CHOU Tai-Chun’s Experiments toward
Paintings in between Nature and Environment, Landscape and Incident
Written by Shim Sangyong
Ph.D. Art History / Professor, Dongduk Women’s University
CHOU Tai-Chun’s paintings start from the fact that they do not focus only on the beauty of nature. Through the artist’s experience, he realizes that nature cannot always be an aesthetic object. He has experienced the other side of nature, which we generally call a ‘disaster’ that can reverse the development of our civilization and technology back to square one. He has witnessed natural disasters transforming once proud achievements of human such as monumental landmarks and successful scientific, technological outcomes to uncertainty and chaos. In other words, he has seen many sites instantly bursting like bubbles like it never existed before. The main title of CHOU’s solo exhibition in 2016 was “State of Flux”. ‘Flux’ was the message CHOU received from the disasters, which meant that overexploitation of nature results in its revenge and civilization blinded by capital gain is a sign of violence... The artist mentioned, “no matter how deep the foundation is or how tall you build the buildings, at one point when the island is overloaded, the disastrous cinematic collapse is thus unavoidable”.
This was the reason behind CHOU’s expression of painting overharvested island and vertical land sites into a liquidized landscape of horizontal floating. CHOU’s paintings seem like disastrous landscapes. In his paintings, products of urbanism and civilization are torn apart in a demassifying manner. Massive mechanical construction or facilities collapsed tragically are haphazardly entangled. The earth split apart and oil pipelines that once spread on top of it are twisted and ruptured. Winding mountainside roads are cut off here and there and the ever-high concrete structures that once boasted its height are nowhere seen anymore, its trace barely remaining.
Not all of CHOU’s paintings are like such mentioned above. There aren’t any aesthetic elements in his paintings such as peaceful landscape of the sunset, watermill, well-groomed garden, or trees along the street that one might have seen in a traditional 17th century landscape, which originated from the Netherlands. Nevertheless, there is no rush for us to consider CHOU’s paintings as ‘landscape of disasters’ due to the reason that his pictorial construction is very dynamic and lively and his brush strokes and color tones are often too bright to be just a disaster report. If such expression is possible, it may seem ‘hopeful’. Realistic representation of objects is happily mixed with pure expressive gestures or abstract elements. In CHOU’s paintings, there exists of both sides that seem to be in conflict with each other.
It is clear that CHOU has a deep awareness about harmful consequences of conquering civilization and its cure. There is also no doubt that his thoughts are based on reflective intelligence in regards to such awareness falling apart, reconstruction and healing of the distressed. According to this, disasters obsess about lack of space and time and in order to conquer this, it resulted in civilization blinded by timesaving, space invading, and predicting the future. Buried by the concerns of ‘size, mass, quality, speed, number, price, power, and velocity’, disasters are result of exclusion from other possibilities and freedom. Thomas Merton saw this as a characteristic of living on the brink of apocalypse. CHOU continues to set force meaningful discourses about “Action through Inaction”. He claims that even now if we listen to ‘the course of nature’, correspond and be in harmony with its mysterious power of healing, we can change the environment and step in the path of nature’s self-healing. Through this, the once fallen can be erected again in a different way, flowing will reoccur among the stuck, and people will comfort and help each other without any conflicts.
Even if CHOU faces the reality, accuses our current time, and suggests alternative ways, he is not a neutral reporter, harsh accuser or a critic of such incidents or situations. In addition, his paintings are neither objective document of disasters nor research based on intellectual foundings. The things we are dealing with from his works cannot be defined as such. It is more profound, delicate, comprehensive, and realistic than that and the most important thing is CHOU’s attitude as an artist who reflects on nature and civilization through disasters. He is not dealing with just the incidents; he also deals with landscapes that are embracing the incidents in itself. As a matter of fact, CHOU’s paintings are not just about incidents or landscapes, they are landscapes within incidents at the same time incidents dressed up as landscapes. The artist’s aesthetic awareness is formed upon intimate balance between the two. Through experiences of disasters, CHOU Tai-Chun as an artist goes beyond the bounds of ‘an artist in a modernistic sense who is confined in his or her small atelier’. He sets out to become an observer or a watcher of extensive civilizational incidents. By crossing between the space of historical and social separation, he is seeking the balance of new aesthetic that is not buried by aesthetic of objects or phenomenon and not biased by criticism on civilization.