Pixels of perception

A flood of London video art meets Taipei's bar scene and the result is meant to be in the eyes of the beholder

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 17

First Chen Yung-hsien (陳永賢) strapped rubber bands all over his shaved, orbicular head, then he covered it with strips of smoked salmon and uncooked bacon. "With the meat on I couldn't breathe for almost three minutes. I prepared myself by doing some meditation," he said.

He was speaking of his five minute, 22 second work of video art, Release. The piece is about how eliminating junk from your body feels good and is one of 93 video artworks in Random-ize, an exhibition now showing in Taipei's Eslite Gallery and 11 east Taipei night spots. The multi-venue show is also the most recent stage in a London invasion that's pulsing through Taipei's art scene. It opened last Saturday and runs for at least another week.

Chen is 37, genial and working in an office job at a local art college for the money to finish a PhD in visual arts practice and theory at Brighton University in England.

Before saying anything about the show, he ordered a juice and pulled a G4 Powerbook out of his shoulder bag. When I asked about the computer, he said it had an onboard DVD burner and that that was pretty convenient.

In addition to contributing three works to Random-ize, Chen is a co-curator along with Nina Dimitriadi (from Russia) and Soraya Nakasuwan (from Thailand), two fellow alumni of Goldsmiths College in London, where Chen earned his Master of Arts degree a year ago.

Most of the artists in the show are Goldsmiths graduates, though since the show debuted in London about one year ago, two programs of Taiwanese artists have been added and one program from the Spanish curator Manuel Saiz, who went to the [London] opening, Chen said.

In art circles, Goldsmiths has Harvard-like status. About 15 years ago the college produced a crop of artworld stars sizable enough for its own acronym: YBAs, or young British artists. The most notorious, Damien Hirst, was already known for shock value by the time he displayed cows cut into cross sections in 1996. Collector and advertising magnate Charles Saatchi was also part of the movement, pushing the YBAs through his own purchases and international shows. Now some argue that London has surpassed New York as the art world's capital.

Whether that's true or not, in the last year Taipei has seen a sudden influx of London shows of which Random-ize is the fourth. The others all took place at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), including the contemporary art exhibition London Underground, the second Taipei appearance of the Onedotzero digital film festival, and the modern historical Archegram exhibition, which is still on display. Onedotzero, it's worth noting, came through the involvement of another London art student, Chris Huang, the son of TFAM director Huang Tsai-lang (黃才郎).

Unlike the TFAM productions, Random-ize is very consciously a non-museum show. It mixes unestablished artists with a handful of known ones and puts art into commercial spaces like design bars that offer links between pure art venues and regular society.

"A gallery always shows one piece and it loops," he said. Then he made a face that implied the boredom of an endlessly repeating video clip.

When Random-ize opened in London last year, the debut took place in a converted space. It wasn't until Taipei that Chen found a true alternative to commercial galleries.

Here, working with local independent curator Sean Hu (胡朝聖), he realized he could bring art into the places artists go after gallery openings, like a basement coffee shop or an upstairs bar.

But at the center of the scheme they still placed a gallery, Eslite. The Taipei landmark is a hybrid in its own right, combining a 24-hour book store with coffee shops, a gallery and three floors of shopping.

"The idea was to create circulation between non-gallery spaces and a gallery. That way the art moves out into the surrounding area, and also comes back. At each of the bars or lounges you can see the works, and if you're interested you can pick up a catalogue that has a map of the entire show. Or if you want to see everything concentrated in one space, you can come to the [Eslite] gallery and see it all here," he said.

Random-ize greets you with six large flat screen monitors, eight smaller monitors, a double projection installation and a second installation that consists of one small screen and two small screens mounted inside a sculpture, all in the same room!

The exhibition's name puns on "random eyes." Chen explains, "We have so many pieces, that we find the best way is to give the audience its own choice. Maybe they fancy watching silent [work], or maybe they put the headphones on and watch with sound, which ever one you prefer, you watch it."

Putting works in bars is also strangely consistent with this you-be-the-judge democratic ideal. The exhibition's Chinese name, Yieh-shih (夜視) or Light scenes, puns on night market (夜市). Again, Chen explains, "In Taipei, the funny thing is that when you go into small streets, you find things that are more fun than what's in the museums."

The artworks in bars, then, are there to be discovered. If you're interested. And if you become interested enough, you go to Eslite, where it would take at least 11 hours to watch everything.

Hiraki Sawa's Dwelling can be recommended, a black and white sequence of miniature airplane fleets surreally and matter-of-factly flying routes through some typical home interior. As can the films of Taiwanese artist Tsui Kuang-yu, who rams his head into cars, horses, cows and walls, and continually changes prefab suits of clothes, and has the back of his head pelted with TV sets, buckets, bottles and other household objects. And Don Bury (a staff video technician at Goldsmiths) has remixed Top Gun and Saturday Night Fever into dryly amusing homoerotic iconoclasms.

In a sense, this exhibition is an experiment in democracy. Within the limits of the 93 pieces shown and the different contexts they're seen in, Random-ize can be what any individual viewer makes of it. So far, not even the YBAs have offered us that.

Random-ize is on display through June 1, though organizers hope to extend it through June 15 at the gallery's request. Works can be seen at the Eslite Gallery, located at B2, No. 245, Sec. 1, Tunhwa S. Rd. (台北市敦化南路一段245B2) as well as IR Cha Tsanting (IR 茶餐廳), Visavis (對應), Camper, Cafe Inn, Naomi, Dragonfly Gallery (清庭), Citizen Cain (大國民), Saloon (沙龍), Shanghai Tea House (上海茶館), Remix and In House.