Mon, Oct 26, 2015 - Page 12 News List

A murder in our minds

A haunting multimedia exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum draws inspiration from an 18th-century text about violence and sex to reassemble the notion of fact

By Dana Ter  /  Staff Reporter

Night of Sodom, 2015.

Photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum

The ground is covered with autumn leaves that smell like roasted chestnuts. They crackle as we walk. Each orange and yellow leaf appears to have been carefully arranged — so much so that it feels like we’re disturbing the peace with our footsteps.

I look to my left and make out a pair of legs partially hidden under a pile of leaves. My peripheral vision reveals what appears to be other body parts — a bruised hand, maybe a torso. Then, darkness.

A hacking sound starts as flashes of crimson and violet light appear, the truncated beats syncing with the intermittent flickers. Then, darkness again.

Now I see a wooden table scattered with dozens of little sketches — diagrams, taxonomies of various insect species and human organs. A coffee cup had tilted over, causing it to spill onto some of the sketches. But like the dead body in the woods, there’s beauty to the mess, a system to the disorder.

A naked man appears. His back is walking away. The hacking noise grows louder and he’s gone. The corpse is back, with beetles crawling all over it, and one nestled snugly in the palm of the bruised hand. The lights return. This time, it’s a spotlight circling, as if searching for something.

The murderer. Where did he go?

CRITIQUING FACTS, OBFUSCATING TRUTH

Had I really witnessed a murder? Or did I simply pick up on some cues and my imagination led me to believe that I had?

“Fact is not real. It’s what people perceive something to be. Our brains assemble bits and pieces of images, noises, smells and we come up with our own truths,” says Wang Jun-jieh (王俊傑), the artistic director of the haunting kinetic installation piece I had just saw.

Held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Night of Sodom (索多瑪之夜) is a collaborative exhibition involving artists, videographers and technicians. It draws inspiration from the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, which tells the tale of four wealthy men who engage in a series of orgies in a harem with 46 teenagers, both male and female. Written in 1785 when he was imprisoned in the Bastille, Sade thought that the manuscript, which he hid in the prison’s walls, was lost forever during the storming of the Bastille in 1789. It survived, but was not discovered until the early 20th century and, due its controversial subject matter, only became widely circulated decades later.

Exhibition notes

What: Night of Sodom (索多瑪之夜)

Where: Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館 TFAM), 181, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 3, Taipei City

(台北市中山北路三段181號), tel: (02) 2595-7656.

When: Until Jan. 10. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9:30am to 5:30pm and until 8:30pm on Saturdays

Admission: Museum entrance fee is NT$30

On the net: www.tfam.museum


Wang, who is also chief director of the Center for Art and Technology at Taipei National University of the Arts, says that on the surface, the novel may seem like “a celebration of evil, or, of orgies.”

In fact, Wang’s interpretation of the text is that it’s not so much pornographic or scandalous, but about how Sade reconstructs the notion of fact by overlapping various viewpoints and thereby obfuscating the truth. Likewise, the exhibition — which is restricted to visitors age 18 and above — disrupts the natural viewing process one would expect at a museum by presenting viewers with a multisensory experience and a plot that does not follow a linear narrative, the result of which is both frustrating and satisfying.

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

The first part of the exhibition actually takes place in a small room filled with scientific-looking collages consisting of illustrations and their corresponding descriptions. The images from the collages were recycled from old encyclopedias Wang and his team collected from libraries around Taiwan. However, they are cut and pasted in such a way that the meaning has been altered — for instance, egg shells are categorized under comets. In the center of the room sits a horizontal glass case (or casket?) with feathers swirling about.

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