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

Sing divides Taiwan’s early video art into three main types — video installation, video sculpture and single channel works.

Video installation, like Kuo’s TV sets nestled among leaves, combined one or more videos with other objects to create an environment. A more interesting example is Chen Cheng-tsai’s (陳正才) Melting Love (1996), in which an image of a mouth, its tongue licking its lips, is projected onto ice crystals that form and melt on a refrigerated metal plate suspended in the gallery. The lips appear to be licking the icy screen like an ice cream cone.

Video sculpture tended to use TV sets and the video that played on them as sculptural elements — often the TV sets stood in for eyes, mouths or other body parts. In Yuan Goang-ming’s (袁廣鳴) Out of Position, a TV set shows the head and torso of a swimmer as a video image, while a sculpted pair of legs stick out of the side of the TV set to complete the figure. In another video sculpture, Fan (1992), a real, immobile electric fan sits on top of a TV set showing a video of the same fan in motion.

The artistic problem for Yuan, Kuo and others was finding a way to integrate video into a world of real objects. They used TV screens as windows into virtuality but still struggled to show the deeper paradox of virtual images — namely that video images could be both real and fake at the same time.

The third type of early video art is the “single channel,” a video that you would watch on a screen like a television show or film. Single channel works were shot and edited like films, television programs or any other videos. Sometimes they were abstract montages or experiments with editing technology, like the work of Lin Chi-wei (林其蔚). Other single channel videos were structured around narratives and basically just short films, like several early videos by Wang Jun-jieh, which borrowed the aesthetics of B-movies, kitsch, pop art and advertising.

Single channel video also crossed-over to other categories of time-based art, like performance art and process art, where it served as both documentation and a commodifiable product that could be sold in a gallery.

Lin Chun-chi’s (林俊吉) I Wanna Talk to You (1995) is a documentary of a performance in which Lin wore a long, white cone-faced mask. The cone was extremely long, at least a meter and a half, with a small opening near the pointy end. As Lin tried to talk to the audience, he was also in danger of stabbing them with the end of the cone and forced them to shy away.

While the exhibition offers an excellent chronology of Taiwan’s first waves of video art, it leaves us wondering how video technologies influenced artists and what new ideas artists were trying to express. Questions of identity seem rife, and there is a prevailing coldness to the way virtual images represent people, often the artists themselves.

In one of the final galleries, some wall text proposes that this exhibition proves video art to be an “independent” genre. This is a mistake. From its very inception, video art, as an artistic form, already overlapped with installation, performance art, process art and other trends in post-1960s art.

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