A Review of PLUS X at TKG+ Gallery, Taipei
Originally published on Arteviste, December 14, 2019.
To celebrate its tenth anniversary, PLUS X at TKG+ by Tina Keng Gallery presents the captivating synergy of thirteen contemporary artists: Wu Tien-Chang, Kao Chung Li, Mit Jai Inn, Yuan Goang-Ming, Yao Jui-Chung, Sawangwongse Yawnghwe, Chou Yu-Cheng, Chia-En Jao, Hou I-Ting, Charwei Tsai, Su Yu-Hsien, Joyce Ho and Chen Ching-Yuan orchestrate a truly remarkable spectrum of aesthetics, mediums and concepts. In a dialogue between generations, the artists re-define with personal flair the role of Taiwanese contemporary art in investigating its complex identity. Inebriated by the prospect of such pungent and experimental show, I entered the gallery rife with expectation - not doomed to ebb.
Perching on a magenta sofa in a bourgeois living room, whose furniture is so listless to appear sinister, a book floats open, wary of being shut. A Yuan-dynasty blue-and-white porcelain jar is the only object that stands out as culturally specific in the inchoate room. Lit by the dim light of an evening lamp, washed in silent tranquillity, the video Dwelling (2014) by Yuan Goang-Ming, creates an undead atmosphere. An explosion unsettles this alleged blissful panorama, in which I have already become comfortably ensconced. Artfully addressing the question of Taiwanese identity, Dwelling invites the viewer to face the fluid notions of homeness, land and nation. The explosion in the film becomes indeed a titillating threshold: Taiwanese contemporary art is pushing boundaries and claiming its voice, its silence becoming louder.
For the sake of context, it's essential to know that TKG+ is the contemporary platform of Tina Keng Gallery, which was founded as Lin & Keng Gallery in 1992. It has been at the forefront of the promotion of Asian masters such as Zao Wou-ki, Lin Fengmian and Sanyu – precious pearls in the contemporary art market. TKG+ represents the revolutionary mission of Tina Keng Gallery of expanding its purview beyond the standardised classic aesthetics of a commercial gallery and increase its experimental breadth by encompassing emerging artists from the region working across different mediums. The ‘+’ signals the potential for creativity and the boundless possibilities of Asian contemporary art unravelling into this century. Most of all, PLUS X asserts the revival and distinctiveness of Taiwanese identity in art.
Home to an exciting fusion of ethnicities and cultures, Taiwan has gone through a complex history of colonisation, modernisation and democratisation in the last century. From Japanese occupation to the retreat from China to Taiwan of Chiang-Kai Sheik in 1949, until the United Nations’ ejection of Taiwan in deference to China in the seventies, the national identity of Taiwan has been in an unsettling state of flux. In this landscape, contemporary artists inevitably assume the role of spokespeople, patently narrating, endorsing and criticising a crucial time of transformation, globalisation and the rising of a pluralistic society. Veering away from the political factionalism and oppositional rhetoric of the avant-garde art of the 1990s, the artists in PLUS X delve into aspects of Taiwanese culture that have been marginalised or overlooked in the past.
The exhibition spans the three floors of Tina Keng Gallery and unquestionably deserves the importance of such space. Welcomed by the video work Father Tongue (2017) by Chia-En Jao, which explores questions of language, communication between generations and paternal affection, the main hall unleashes a panoramic orchestration of a manifold of materials and topics reflecting the intricacies of Taiwan’s contemporary art. Yao Jui-Chung’s photographic series Incarnation (2019) portrays the statues of deities created by Han people among dilapidated buildings, cemeteries, amusement parks and industrial complexes. Devoid of human presence and shrouded in a black-and-white solemnity, the divinity cynically stands in the picture, embodying the devotees’ longing and representing the ubiquity of Taiwanese religious culture.
Juxtaposing the photographs are the divergent, politically confronting works by Burmese artist Sawangwongse Yawnghwe. A clay army of people from different ages marches towards a volatile future: People’s Desire (2018) appears as a political manifesto for democracy and freedom. Interestingly enough, the solely openly political work in the show is created by the only non-Taiwanese artist. I am hesitant whether to interpret this move as expanding the discourse of nationhood into a global issue or a clever stratagem to wish away the political burden onto another country, nonetheless hinting to its viability.
Hovering on the second floor was Hou I-Ting’s White Uniform (2017) which highlights her investigation of the historical role of women’s labour in Taiwan. In creating this mesmeric work, Hou collaborated with employees of the Taiwan Railways Administration kitchen to reproduce historical designs of biandang boxes – the Taiwanese version of bento boxes popularised during the Japanese colonisation. The images are patiently crafted by a group of women who finely cut seaweed and place it over rice; posing questions around gender, labour’s power dynamics, national identity and colonialism.
The exhibition concludes in Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions by Wu Tien-Chang, first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2015. A membrane prop moves artificially in a machine-operated theatrical scenery and the figure walks without moving in an undead state. By changing clothes, its identity appears to be in flux: shifting from soldier to air force commander. Nonetheless, the figure remains a nomad and migrant, hinting with nostalgia at the changes of regimes in Taiwan. The gaudy colours, tacky music and flashy attire act as a reminder of the popular local culture celebrated in folk traditions and religious festivals.
The curation of Wu Tien-Chang’s multifarious video works elicits my only critic of this alluring exhibition. Confined in an overly spacious, noisy and bleak platform above the ground floor, its effectiveness falters, denying to the viewer the mystical contemplation and foreboding calmness necessary to sink into its tragic chorus. Despite the curatorial drawbacks, PLUS X generates a distinctive and polymorphous dialogue on the potential of Taiwanese contemporary art today.
Written by Maria Dolfini, a Contributor to Arteviste