Identity is rarely an open book. An individual’s sense of self, for example, is constructed moment by moment over a lifetime, with fits and struggles that together hardwire the internal machinery. Similarly, nations often undergo painful development, a consequence, perhaps, of revolution or being separated from a larger polity. Mei Dean-e (梅丁衍) has built much of his artistic career pondering, often with political symbols, what it means to be Taiwanese. With The Glisten of Taiwan (台灣之光), a solo show of paintings, videos and installations, he presents key contemporary icons and historical political figures that have exerted, and continue to exert, a profound influence on the nation and its people.
The exhibition’s Chinese title is crucial to understanding what Mei’s up to. It could be variously translated as “the pride of Taiwan,” “the glory of Taiwan” and the “light of Taiwan.” The phrase typically applies to sports figures who have made some mark on the international stage through hard effort. Examples include pitcher Wang Chien-ming (王建民), golfer Yani Tseng (曾雅妮) and, somewhat tangentially because he’s an American citizen, basketball player Jeremy Lin (林書豪). Mei deconstructs the phrase and finds its spiritual, material and political roots in two disparate, though congruent, elements: nationalistic sloganeering and advertising.
For Taiwanese life is elsewhere — either the West or China or both, and this is the root of the nation’s identity crisis because all its efforts at home are for some dream abroad. Taiwan’s 10 construction projects — depicted here as signs surrounding a Republic Of China (ROC) flag — serve to strengthen the country so it can re-take China. Red and green doors hung in the gallery space serve as emblems of the military dependent’s village where Mei grew up, drawing attention to the ROC’s military glories, the soldiers largely forgotten in favor of those sports celebrities who have found success in the US.
Perhaps it’s no wonder, these works seem suggest, that the international community remains unclear about Taiwan’s status. The ambiguity begins at home.
■ Art Issue Projects (藝術計劃), 32, Ln 407, Tiding Blvd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市堤頂大道二段407巷32號), tel: (02) 2659-7737. Open daily from 11am to 6pm. Closed Mondays
■ Until Aug. 4