Sun, Nov 10, 2013 - Page 12 News List

The waste land

Peter Nelson’s show of video and sculpture suggests that Chinese painting predicted today’s video games by 500 years, merging both to create a desolate portrait of the artist in contemporary society

By Yin Khvat  /  Staff reporter

Peter Nelson, Mountain Drawing — The First Time I felt at Home (2009).

Photo courtesy of Peter Nelson

Peter Nelson’s video Extensions of a No-Place (Wen Zhengming) contains traces of T. S. Eliot’s epic 1921 poem, The Waste Land: It is a barren and black-and-white landscape, where the most redeeming features are the dry stone of mountains, dotted with dead trees, juxtaposed with broken fragments of poetry and song.

It is disarming in such a way that you want to get inside this bleak, futuristic landscape (recalling the movie Tron Legacy in many ways) and stand beside the isolated characters.

But in this sense his exhibition, Extensions of a No-Place, which is part of the National Palace Museum’s New Waves Show in Tainan — comprising video, drawings and sculpture — achieves an aim of Chinese painting: to make the viewer want to swap places with the figures therein.

While it shares with The Waste Land alienation and fragmentation, high-intellectualism and broad allusion, Nelson takes artistic inspiration from Song Dynasty landscape paintings, such as Wen Zhengming’s (文徵明) Imitating Zhao Bosu’s Illustration of the Latter Red Cliff (仿趙伯驌后赤壁圖) and Qiu Ying’s (仇英) Spring Morning in the Han Palace (漢宮春曉).


Nelson, who is Australian, is searching for something: perhaps the redemption that is a core part of The Waste Land; perhaps self-identity. Australia has arguably turned away from its mainly European roots to become part of the Asian continent it inhabits, rendering it the unintentional cultural heir of East and West.

Nelson’s search has taken him through Chinese landscapes, the 18th century British picturesque (Thomas Gainsborough and George Stubbs) and the 1970s utopian visions of the future. Physically, it has taken him to Paris, Chongqing, Beijing and Taipei, where he is doing a six-month residency at Treasure Hill Artists Village.

Exhibition notes

What: Extensions of a No-Place

When: Until Nov. 27. Open daily from 1pm to 9pm

Where: Tainan Cultural and Creative Industries Park (台南文化創意產業園區出張所) 16, Beimen Rd, Sec 2, Greater Tainan (台南市北區北門路2段16號); tel: 0981-926-987

Admission: Free

Wherever he goes, he is an outsider, alienated by language, culture and location, condemned to never really forming the bonds of community that allow for sustainable growth. This fracturing is reflected in the subject of his art, and also in the assorted media he uses, and within them the juxtaposition of cultural references and samples, forming a collage of recycled motifs. They combine to depict a pluralistic modern world of East and West.

Extensions of a No-Place (Wen Zhengming) takes the soft curves and colors of the mountains in Wen’s Imitating Zhao Bosu’s Illustration of the Latter Red Cliff, and replaces them with monotone mountains draped in patterns reminiscent of Taipei’s ubiquitous street tiles. The grid this creates, and which can be projected across five screens, brings it into line with the utopian architectural motif of squares. Taking landscape as coded self-portraiture further, Nelson places himself within it, appropriately, as the “lost man.”

Video games and chinese painting

Human instinct is to exert control — over ourselves, over others — in the quest for order, perfection or happiness. That we will create entire worlds to achieve this is exploited by the realms of fantasy and video games.

In Nelson’s second video, Extensions of a No-Place (Qiu Ying’s Spring Morning in the Han Palace), he draws parallels between the video game Starcraft and the Han Court, despite the 500-year-gap, through their use of isometric angles and oblique parallel perspective, which ensures the scenes have no vanishing points and objects are the same size no matter whether they appear in the foreground or background.

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