Wed, Jan 27, 2010 - Page 15 News List

In a bubble

Wang Te-yu’s newest work challenges viewers to think about the walls, floors and ceilings of interior spaces. It’s also fun to play with

BY Blake Carter  /  STAFF REPORTER

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The ribs of my 7-Eleven umbrella are 60cm long. If this can be taken as the average radius of an umbrella, Wang Te-yu’s (王德瑜) largest work to date required enough nylon “umbrella fabric” (yusanbu, 雨傘布) to manufacture more than 700 of them. Her most recent “balloon” piece covers about 10m by 12m of floor space and much of it presses against a ceiling more than 6m overhead.

“When we first inflated it I sat inside with a couple friends and wondered if it was too big,” the 39-year-old artist said on Sunday. “I even considered making a large inflatable pillow to offset the size of the space inside.”

Wang and an assistant had spent two weeks sewing bolts of translucent white “umbrella cloth” from Taipei’s Yongle Market (永樂市場) into a giant balloon that is on display at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts (KdMFOA, 關渡美術館) until March 28. Every morning at 10am museum staff plug in three air pumps to inflate No. 65. It takes about a half-hour for the work to fill most of the second floor’s largest gallery and part of the third, from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.

Visitors can enter the work through two small slots — one each on the upper and lower floors. The upper entrance leads to a balcony from which the large gallery below can be viewed. Imagine an oversized loft apartment designed for the boy in the bubble, but the “bubble” — this time — isn’t clear. One of Wang’s earliest sketches for the work shows a person viewing the main gallery from what would be the loft.

The lower floor entrance gives viewers access to a much larger gallery, still part of the same “balloon.” From below visitors can watch others above and vice versa. There’s even a (no longer) secret, chest-high peephole at the far left end of the lower level that can be unzipped to give viewers outside the bubble a different viewing angle. The opening was originally intended to be an entrance, but when the work was first inflated the slot rose so that it was too high to be used as an entryway.

EXHIBITION NOTES:

WHAT: No. 65: Wang Te-yu Solo Exhibition (王德瑜個展/No. 65)

WHEN: Until March 28. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 5pm

WHERE: Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts (關渡美術館), 1 Xueyuan Rd, Beitou Dist, Taipei City (台北市北投區學園路1號)

ADMISSION: Free


Like many of her best-known works, Wang invites viewers to explore not only the massive interior of No. 65, but also to squeeze around the outside or underneath. In 1997, she filled the second and third floors of Taipei’s IT Park Gallery (伊通公園) with No. 27, two transparent plastic bubbles that visitors had to squeeze by to arrive at the cafe above.

I asked whether viewers were hesitant to explore her works.

“Children are the best,” she said. “They just do what they feel like.”

But it’s not all fun and games. Wang’s works challenge viewers to see art spaces in a way that may not be familiar to people raised with the “hands off” policy of many galleries and museums. No. 65’s shape, its seams and the lighting — unchanged from the museum’s usual setup, except for a spotlight that had to be removed for fear it would burn the nylon — draw attention to the interior of the location in which it’s shown. From inside, the area seems even larger than it is; the smoke detectors and texture of the ceiling are emphasized like meat in cling-wrap; the distance between the third floor balcony and the second floor wall, opposite, appears infinite. From the outside, it looks like a sterilized carnival tent.

Wang began a course in sculpture at Taipei National University of the Arts back when it was called National Institute of the Arts and located in Luzhou. Years of carving plaster, polishing wood and grinding stone gave her a taste for “doing something else.” She began wrapping stockings around wire frames and later used transparent fishing line to stretch fabric within fixed spaces, creating an “empty sculpture.”

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