Art as social criticism often comes wrapped in pedantically didactic packaging, the artistic expression serving as an afterthought to the political message — either that or it is too abstract to be comprehensible to the vast majority of viewers.
Tu Pei-shih’s (杜珮詩) The Adventures in Mount Yu (玉山迷蹤), currently on view at Project Fulfill Art Space (就在藝術空間), presents five intelligent and thoughtful stop-motion animations that are immediately understandable because they feature events from Taiwan’s news cycle over the past year.
Tu creates her videos using cut out images of people, buildings, flora and fauna appropriated from Taiwan’s newspapers and magazines and the Internet, which she then presents as moving polychromatic tableaus.
Focusing on Taiwan is a clear shift from her previous work, which examined international themes. The satirical Who Cares About the Real (誰在乎真實, 2008), for example, revolves around a doctored photo published in the Guardian of G8 leaders attending a sumptuous banquet between meetings aimed at solving the global food crisis. Uneasy Journey (不安的旅途, 2009) depicted the environmental consequences of industrialized nations sending used electronic products to China for disposal.
Although the subject matter in Tu’s new work may be more local, social activism is still an important element. Flora and Dreams (花與夢) examines the effect of the Taipei Flora Expo on the environment and the poor, while The Adventures in Mount Yu III (玉山迷蹤之三) examines the seamy relationship between politicians and businesspeople and Taipei’s property bubble.
Tu’s main interest, however, lies in subverting the medium in which she works.
Animation is often associated with children’s programming or advertising, but Tu constantly undercuts our expectations.
This is particularly apparent in The Adventures in Mount Yu I (玉山迷蹤之一). It begins innocently enough, with doll-like human figures wandering through a psychedelic landscape of flowers and trees, but the pastoral utopia soon transforms into a totalitarian dystopia. Hordes of police enter the scene and look on as men, women and, controversially, children engage in drunken acts of copulation, oral sex and masturbation — certainly not the kind of imagery appropriate for a banking commercial or children’s programming.
Halfway through The Adventures in Mount Yu I, the scene transitions to protesting farmers being hauled away by the formerly idle police, a reference to the ongoing land expropriation controversy in Dapu (大埔) Village, Miaoli County.
There is much else to see in Tu’s intricate videos, which are worth repeated viewing, and the fact that she has shifted her attention to local concerns while retaining a degree of distance through her medium makes this show particularly intriguing.
A sampling of Tu’s animations can be found at www.tupeishih.tw.