The Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) in Guandu (關渡) turns 30 this year, and to celebrate, the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts (關渡美術館) is holding a group exhibition by some of the university’s more recognizable alumni, many of whom have been featured in these pages over the past few years.
Manifestation of Homunculi (藝變者遊行), as the exhibition is titled, presents work by 45 Taipei National University of the Arts graduates — Kuo Wei-kuo (郭維國), Lee Ming-chung (李民中), Liu Shih-tung (劉時棟) and Hou Chun-ming (侯俊明), to name a few — spanning three generations, who hail from across Taiwan. The paintings, sculptures, installations and video were chosen to reveal the richness and diversity of the imaginations of their creators, who combine different art trends and genres, whether East or West, traditional, modern or contemporary, to create original works by artists who emerged from one of Taiwan’s most prestigious art schools.
The exhibition is notable for the outstanding quality of the work on display — and the annoying, though sadly all-too-common, inability of the curators to offer a simple explanation of what they are trying to achieve. Instead, we get vague explanations like this introductory sentence from the curator’s statement:
“Mysterious, ancient alchemy and the precise neurosurgery of today are two disciplines that seem to stand in contradiction with each other, yet they invariably share the same imagery of Homunculi.” Fair enough, but what does that have to do with the works on display? They don’t say, and raising Carl Gustav Jung’s relatively complicated theory of individuation, in the same paragraph, provides little illumination.
All three shows are at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts (關渡美術館), 1 Xueyuan Rd, Taipei City (台北市學園路1號), tel: (02) 2893-8870. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 5pm. All run until Sept. 16
Manifestation of Homunculi is located in the 1F to 3F gallery
Creators of Dialogue is located in exhibition room G402
Sunyata is located in exhibition room 401
Other statements, such as the “artist is like a neurologist, studying [the] the brain with [a] particular technique that is unknown to themselves,” seem written to perplex rather than edify. When they refer to the generation of the artist and region from which the hail, they write “spatial” and “temporal,” not space and time like the rest of us.
The six sections, each following “alchemical procedures,” bear equally opaque clues: Calcination and Dissolution, Separation and Conjunction, Fermentation and Distillation, Coagulation and Digestion, Sublimation and Ceration , and Multiplication and Projection.” Why not just state, in simple terms, what each section represents in relation to the artists contained therein? Looking at the exhibition brochure, which shows an image of each artwork, does reveal a clear narrative line.
Calcination and Dissolution, for example, emphasizes installation and performance art, as seen through Taiwanese culture. Wu Sih-chin’s (吳思嶔) installation Cemetery (墓園, 2009), displays several miniature graves each of which has an insect encased in plastic resin. Murmurs of Living Dead Doll (鬼娃悄悄說, 2006), a performance art piece by Cheng Shih-chun (鄭詩雋) shown here in photographs and a video, depicts the artist dressed as a spirit medium committing suicide.
Multiplication and Projection illustrates how folk religion (both orthodox and heterodox) and traditional Chinese culture exert a profound influence on the artists, while at the same time experimenting with modernist genres culled from the West but transformed into an artistic language visibly Taiwanese.
Yang Mao-lin’s (楊茂林) pop-influenced Panda Sarasvati-Monroe II (技藝天熊貓夢露 II, 2010) made from stainless steel and titanium, depicts the iconic image of the wind lifting up Marilyn Monroe’s dress while standing on a cicada and suggests that our contemporary pop stars are worshipped as religious idol. Yao Jui-chung’s (姚瑞中) satirical Beyond the Human Being — I Trust in God ( 人下人 ─ 愛戳死的狗, 2001), a large-scale drawing of a human figure with dog’s head sodomizing a metaphorical devil, rams home the idea that charlatanism goes hand in hand with higher forms of spirituality.