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Past, present, future in an era of globalization

Seven Taiwanese artists explore reality and how we interpret it in New York City exhibit

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing reporter in new York

Hou I-ting, Complexing Body — Doberman and Romeo (2011).

Photo: Chris Fuchs

As globalization shrinks the world, dismantling boundaries that separate countries and cultures, seven Taiwanese artists explore the subject of reality and how we interpret it in an exhibition in New York City.

What Do You See? Contemporary Art from Taiwan (所見為何) features 19 works displayed at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Manhattan. It runs until Jan. 26.

The artists — among them Hou I-ting (侯怡亭), Tu Pei-shih (杜珮詩) and Liao Yu-an (廖堉安) — examine the ways in which reality is interpreted through sight and language.

From paintings to sculptures, new media to installation art, the artists explore the past, present and future, reflecting the ways in which they see, conceptualize and imagine in an era of globalization and at a time when, as public intellectual Marshall McLuhan once famously put it, “the medium is the message.”

“There are people of different nationalities with various cultural backgrounds in the US,” curator Chen Yan-huei (陳妍卉) told the Taipei Times. “When they view the artists’ work they may do so through the lens of their own culture, above and beyond what the artist had originally tried to convey.”


Hou’s work examines the unfamiliarity Taiwanese have with the culture of their own country at a time when global cultures continue to blend together.

In Complexing Body — Doberman and Romeo (複體 — 杜賓狗與羅密歐), Hou is pictured against a backdrop of images that evoke Taiwan’s history, culture and society.

Set in an traditional market, the work contains a variety objects commonly found in Taiwan. A large calendar with the date can be seen hanging on a distressed-looking wall. Filled storage boxes and red and blue bins sit on tables. A red pail rests on the floor while a red and green broom leans against the wall.

In the center of this tableaux stands Hou, clad in a blue, white and red costume redolent of the Shakespearean era, and flanked by a Doberman Pinscher.

One unique aspect of Complexing Body — Doberman and Romeo is that Hou’s western-style outfit is embroidered directly onto the canvas itself. The overall result shows varying elements of Eastern and Western culture melded together from different times and different places.

“It makes us reflect on what our own traditional culture is,” Chen said. “And then there’s also the difficult issue of identity. To a large extent, Taiwanhas this problem because of our country’s international relations.”


Also featured in the exhibit is Tu’s Nuclear World (核能世界), which at first glance evokes feelings of happiness, with images of butterflies fluttering in the silver-covered sky and children frolicking about. A Ferris wheel, large sunflowers and wildlife can also be seen in the grassy lands.

But closer inspection reveals something starkly different and disturbing. The elements that create this seeming image of beauty are actually based on what happens after a nuclear disaster.

That includes abandoned towns near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in the former Soviet Union, where deadly explosions and fires in 1986 spread radioactive material across much of Europe.

Nuclear World also features the mutations of butterflies and flowers — as well as the enlarged, deformed heads of children — exposed to the effects of radiation poisoning.

In the end, the beauty depicted in Tu’s mixed-media work serves as a hidden metaphor for the serious impact and harm potentially wrought by a nuclear world.

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