In these perilous times we live in, we see daily images of carnage, tortured prisoners, death and destruction via the media, but we continue to hear contradictory statements by those in power. Why is there such an obvious discrepancy between what we see and what we hear, as these images and fallacies lead us (if we're smart enough) to question what is reality, what is the truth.
"Do you believe in reality?" is a timely question if ever and the theme of this year's Taipei Biennial that opened yesterday at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and runs until Jan. 23. A biennial is an international art exhibition with prestigious artists, a big budget, lots of publicity and a chance to bring fresh ideas to different places and create a huge conversation between the art and the people.
As in the past two biennials, this one unites a Taiwanese and a European curator to spark a dialogue from their varied experiences in order to create an exciting exhibition. Amy Cheng, based in Vancouver and Taipei, has written extensively on Taiwanese artists. Belgium-based Barbara Vanderlinden is founding director of the provocative art lab Roomade in Brussels.
And this biennial looks like it will be exciting as it includes documentary works along with imagined ones and it is bringing in ideas that are not often heard in the dominant media, so expect to be provoked. But good art is not just mere entertainment or confrontation. It also provides you with a key to start opening some of those closed doors in your mind.
Without wanting to give away too many details about the art on display, an overview of some of the themes is provided instead. Indian-based artist group Raqs Media Collective will show work that operates in the space between mainstream thinking and street culture.
Other artists that have worked outright in the political arena to effect social change or worked with heavy political imagery include David Claerbout, Jeremy Deller, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Martha Rosler, Heri Dono, Chen Chieh-jen (陳界仁), the Atlas Group and Agnes Varda.
Each artist works in diverse media such as video, film, sculpture, and installation but are all united by having a clear and precise vision in trying to convey the truth of our experience. And you, as a viewer are totally correct to question whether these artists' visions do represent the truth rather than blindly accept what they're trying to tell you.
Not all of the work in the show will have such a heavy leftist or progressive political slant, as there are artists who use poetical imagery to help us think about and refine/define the world we live in. Yoko Ono and Gabriel Orozco are both known for their ephemeral works, and Pratchaya Phinthong, Anri Sala and Jean-Luc Mouline will mirror our lived lives back to us.
Also included are artists who reflect on changes made around them in their societies, and therefore raises the question: is there a difference between art and photo-journalism? Leong Sze-tsung photographs the vast and rapid urban development and urban demolishment rapidly taking place in China. A Tzotzil Indian from Chiapas, Mexico, documents global change amidst tradition in her Mayan community. Chinese artist Yang Fu-dong is highly visible in the art world with his poetic films that also show the speed and slowness simultaneous of global urbanity.