The Unreal is Rather More Real
Written by Kim Younggi
Curator, OCI Museum of Art
‘‘Don’t you understand the situation?” ‘Situation’ is certainly a word often used, but it is actually not easy to grasp the meaning. The scope of the word is so comprehensive, and in addition, it is made up of a lot of information coming from outside. ‘Outside’ is an abbreviation for something ‘in need of change’. Change means reproduction of information, which is usually difficult to maintain a good direction. Rather than avoiding distortion and complementing for sharing, the positions and views of the innumerable agents of reproduction act in spite of themselves as new pollution and deterioration. And to make things worse, if various intentions come in, confusion is inevitable.
For example, it is not only buildings that are shaken by an earthquake. A train of rumors coming simultaneously from a myriad of unknown sources lead to confusion, and all kinds of misleading media reports invite even greater confusion. Geological perturbation spreads out to become perturbation of perception and communication, finally to shake society as a whole. The ‘actual earthquake situation’ is quite different from the cliché in our head, and the reality increasingly turns into the unreal. We often hear from people who have experienced disasters saying, ‘it was unreal.’ The world of science fiction is not somewhere far away. The rumors and misleading news that crop up here and there bear witness that the boundary between the real and the surreal is not so clear. The unreal scene is actually more realistic.
So the scene of disaster that Chou Tai-Chun presents is compromised by dazzling colors that would not fit in with the disaster at all, and by some transcendental forms mixed with the landscape of reality. Through the big and small disasters that he has observed in Taiwan, he realized that the situation depends on this interface, that is, on ‘how and what to communicate, accept, and combine’, rather than on the quantitative/qualitative details of the disaster itself. What he unfolds on the canvas is the scene that has been through the interface.
As rumors spread, the lush green leaves are encroaching on the canvas. Something is about to spring up through the thick and darkish tent that seems to be perfect for covering and hiding anything. The more you try to hold on tight and press it, sensing the crisis approaching, the easier it paradoxically becomes to pierce it. The moment the threshold is reached, the giant tree trunk stretches out like a truth that can no longer be controlled. The dents, which look like scratches on the surface of a plant encroached upon by tension, are stitched up with colorful putty and thread mixed with various boundaries and thoughts.
He does not aim for representation or illusion. As if pulling tight a tent, a pavilion, or a banner, the work done on the frame-less canvas produces a tempo that resembles a tent or a curtain that announces the opening of the stage. The work is ‘screened or performed’ in front of the audience as if it were a film enjoyed in a safe theater. The white cube is the actual situation that the audience is faced with, and the work becomes another ‘interface’ to exchange the contents.
The leitmotif of the exhibition, prepared over the autumn in Seoul, is the assumption that ‘what if something unexpected happens in the middle of Seoul?’ A few days before he left Seoul, an earthquake did occur in Pohang, and the vibration was heard throughout Seoul as well as across the Korean peninsula. Here and there in the canvas we see pieces of scenery around the studio where he stayed. Yet what he saw is probably more accurate than the scene that an office worker in Jongno saw, who had been passing by the area for a number of years.
After the solo exhibition in 2016, Chou Tai-Chun went over to Korea and Japan to work as a resident artist. Over the year, he must have visited many more places, met more people, experienced many things, and felt a lot. Unlike spoken or written languages, painting is not bound by the barriers between nations. That does not mean it always works well. Although he has found many subject matters from his surroundings, he has always had the logic and the framework to apply universally. The images to be exhibited this time may be more comprehensive and more abstract. This is a painstaking effort of an artist who deals with visual language to cover broader issues and convey messages more naturally to more people. The message is more hopeful than before. ‘Sweetness follows bitterness’, ‘Time is a great healer,’ as the saying goes. Since the wound is followed by healing and the disaster by recovery, it is still a world worth living in.