In recent years, photographer Shen Chao-liang has won numerous awards for his photography. Since 2005 he has been working on a photography project about Taiwanese vaudeville troupes, which has been turned into a three-part series — Stage, Singer and Stage and Taiwanese Vaudeville Troupes — for a photography exhibition. Stage, a series of works depicting the mobile stages used by performance troupes, is the main subject matter that has earned Shen international acclaim.
Since applying last year, Shen was granted approval to hold an individual exhibit of his works at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), with his Taiwanese vaudeville troupe series as the central theme. The exhibit is the most complete collection of his work on the topic since devoting himself to the project in 2005. A total of 88 works are currently on display, along with the first-ever photography video installation to be on display at the museum. A reading area has also been set up as part of the exhibit, allowing people to flip through published collections of the artist’s work, local and international exhibition catalogues as well as articles about Shen.
The exhibit begins with the Stage series of large stand alone prints of the stages, decorated and painted with designs. The main display consists of pictures of the stages arranged in a totem-like setting. Shen has intentionally photographed the stages without audiences or performers present, giving them a surrealistic appearance on the streets, in front of temples, and inside factories. At the end of the display there is a short two-and-a-half minute video that combines all of the mobile stage photos into a rapid succession without sounds and crowds. Aside from the mobile stages, there is also a visual contrast made between singers and mobile stages on display, providing a realistic portrayal of the popular mobile stages and the Taiwanese performance troupes using them.
Vaudeville troupes have been a common part of Taiwanese culture since at least the 1970s, when they reached their peak, usually appearing at weddings, funerals, and other special occasions. Originally, tents were set up for performances, but eventually they started using “electric flower cars” (diesel trucks refashioned with a stage, special lighting and a sound system), and have more recently begun using diesel trucks with hydraulic engines. The trucks are prepared for each performance, with screens coming down, allowing them to be transformed into elaborate stages.
As popular culture has changed, the popularity of Taiwanese vaudeville troupes has diminished. As a professional photographer, Shen has spent a lot of time on his long and arduous journey, gradually creating an impressive visual record of this once vibrant part of Taiwan’s entertainment industry. Somewhere between boisterousness and quiet scenes, modernity and tradition, and an illusory sort of reality, Shen has managed to capture and portray a very significant aspect of Taiwanese society. “Illusion Reality: The Photo Exhibition of Shen Chao-liang” will be on display in Gallery E at TFAM until Nov. 25.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)