Thu, Aug 10, 2006 - Page 15 News List

The absurdity of life


Screen grabs from Tsui Kuang-yu's video installation The Shortcut to the Systematic Life - City Sprite (2005).


In the era of globalization when terrorism, deadly viruses and global warming seem to threaten man's existence, uncertainty and disquietude have become creeping motifs in our daily lives. Chi-wen Gallery, a lively young venue devoted to the contemporary art scene in Taiwan, is currently hosting a video exhibition entitled Age of Anxiety which takes its cue from global undercurrents of angst and collective fear and features works by Tsui Kuang-yu (崔廣宇) and Peng Hung-chih (彭弘智).

Peng, who resides in New York, has since 2000 been offering insights into the human condition from a dog's perspective by making video art works starring his pet pooch Yuki.

In the three videos on display at the gallery, Peng's dog inscribes sections of Christian, Buddhist and Taoist religious texts onto a wall by licking it. The videos were made by playing backwards the images of the animal eating dog food spread in the shape of characters on the wall.

The sacred text is ridiculed through its creation by a dog rapaciously gulping down the food shaped in English, Chinese and Sanskrit characters. At the same time, that sacred knowledge is reproduced by an animal which is deemed inferior to human beings is an ironic statement and refers to the problem of terrorism as religious faith.

“I think the many problems we confront today are the West's fault, especially religious conflicts. As a culturally hybrid artist from the East, I believe the interpretations I make concerning these issues can be very different from those of Western artists, though sometimes I run the risk of offending people for being too direct,” Peng told the Taipei Times.

A good example of Peng's outspokenness can be found in his previous exhibition held in New York in which paragraphs in the Bible referring to violent acts and thoughts are translated into Arabic and unveiled by his dog. “Many people believe the texts are from the Koran,” Peng said while grimacing.

Peng will expand the project to include Judaism, Sikhism and Shintoism. “I like to concentrate my attention on one specific subject for a long period of time,” said Peng, who sees the video work as the beginning of his exploration of the relationship between man and God.

In The Shortcut to the Systematic Life: City Spirits (系統生活捷徑 – 城市精神), Tsui is subject and director of lighthearted videos shot in Taipei and London and which reveal the absurd side of contemporary urban life in a manner similar to a slapstick silent film.

The five videos, each 90 seconds long, show him turning familiar urban landscapes into sports arenas. In one segment, the 32-year-old artist jumps over trash cans, roadside bushes and motorcycles parked on the sidewalk as if he were in a hurdles race, while in another Tsui is spotted climbing down mounds of garbage and piles of abandoned cars. The up-and-coming artist mischievously waves a checkered flag at cars stopped at traffic lights in a humorous nod to racing in another clip.

Hailed locally as an artist who combines performance arts with video installation, Tsui is known for his humorous and imaginative takes on metropolitan life. City Spirits provides an insightful survey of the relationship between urbanites and their surroundings through the artist's aberrant acts filmed in public spaces — “urban crevices,” according to Tsui — and turns reality into surreal fragments of city life.

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