Wed, Aug 12, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Notes on drugs

A joint exhibition by Chen Yin-ju and James Hong explores our relationship with drugs

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Jesus Malverde, Patron Saint of Mexican Drug Traffickers, a multimedia installation by James Hong.

Photo courtesy of TheCube

Practically everybody takes some kind of drug — or, to use a more politically correct word, medicine. We ingest caffeine and alcohol daily, down pain-killers and antidepressants and sometimes take illegal substances that are demonized because they are linked to danger and violence.

Drugs are such a huge topic to tackle, but curiously artist duo James Hong (洪子健) and Chen Yin-ju (陳瀅如) start with the inscription on Immanuel Kant’s tombstone in Kaliningrad Oblast:

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Hence, the title of the show, The Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within (上則星辰,內則德律), which is currently on display at TheCube Project Space (立方計畫空間).


Hong’s work examines the relationship between drugs and modernity. Composed of two one-channel videos, objects and historical documents, the artist’s Three Arguments about the Opium War (鴉片戰爭三論) looks at the Opium Wars in the mid-1800s as the introduction of the modern, sovereign state into East Asia, and, along with it, the industrial production, regulation and control of drugs as a commodity.

“Modernity is sort of a fancy catch phrase. It is always taken as a given or something we strive for... and it came by force,” Hong says.

On one wall, a film shows the sites of the wars in China, accompanied by a Chinese nationalistic viewpoint on how China should rise again and defeat Western colonizers. On the British side across the room, a video rationalizes European colonization as a civilizing mission. We see densely-populated skyscrapers along river banks from a boat that takes the same water route the British force took more than 150 years ago. The exhibition space pumps out gentle beats that are meant to be meditative and mimic the effect of opium.

Exhibition notes

WHAT: The Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within (上則星辰,內則德律 --陳瀅如、洪子健雙人展)

WHERE: TheCube Project Space (立方計畫空間), 2F, 13, Alley 1, Ln 136, Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段136巷1弄13號2樓); tel: (02)2368-9418.

WHEN: Until Oct. 4. Open Wednesdays to Sundays from 2pm to 8pm


Hong says he wants to juxtapose different narratives, rather than an authoritative view of history.

“Here everything is designed to show you that even though you are being manipulated, you have to make a decision. It revolves around the title of the show. The moral law within is freedom — the freedom to make a decision.”


The installation, Jesus Malverde, the Patron Saint of Mexican Drug Traffickers (耶穌 · 馬維德:墨西哥毒販的守護神), is modeled on a shrine devoted to the narco-saint Jesus Malverde. Mexican drug traffickers will pray to Malverde before embarking on their dangerous trips to the US. Above the chapel, Chen and Hong have created an altar containing photographs of drug dealers being executed by the authorities.


Chen’s Notes on Psychedelics (致幻記), which is composed of found material, archival footage and other documents, is a personal artistic exploration of the use of hallucinogenic drugs.

“I had an out-of-body experience once. I woke up suddenly and saw myself sleeping. My entire life flashed before me like a slide show,” the artist says.

“The show is about altered states of consciousness, which is the basic function of drugs. I want to know why people want to take psychedelics and what they want to achieve?” she adds.

Chen focuses on DMT, a psychedelic compound found in certain plants and mammals. On one wall, there are Chinese and English-language texts from DMT: The Spirit Molecule, a substantial study on the hallucinogen by researcher Rick Strassman. A video shows a shaman trained in Peru explaining the shamanic practice of using ayahuasca, an Amazonian plant brew containing DMT that is used to obtain visions for prophecy, healing and inner strength.

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