Mon, Oct 19, 2015 - Page 12 News List

A virtual sea change in art

The Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts surveys the emergence of Taiwan’s video art over three decades in a timely and comprehensive exhibition that features 57 works by 17 artists

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Yuan Goang-Ming, Out of position (1987/2015).

Photo courtesy of Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts

Twenty or 30 years ago, video art was still very fresh as an artworld medium, signaling cutting-edge newness and contemporaneity. Now, just a generation or so later, it already seems, like many other “old” technologies, to be rapidly receding into a historical period of its own.

This is made clear in a new, scrupulously researched exhibition, Rewind: Video Art in Taiwan, 1983 to 1999 (啟視錄:臺灣錄像藝術創世紀—預告片), at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts in which curator Sing Song-yong (孫松榮) has traced the emergence of video art in Taiwan through 57 works by 17 artists, plotting a course from the first video works to the end of the analogue era in the late 1990s.

The videos are by and large experiments, including several early triumphs as well as more than a few failures, yet they present an extremely interesting history of the new possibilities of video.

The earliest works, according to Sing, were created by artist Kuo I-fen (郭挹芬), who in 1983 placed television sets playing specially created videos into piles of leaves, sticks, dried herbs and other objects as parts of three installations: In the Corner, The Last Party and Quiet Sound.

These videos, where images of clams spitting sand or human faces serve as abrupt stand-ins for living things, were created in Japan under faculty guidance at the University of Tsukuba and only later exhibited in Taiwan. They now seem to be clumsy efforts bogged down by vague symbolism, but at the time they were groundbreaking.

In 1984, Kuo also published an article, The World of Video Art: The Expansion of Visual Environment, in a local arts magazine that served as a sort of manifesto and opened the gates to a new creative territory. Several video works by other artists appeared in Taiwan in 1983 and 1984, and in the years that followed, a trickle of video production grew into a stream.

Exhibition notes

What: Rewind_Video Art in Taiwan, 1983-1999 (啟視錄:臺灣錄像藝術創世紀—預告片)

Where: 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) 2896-1000 X 2432

When: Until Dec. 6. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 5pm

Admission: Free

The artists in this exhibition were all born between 1949 and 1974, so they personally experienced the emergence and early propagation of television (Taiwan’s first television station was launched in 1962). They were also the nation’s first artists to come upon the cameras, camcorders, editing stations and other tools for creating and manipulating video.

For the most part, however, their first access to video technologies did not take place in Taiwan. Eleven of the 17 artists in the exhibition studied overseas in Japan, the US or Germany and would not have been able to work with video otherwise.

“At that time, Taiwanese art schools were very conservative. There was no access to video and it was very difficult to get information on what was happening outside Taiwan,” said Wang Jun-jieh (王俊傑), one of the participating artists and now a 52-year-old associate professor of new media at Taipei University of the Arts.

“Traditional media like painting was not very satisfying to us,” Wang added, “and we wanted a new form with which to express ourselves. With new media, we could take advantage of both temporal and spacial dimensions. That was very appealing.”

As an undergraduate student seeking to broaden his horizons, Wang wrote a letter to Nam June Paik, known as the founder of video art who was then teaching at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, where Joseph Beuys was also an instructor.

“Nam June Paik wrote back to me asking to see some of my works, but by that time, I’d already decided to go to Berlin because it was a more exciting city,” Wang recalled. “I arrived in 1989, and a few months later the Berlin Wall came down, so I was unexpectedly a witness to that bit of history.”

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