Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 15 News List

Paper, scissors, art

By Susan Kendzulak  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Wang Wan-chun's Not-Rationality.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHI-WEN GALLERY

Two exhibitions currently on show highlight both old and new art techniques and mediums, yet show that ultimately it is the artists' ideas that wins out. Wang Wan-chun's (王萬春) current show of paper-cut works at the Chi-Wen Gallery contains small, framed pictures that resemble painted Surrealist land-scapes, but were made by cutting quality Japanese paper with knives or scissors, and overlaying colors to create depth and spatial dimension.

Paper cutting is a tradition in Taiwan. Years ago, countryside shamans visited families to fashion paper cut-outs in their likeness, which they painted with a calligraphic brush to further depict their faces. Armed with these symbolic paper figures, the shamans would then chant blessings for the entire family. Legend has it that these shamans remained celibate in order to keep their paper spells potent.

Wang remembers such cultural traditions, often basing his images from well-loved Chinese myths such as the Tales of the Monsters From the Six Dynasties and Strange Tales of Liaozhai, which are ripe with super-natural beings and monsters. His imagery shows vast, nightmarish landscapes of lost wandering souls, decapitated heads, ominous skies, and bestial figures, which he contrasts with the image of a tranquil mountain or a trickling waterfall. Wang is at his best when he focuses on detail. Small, clearly delineated shapes such as a turtle boast finely cut lines; the horizon lines of many of his pictures, on the other hand, are not evenly curved lines -- they virtually quiver and shake with raw emotion.

After Dark is a group show of graduate students in the digital arts department of the Taipei National University of the Arts (in Guandu) at the Huashan Cultural Center. Seeing the work of young students is thrilling -- like watching a horse race. That is, spectators are often tempted to bet which artists will be in the art world for the long run. Most of the works on view are video-based and require minimum lighting for optimal viewing. It is the hope of many in the nation's art scene to make Taiwan a digital artist's paradise, and as this exhibition demonstrates, local art universities are turning out some talented and technically skilled artists.

Lin Jiun-shian's interactive work asks for the viewer to hold the flame of a lighter to the monitor screen. A heat sensor then triggers a change in the projected images, which allude to the local custom of devotional paper burning.

Kuo Zhong-kuan's (郭忠坤) Sharing the Meal is technologically clever. The piece consists of an interactive lazy Susan covered with dishes of Chinese food molded from plastic. When the dishes are touched by the viewer, animated images automatically appear and run across the table. Technologically, the work is perfect, but what often happens with high-tech art is that the focus is on the wizardry of the gadgetry rather than any deeper message. So touching the acrylic-glazed fish will cause a pixilated fish to wiggle and jiggle, but the absence of metaphors leaves the viewer with little to ponder.

Such spiritual voids in technology-based art is exemplified by Chang Po-chih's (張眝姘) Light River. By pressing a button on a pedestal, lights flicker, unfortunately resulting in a similar experience as changing TV channels with a remote control.

Kuo I-chen (郭奕臣) is definitely an artist to keep an eye on. For him, technology is merely a means to convey his meaning, and is not the be-all and end-all. In the nostalgic Beyond the Liminal Zone, a small sculpture of a house displays the nervously staccato images of the urban scene outside the gallery, which is recorded by six cameras.

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