Sex is no longer a taboo topic as it once was in Taiwan. From luxurious love motels featuring mechanical sex chairs to sex-themed restaurants serving penis pudding, people are finding creative outlets to express their views regarding the topic.
A popular medium of expression is art. In his latest solo exhibition, Love Like Jazz, Kiss My Ass, printmaking artist Chen Hua-chun (陳華俊) tells a story of searching for love, but without the accompanying barrier of having to suppress one’s sexual desires.
The artist uses black-and-white mimeograph prints of hearts and flowers which upon closer examination, resemble male and female reproductive organs. The exhibition, which is open to the public free of charge at Taipei’s MBMore (岩筆模) until July 27, is highly successful in exploring the innate human struggle between wanting to express sexual desire and having to control it and conform to social norms.
“We always control our deepest pent-up desires because of social etiquette, morals and values, but people need an outlet for release,” Chen writes in his artist statement.
In this series of prints, Chen, a fine arts instructor at Huafan University (華梵大學) and owner of Firebox Printmaking Studio, which he co-founded in 1991, employs a unique technique which he spent years perfecting — stenciling ink onto woodcuts to create spherical, life-like cartoons.
Chen’s artwork was surrounded by handmade cards, notebooks and knick-knacks made by other artists, and even a cursory glance reveals that his prints — a profusion of hearts and flowers — evoke a child-like innocence. But the message is more poignant than that because life is not a bed of roses and love is not as straightforward as a fairytale.
These shifting meanings are especially evident in Spring01 (泉01) and Spring02 (泉02) where flowers are used to create an outline of a woman’s buttocks and vagina. The flowers are imbued with contrasting meanings because while they could symbolize virginity, the title also connotes fertilization. Moreover, the positioning of the subject in Spring02 — full-frontal and wide open — is quite suggestive.
Some of Chen’s other pieces on display were less subtle but still equally witty. I Like to think with my Brain (我愛動動腦), for instance, depicts a penis with a heart-shaped tip. Inside of this is a human brain. The irony is certainly comical, but the artwork also represents the complex tug-of-war between love and lust. Chen is not merely suggesting that men only think with their penises, but rather, that love can be mixed together with lust, and logical reasoning with animalistic impulse.
DIFFERING MEANINGS OF LOVE
Chen’s artwork portrays how love and lust are not antithetical, but complementary. This message is apparent in how the word “love” (愛) is used repeatedly in the titles of his work such as Fly for Love, Pray for Love (愛的祈願) and The Case of Love (愛的百貨箱) — when in fact, “love” is also a euphemism for lust and desire.
Chen further explores the entanglement between different types of love and desire in Open the Bottleneck of Love (愛的瓶頸). In this particular print, a bottle-shaped object is encased inside a petal-shaped opening. The overall impression however, is not so much erotic as it is matter-of-fact. The “bottle” is resting in the “petal” comfortably and naturally, implying that there is nothing shameful about the act.