Life in Taipei can pretty much go on nonstop with the proliferation of 24-hour supermarkets, bookstores, convenience stores, fast-food outlets and technological advances that allow us to stay in touch with jobs and friends no matter when and regardless of where we are. According to the Council of Labor Affairs, the average person in Taipei works 2,282 hours a year, more than the average worker in every Asian city except for Seoul. What do all those hours actually bring us — and what impact do they have on artistic production?
Those questions were the starting point for Are We Working Too Much?, an exhibition at the Eslite Gallery in the Xinyi outlet. The show is the gallery’s second exhibition in its Cross-Strait Young Artists Exhibition Program and was curated by Gong Jouw-jiun (龔卓軍), who heads the Doctoral Program in Art Creation and Theory at Tainan National University of the Arts.
Gong wants to know what work means to each individual, to their relationships, but especially to the production of art. He invited four artists and a theater group to explore the work experience, moving outside the realm of galleries and studios to the larger world, yet asked them to help bring the viewer inside the process of creation.
At least that’s the theory.
It makes for a rather unusual viewing experience, trying to figure out the commonality of the vastly disparate works — and the eternal question: What was the artist thinking? It also raises the question for the occasional gallery and museumgoer of what constitutes art. Unfortunately, it touches very little on the title question.
Do not let the small reproduction of the Venus de Milo in the entrance to the gallery, standing inside a large steel bowl with a meat cleaver next to it and “blood” spurting from the shoulder sockets put you off. A Logical Venus by Ni Xiang (倪祥) is the first of several installation pieces by the artist. Another is Scarlet Night, an oil, acrylic and silicone painting that is disintegrating before the viewer’s eyes, exposing a world behind.
Chou Yu-cheng (周育正), the winner of the 2012 Taipei Arts Awards and the 2011 Taishin Arts Awards, contributed an installation made up of a several wooden boxes set upon a large tatami platform, each containing memories or objects from a person’s life.
One of the more interesting rooms contains Kao Jun-honn’s (高俊宏) Ruins, Images & Reflections from his Image Crystal Ruins Projects. Photographs taken by John Thompson in Kaohsiung in 1871 and the decaying buildings from old coal mining areas fascinate Kao. He has traveled to several “ruins”, as he calls them, reproducing some of Thompson’s images in photographs or in large charcoal drawings on the walls of these abandoned buildings and capturing anthropologically the remnants of the people who once inhabited these areas.
Hsu Che-yu (許哲瑜) contributed a variety of pieces ranging from real time animations to prints to an intriguing series of “strategy guides” inspired by the Apple Daily’s graphics of news events. They are black and white sketches of his recreation of various crime scenes (mostly murders) that include very detailed explanations in Chinese and English of his thought process for each recreation and the positioning of each object and character.
Chou Yu-cheng (周育正) has a large black acrylic painting — as well as a book that he produced as part of his A Working History of Lu Chieh-te project last year.
Riverbed Theatre’s (河床劇團) contribution is another one of its Just For You mini-plays performed for an audience of one: Six Feet Under — Ten Feet Above. The audience enters through a painting by Hsu Yin-ling (許尹齡) — and emerges 12 minutes later from behind another one — into an Alice in Wonderland-like experience that is a meditation on death and living, ghosts and memories. It provides an opportunity to fall into the unknown. The title refers to the tradition begun in England of burying bodies 6 feet below ground — reportedly to protect the living from the spread of bubonic plague.
Director Craig Quintero said he was very excited about the company being included in the exhibit.
“We have been wanting to move into galleries for 10 to 15 years, almost since the beginning,” he said.
The company began doing Just For You playlets in 2011 and earlier this year it took part in the True Illusion, Illusory Truth — Contemporary Art Beyond Ordinary Experience (真真：當代超常經驗) exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
While the Eslite Gallery is open Tuesdays through Sundays, Six Feet Under — Ten Feet Above will only be performed on weekends.
There is also a “work room” for the committee Gong pulled together for discussions ahead of the show. A pair of white filing cabinets is worth a look. Each drawer frames a photograph, taken from above, of the tables at each of the meetings, littered with bottles, notebooks, food and cigarettes. It is like being a fly on the wall for those discussions — though we are still scratching our heads at what it all has to do with working too much.