In the Artificial Wilderness, We Wait without Holding Back

-Chou Tai-Chun’s solo exhibition Action Through Inaction

 

Written by Ching-Wen CHANG

Assistant Professor at Department of Arts and Design, National Tsing Hua University

 

It does not take more than a snap of a finger for us to enter a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. According to Diane Ackerman in her The Human Age, humans have “created a bounty of new landscapes, and lest the feat be lost on anyone, we even take on the suffix ‘scape’ to describe them,” and these examples include cityscape, townscape, windowscape, mallscape, soundscape, etc.[1] How did these respectively different landscapes become Landscape? Human’s definition of landscape, terminologically speaking, as well as the self-knowledge and the knowledge of one’s relationship with the environment have experienced several transitions. We do not know since when but the landscape of disaster has become a category in landscape too, no matter it is a rational thinking based upon a necessary scientific land management to prevent the yet-to-come disaster, or a proof for us to lament for Nature, or a complicated text for the eyes desiring something exotic. When disasters become the object to be viewed or even depicted, how should artists deal with such sudden and unexpected calamities – the overwhelmingly tragic defeat suffered by humans – and their harm to the environment? Or in other words, what kind of philosophy of Nature can be achieved through contemporary art’s concern for and exploration of land? 

 

Chou adopts a trilogy form to develop a narrative representing the relation between oneself and the environment. The three stages of the series, as shown in “Globe Silent”, “State of Flux”, and “Action Through Inaction”, visualize painter’s take on the external world and how he reflects upon his position in it. His painting often features one important signature, which is how paintings as they are respond to the epoch. Unlike photography or other practices related to mechanically produced images, the painting here in our discussion, as a narrative, reveals its allegorical character. In “Globe Silent” series, the virtuality of media becomes the dominant theme. The exaggerated, distorted, and absurd images are categorized as landscape, as the artist adopts a painting technique with the attempt to produce a voice by imitating the tone how digital devices speak. Fluorescent colors sparkle against the dark black base, while the manmadeness not only highlights the co-creating of the world between humans and machines but also the mutual trauma as if it were agreed in writing by the two parties. As for State of Flux, the exhibition layout in the obscure space with little light creates a stage-like continuity, where each painting becomes a frame as in the moving picture, forcing viewers to gaze into the nature-themed, mostly in background, images. However, since a look too close makes the panoramic view impossible, machines, measurement, mining, and any other actions categorized as “development” are surrounded by images of collapse, falling, sinking, and cracking until everything is brought into a conclusion in the feebly draping canvas in Beyond the Silence 030 – The Falling. The “collapse” here, according to the artist, emphasizes the state of flux rather than its destruction. The constantly changing significance not only points to the endless transformation of the landscape but also the weakened and softened foundation in terms of geology. Such a sense of helplessness that we seem to be so powerless in front of Nature and that there is nothing we can do to alter the situation is a lament for the doom of humans. The two projects mentioned above were inspired by the natural disasters the artist had a strong feeling for, especially the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake in Japan which resulted in the second biggest nuclear accident in human history. Therefore, the artist in his “Globe Silent” reexamines and reflects upon the intransitive experience of the mediated disaster, but the lingering science-fiction romance in the series is later replaced by a realization after everything has been shattered by the overwhelming calamities in State of Flux. Just like the activists shouting “nobody is an outsider,” the fact that humans and the whole ecological system belong to the same land means more than an imagination. 

 

During his residence in Japan in 2017, Chou and his artist friends visited the area affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The brief and peaceful encounter showed him the spirits of the towns ready to put the disaster behind them for a resurrection. The stable land seemed still and serene, but its crystallization was a mixture of the two forces – the layers of burying and the expectation of a new life. The traumas of the land as well as of humans were dug out in heaps, from deep inside, covered by the nuclear protective cloth. Meanwhile, the blossom of life had to begin from zero again, like the withered waiting for another spring.  

 

Several exhibits for Chou’s 2018 solo exhibition “Action Through Inaction” were completed during his residence in Japan, including Back to – The Lightness of a Carrier and Back to – The Poetic Fetters of the Future. The unmounted canvases represent temporary but yet flowing scenes. They adopt a narrative-based practice in which the artist touches upon specific accidents and events. The imagery, sometimes reminiscent of kites and sometimes of sails on the sea, flaunts in the distance which is impossible for spectators to look at it closely. The unapproachable paintings imply the artist’s desire to accentuate a different, and more abstract, expression of emotions. Apart from the response to the close-range accident/event, he is concerned about the filtered and recollected opinion after a moment of contemplation. 

 

His “Beyond the Mountains” series continues the artistic vocabulary of image recurring in his previous works, featuring the amassed layers of colors which are not only to cover but also to penetrate. The modeled composition in particular intends to visualize a chronical transformation of thought within a continuous structure. In the paintings, the image of landscape is often penetrated by sharp and absolute lines in the most tyrannical way.  These unstoppable lines decide the fundamental tone of the image. The planes of bright colors extend and emit radiatively until they occupy the space defined by the lines, manipulating the quiet, heroically tragic metaphors of the falling and flowing collapse that can no longer be controlled. Chou’s skill in creating dynamics, a signature of his artistic practice, is also noticeable in Beyond the Mountains series. Among many contemporary Taiwanese painters who show an interest in re-depicting landscape as a visualization of their personal worldview, Chou is certainly one of the most distinctive examples with his structurally fragmentized landscape.

 

There is an icon image threading all the exhibits together – the tent.  It appears in the paintings physically while its existence can also be found symbolically in the space arrangement. The tent, as a temporal residency, guarantees the minimum demand of living as it also offers humans a shelter and the place to take a rest. The mobility of the tent also suggests a guerilla way of survival, fighting against the wild Nature beyond the grasp of humans, or even the giant beast named “system.” Here, Chou’s tent, with its door lifted open, symbolizes the direct encounter between humans and the outside world.  

 

In the face of a future with little to hope for, he would like to continue the waiting without holding back.

 

 

[1] Diane Ackerman, The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, the Chinese version translated by Chuang Ann-Chi (Taipei: China Times Publishing Co., 2015) 39. 
 

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