Art in the Penumbra

A new exhibit of works by Taiwanese artists opens in Adelaide, Australia this week. The exhibit of video and photography, called Penumbra, takes place at the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art at the University of South Australia. A feature appears in this week's Australian.

The works in the show... are linked by the theme of uncertainty, which [curator Sophie] McIntyre says permeates much of the work emanating from 21st-century Taiwan.

While the island is synonymous with the "economic miracle" that has transformed China and the region from "a totalitarian, agrarian-based society into a democratised and technologically advanced global market player", she says, the continuing ambiguity about its identity and political role translates into individual explorations of identity, as represented by these young artists.

The strongest presence in the show is that of Kuo I-Chen, whom McIntyre brought to Australia for the opening of Penumbra. Born in Kaohsiung (Taiwan's second largest city, with a population of 1.5 million) but resident in the capital, Taipei, Kuo is the face of the new Taiwan art movement, chosen when he was 26 to represent his country at the Venice Biennale in 2005 with a video work called Invade the Prigioni. That work projected the looming shadow of a plane on to the gallery ceiling while the roar of turbines filled the space. That same year, Kuo was awarded the Taipei Fine Arts Museum's grand prize.

Kuo's work installed in the Samstag Museum for Penumbra was created last year and continues the artist's interest in what McIntyre calls "the relationship between human existence, our immediate environment and virtual worlds". Called Survivor, it's an interactive multimedia installation that invites the viewer to wander into virtual worlds devastated by disaster. The survivor of the title is a robot that searches among the wreckage for signs of life.

Kuo has a video-game apocalyptic approach to what McIntyre calls the new Taiwanese universalism.

Another of the artists, Huang Po-Chih, reflects this universalism in a different way, using thousands of digital scans of flowers to construct a kind of organic dance. McIntyre describes the video as showing the "transformative nature of love, as the flower metamorphoses from a twisting, contorted and entangled form into a free-floating voluminous blossom in rapture".

A different kind of romanticism comes through in the work of Wu Diing-Wuu, who uses historical photographs from the time of Japan's colonisation of Taiwan. The fading of people in the images represents the disappearance of the region's indigenous people.

Wu, also known as Wallis Labai, is the oldest of the five artists represented in Penumbra, and his work perhaps is more closely aligned with that earlier generation McIntyre talks about, those for whom art was a way to "give visual expression to the dramatic changes" in Taiwan.

"The older generation see the young artists as a generation that hustles a fair bit, wanting to get to the top fairly quickly," McIntyre says. "But in each of these artists' work you can see they share a feeling, which is embedded in the work, of uncertainty and also melancholy. That word may be a bit strong, but there is a sense of looking for something. Some use nostalgic means, some use sentiment. There's a tension that runs through all this work, which has both a light and dark side. There's strong anxiety."

McIntyre says that while the older generation of Taiwanese artists tend to think that the battles and resistance are over, the younger artists see identity as the new issue.

"Where the older generation drew on national symbols, for the younger generation it's much more personal."

The complete article by Rosemary Sorensen may be viewed here. Penumbra runs until April 4.


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