REVIEWED: True illusion, Illusory Truth: Contemporary Art Beyond Ordinary Experience

By Kai Nien

True illusion, Illusory Truth: Contemporary Art Beyond Ordinary Experience, featuring nineteen contemporary artists - mainly Taiwanese - is being held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum from 26 January to 19 May. Exploring both illusion and reality, the works include video, photography, installation, performance and interactive projects that reflect on and respond to socio-political conditions.

Cheng-Ta Yu, The Letters, 2012
Courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

The exhibition draws inspiration from ancient Chinese tales -The Mural and The Painter. In The Mural, the scholar Zhu Xiaolian and a friend visit a Buddhist temple. In a heightened state of mind, Zhu walks inside a mural and falls in love affair with a fairy maiden. He is able to come out of the mural only after an aged monk taps on the wall.

In The Painter, the imperial mandarin Zhao Yan buys a screen depicting the image of a beautiful woman. Deeply in love, Zhao continuously calls out her name - Zhen Zhen. When Zhen finally steps out of the screen, the two get married and have a child. Bringing the couple’s happiness to a close, a friend warns Zhao that his wife is actually a demon and urges him to kill her with a magic sword. When Zhao returns home, sword-in-hand, Zhen tearfully reveals her true identity as the Fairy of the Southern Mountains. Overwhelmed with sorrow because of her husband’s betrayal, she takes her beloved child and walks back into the screen. As a result, whenever Zhao looks at the screen, he sees the image of Zhen and their child.

It goes without saying that neither these ancient tales or their protagonists are based on reality. Ironically however, the name Zhen in Chinese means being real and true yet True illusion, Illusory Truth: Contemporary Art Beyond Ordinary Experience contends with the unreal (or surreal) and the deceptive.

Cheng-Ta Yu’s video work The Letters (2012) was chosen from his junk email box. It is based on emails sent from people the world over who have tried to defraud the artist. Yu invited actors whose nationality matched those of the email senders’ characters to play the roles of Irish salesman, dying Kuwaiti widow and even the son of a Libyan leader. In Yu’s piece, actors read the emails - recreating the fraudulent scenarios. By using actors who potentially fit the physical characteristics and accents of the impersonating email senders, as well as drawing on international socio-political issues, the piece also challenges the spectator’s imagination and credulity.

Li-Ren Chang, Exotic Magician, 2011. Courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

In Li-Ren Chang’s video work Exotic Magician (2011) the characters indulge in Internet games of cosplay in order to avoid reality or as attempts of redeeming themselves. This however, is not a fake documentary work. Chang did not shoot the video; he collected all material including news clips, music and sound from the Internet.  He then wrote the script, used Internet translation tools and synthesized a female ’voice’ by computer to generate a grammatically incorrect French voice-over. 

In the same way as ancient tales reveal fantasy worlds that help transport the spectator into unattainable realities, Yu Cheng Chou’s Proposal I (2012) features several printers placed on a table whereby ink is replaced with water to print out the ’unrealised projects’ on special paper. The ephemeral pieces are legible for only ten seconds after printing. As soon as the water evaporates, the audience can read nothing about this once ’existent inexistence’.

Chun Chiang Niu, Proof I, 2012
Courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

Chun Chiang Niu’s Proof I (2012) is a double projection. On one screen, he asks his family, friends and lovers a question: If I will be gone from the world, what would you want to have from me? He uses close-up shots focusing on his face while the question is being answered. On the flipside, one sees Chiang once again, but here it is the artist responding to the very question about the others. These ’private’ conversations reveal the true affection between loved ones. Echoing Marcel Proust’s argument that we need artists to reveal the beauty of our surroundings, Proof I adds to this by revealing the beauty of our own truth and thus appears more ’genuine’ than most of the other works on display. 

Craig Quintero, Nobody Gets Hurt, 2013
Courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

Furthermore, Joyce Ho and Craig Quintero have created their own unique installations - Four Seasons (2013) and Nobody Gets Hurt (2013) respectively. During the week Four Seasons is a monochrome lily-pond with an empty stage in the background. Nobody Gets Hurt features a sculpture of a faceless woman sitting on a chair. She is leaning forward as ’perspiration’ drips from her forehead. Part of the piece is set in a different room where a car that appears to have been involved in a crash is placed in the centre of the space. On weekends, however, these two installations are transformed into ten minute long performances whereby actors and one spectator at a time bring the piece to life. Visitors partake in the embodied encounter, which provides one with an opportunity to see and be seen, to step into the unknown, to reveal one’s individual inner world.

Joyce Ho, Four Seasons, 2013
Courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

True illusion, Illusory Truth: Contemporary Art Beyond Ordinary Experience therefore brings together a range of pieces that focus on particular ’realities’ and individual and common ’truths’. Inspired by tales from the past, present economic and socio-political conditions as well as looking into the future, the message is that Illusion imitates reality and reality imitates illusion. In their own particular ways, these works deal with human desire, interpersonal relationships, and society as a whole. One may consider this exhibition an interesting exploration or a chance to reconsider the meaning of reality and see the invisible part of everyday life.

·       True illusion, Illusory Truth: Contemporary Art Beyond Ordinary Experience Taipei Fine Arts Museum.  Taipei, Taiwan 26 Jan - 19 May 2013