Tue, Jan 03, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Archiving a legend

Taiwanese photographer Yeh Wei-li has been working for two years on restoring the former residences and cataloging the almost never exhibited artworks of late artist Yeh Shih-chiang. The project is currently on display at the Taipei Biennial

By Laurence Marcout  /  Contributing reporter

Artist Yeh Shih-chiang dressed as Sun Wukong, a character from the Chinese classic the Monkey King, in his apartment in Hualien circa 2000. The painter used to create costumes for the children of his neighbor to play with.

Photo courtesy of the Yeh Shih-chiang Memorial Foundation

Yeh Wei-li (葉偉立) is known for his attraction to ruins, rubbish and discarded objects. The photographer is taking a different approach in his current project, however, which is to preserve the body of work that legendary artist Yeh Shih-chiang (葉世強) left behind, and renovate the artist’s home.

Yeh Wei-li worked for months in 2015 to clear the tropical vegetation that had invaded the red-brick farm in Wantan Village (灣潭) in New Taipei City’s Sindian District (新店) where Yeh Shih-chiang lived between 1978 and 1989, and is now renovating a second house in Shueinandong area (水湳洞) in Rueifang District (瑞芳) where the painter lived as a recluse between 1989 and 1995, documenting the entire process on film.

This is the story Yeh Wei-li presents in his hybrid installation on the second floor of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, as part of the 2016 Taipei Biennial.

Curated by Corinne Diserens, the biennial is offering much food for thought around the general theme of archives and the role of the artist in society, either as a witness and an amplifier or as a direct driver of events.

MINI MUSEUM

The installation functions as a mini museum dedicated to the art and life of Yeh Shih-chiang, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 86. Two monumental oil paintings, one tiny drawing on a huge blank canvas, a guqin (a seven-string plucked instrument) and a candle stand, all created by the late master, are displayed next to some of his tools. These artworks share the space with Yeh Wei-li’s photographs and films.

Set in an eerie environment a slingshot away from abandoned gold mines, the Shueinandong house, with its tar-covered roof and heavy wooden shutters, has a distinctive charm that surely Yeh Shih-chiang recognized instantly.

Exhibition notes

What: Taipei Biennial

When: Until Feb. 5

Where: Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館, TFAM), 181, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 3, Taipei (台北市中山北路三段181號), tel: (02) 2595-7656. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9:30am to 5:30pm and until 8:30pm on Saturdays

Admission: NT$30

On the Net: www.tfam.museum


“What I am working on here will be permanent with the opening of a museum run by the Yeh Shih-chiang Memorial Foundation,” he said.

Yeh Wei-li has been renovating the Shueinandong house with his wife Wu Yu-hsin (吳語心) and an assistant, trying to respect Yeh’s artistic choices and way of life.

The photographer never met the old painter.

Yeh Wei-li saved what he could of the wooden furniture and gutted the Japanese-style tatami room because it had been invaded by termites. To reconstruct shelves and other structures, he uses recycled wooden planks that the painter had collected.

The kitchen with its antique stone sink still retains odd-looking utensils handmade by the painter himself. Yeh Wei-li has carefully preserved telephone numbers and notes chalked by the old Yeh next to the door. He is still undecided about what to do with the pockmarks on the earthen wall.

“In Wantan, I wanted to bring back guqin music to the house,” he says of the elder artist, who was also a respected guqin craftsman.

In 2015, Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery founder Chang Tsong-zong (張頌仁) commissioned Yeh Wei-li to create an “interpretive” body of work inspired by Yeh Shih-chiang’s art. The result of this “collaboration” was exhibited at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in November of that year.

Why Hong Kong? Born in Guangdong, Yeh Shih-chiang could be considered a Cantonese artist, although he settled in Taiwan in 1949 at the age of 26. But the real reason is, Chang Tsong-zong was perhaps the only art dealer the old painter ever trusted.

ECCENTRIC ARTIST

The eccentric Yeh Shih-chiang was something of a legend for refusing to sell any of his works — with the exception of his guqin. The words “not for sale” are famously written on the back of each of his canvases. Indeed, he didn’t like to show them at all, and held very few exhibitions in his lifetime.

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