When Chen Sung-chih (陳松志) opened the back door of the truck delivering his artwork for an exhibit called Polar Region (極地), his heart sank. Lying in a mound on the floor were the shattered remains of a large paper on mirror painting, one of the artworks to be displayed. Rather than breaking down, however, Chen immediately saw possibilities.
“As an artist, I should be able to turn the accident into a work of art,” he said.
From the ruins emerged Polar Region: Part 2 (極地 — Part 2), an on-site sculptural installation currently on view at Project Fulfill Art Space. Chen spent three days spreading three tonnes of sand throughout a section of the gallery, then stabbed the resulting mass, which resembles a mountainous island, with the shards of glass from the destroyed painting. The finished work teems with the contradictions and contingencies of life and art, the formation and dissolution of natural and artificial phenomena, and is one of the most interesting things to happen in a Taipei gallery in a long time.
“At the end of the show, these materials will be recycled again,” Chen said.
As the title makes clear, there was a Part 1, and several paintings and sculptures from that earlier show have been re-displayed for Part 2.
For Chen, Polar Regions serves as a metaphor for humanity’s estrangement from its natural environment. “The Polar Regions are far away, but the issue of global warming is very close,” he said.
In three untitled works from Part 1, Chen draws the viewer’s attention to this disparity through small-sized Styrofoam sculptures in the shape of icebergs. They suggest that as the planet warms, these once-large mountains of ice will shrink to the size we see in the gallery space. The arrangement of these objects, on a platform and behind glass, implies that if global warming isn’t addressed, they may become the museum pieces of the future.
WHAT: Polar Region — Part 2 (極地 — Part 2)
WHERE:Project Fulfill Art Space (就在藝術中心), 2, Alley 45, Ln 147, Xinyi Rd Sec 3, Taipei City
(台北市信義路三段147巷45弄2號). Tel: (02) 2707-6942
WHEN: Until Sept. 19. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 1pm to 6pm
ON THE NET: www.pfarts.com
With Part 2, this takes on a more ominous immediacy. As with the iceberg sculptures, viewers look down on the installation as if they were godlike beings. The sandy mass possesses a degree of fragility absent in the sculptures from Part 1: A person could reach out and destroy it quite easily. The shards of glass serve as the installation’s protector, but also as the product of its destruction — sand being a necessary ingredient in the production of glass.
Interestingly, the gallery has chosen to water the sculpture four times daily so as to retain its form — a gesture that seems to contradict the theme of our alienation from the natural environment. But perhaps that’s the point. For too long humanity has lived in ignorance of our destructive influence on the environment, and to alter this dangerous course will require active intervention.
Regardless, Project Fulfill Art Space should be applauded for devoting part of its exhibition space to an installation that doesn’t possess any immediate commercial value. It restores art to its rightful place by presenting an aesthetically pleasing work that throws up compelling questions without overburdening the viewer with strident activism.