his life.

Chen Shun-chu Solo Exhibition: Journeys in Time is on from April 17 to May 1, at IT Park, 2-3F, Yitong Street, Taipei (台北市伊通街40號2-3摟)


The work is autobiographical without giving any intimate details away. So a little boy standing with his mother could stand for any child, and not a specific one; a self-portrait becomes a universal portrait. As in Xiao bai! Xiao Bai! the nostalgic attachment to a favored pet is replaced by a tile that can stand for a generic dog, thus negating the unfulfilled desire of recapturing lost time.

Photos act as monuments to the past -- like statues. In National Savior, the proud family, whose construction company built the commemorative plaza in which they happily pose, stand in front of the demigod of the time, Chiang Kai-shek. However, the statue's head is obscured by a tile of a white flying gull, as if to say that both personal and national memory are as fleeting as flight and fame.

Night Banquet in particular, has a bittersweet wistful tone. By the fashion and hairstyles, we know this party took place a long time ago. Tiles of wrapped candies ironically highlight the aura of sweetness. The work reminds the viewer that our fun times of social gatherings will also be a thing of the past as our bodies break down and we finally expire.

As our memories fade and grow hazy, we worry about that part of our lives buried deep in the past, dead in our minds eyes. And we know as our memories fade away like photographs, so do our bodies eventually. Even though recapturing the past is fleeting, Chen reminds us that the desire for remembering the past is also a desire for the life well-lived.

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