Thu, Jul 23, 2009 - Page 14 News List

Is it up or is it down?

Looking Up! Looking Down! includes some interesting installations, but it mostly fails because of a lack of context

by Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

VIEW THIS PAGE It's the director’s worst nightmare: the audience leaves halfway through a movie or play. But at Eslite Gallery, such behavior is encouraged.

For Looking Up! Looking Down! (抬頭一看,生活裡沒有任何美好的事), the gallery’s current exhibition, there is no seating for six out of seven video installations on display, even though there are plenty of benches in a reception room.

“Nobody ever watches [the videos] all the way through,” said Jenning King (金振寧), the gallery’s public relations manager.

Herein lies a problem that afflicts many contemporary conceptual art shows — and their viewers — and one that Looking Up!, a collection of video, photographic and sculptural installations by 11 artists, also suffers from: the content is abstruse because of a lack of context concerning how the work was made or what it is about. Gallery literature tends to focus, rather, on the artists’ ages and educational backgrounds, and uses jargon and pretentious diction to give relatively straightforward concepts an added air of sophistication.

Which is unfortunate because there is considerable talent on display here, in the form of imaginative and thought-provoking work that deserves mention.

This is particularly true of Chou Wen-chin’s (周文欽) The Trialectics of a Stolen Bicycle: The Thief, the Police and I (單車失竊記之各有處境篇). This 17-minute video opens with grainy closed-circuit images of a thief smashing the artist’s car window and making off with his bike. It then segues to an old black-and-white movie of a man attempting to enlist the help of police officers who respond apathetically to his entreaties — a scene King said replicates almost verbatim Chou’s own experience at a Taipei police station.

Kao Jun-honn (高俊宏) employs music videos from MTV and YouTube as well as colonial architecture in Loser’s Grand Narrative (失敗者大敘事) to explore cultural transformation. The three-segment video begins with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which, after running for roughly a minute, is replaced by a performer from India imitating the recently deceased entertainer’s moves. The third segment shows a student comically imitating the Indian dancer. Viewed as a whole, the video reveals that although the imitators might not possess Jackson’s phenomenal talents, they still manage to create something of their own that is both fresh and humorous.

Kao’s plywood installation positioned directly across from the video mixes three colonial architectural styles common to Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries. The structure appears to be unfinished, possibly a reference to Taiwan’s unfinished project of creating its own cultural identity. As with the riffs on Jackson’s dancing, the plywood installation shows how influences from one culture are appropriated by another to make something new.

Yeh Chen-yu (葉振宇) used detritus found along Tamsui River to build and furnish a shelter on the riverside, which he filmed in Go Home After Ebbing (潮退了,我們就回家). When the water rises inside the shack, the furniture floats around; as it recedes the interior is rearranged, a reference to the arbitrary nature of life.

The three videos listed above deploy concise and seamlessly edited visual narratives to investigate a theme — whether the insouciance of authorities, cultural identity or unpredictability.

But Chiu Shueh-meng’s (邱學盟) installation Floating Prayers (漂流的禱) — 17 transparent plastic bags of water, each containing a photograph that has rolled up and faded because of its immersion in liquid — is difficult, if not impossible, to make anything of. Is it about memory? The environment?

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