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2014.03.28 Fri, by Translated by: Daniel Szehin Ho
The Taiwan-Thailand Axis

ThaiTai—A Measure of Understanding

Open-Contemporary Art Center (OCAC)

URS21 Chung Shan Creative Hub, Taipei (No. 21, Minsheng East Road, Chungshan Dist., Taipei) Dec 7, 2013–Feb 8, 2014

The night before Hsu Chia Wei headed to Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum in order to take part in a finalist artists’ dialogue for the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, the Open-Contemporary Art Center (OCAC)—an alternative space run by Hsu and a dozen artists—welcomed greater crowds than usual at its opening.

Lin Chiwei (林其蔚), an artist who recently returned from Beijing to settle in Taipei, opened the exhibition with a sound performance, “Tape for Bangkok”, for this exhibition project that has taken over three years to fruition. With the artist handing out one long tape with written phonetic characters, the audience passed on loop after loop into the heart of the crowd. While the sounds recited by the crowd harbored various intonations, layer after layer slowly emanated outwards, and dissipated just as leisurely.

The 31 artists/artist groups participating in the project are all members or friends of this artist-run space. In the past two years, they have been moved back and forth, here and there. Such an exchange on the edges of empires also differ methodologically from the post-colonial discursive framework of the West Heavens project, say—the curators, jiandyin [sic](Pornpilai and Jirandej Meemalai), along with these participating artists, have frequently chosen sensorial or direct person-to-person communication as a method of exchange. Sakarin Krue-On’s five-channel work, for instance, has one small television screen showing how he learned to make tofu from a tofu master through the help of gestures. Jiradej Meemalai said that Sakarin found a distinct taste from memory—the tofu that the Kuomintang (the Nationalists) brought to northern Thailand. On the screen, the video’s close focus was aimed squarely on the strands of mold growing on the tofu, with the white cotton-like mesh seemingly respiring—rising, falling—through the time-lapse filming. On one screen to the side was a beautiful close-up of a peony—a video pairing where another master explained, in Chinese, the gongbi (careful, detailed, realist) technique of imitating peonies.

Sakarin Krue-On, “Documentary of Lost in Translation”, five-channel video installation, 2013
Sakarin Krue-On,《失譯的紀錄》,五頻道錄像裝置,2013

A screen in the back showed an interview with a student who came to study in Taiwan; the place where he is from, Mae Salong, has many descendants of the remnant Kuomintang armies in northern Thailand. Sakarin let people interview him directly, while he retreated to one side, with the confident dialogue in Chinese narrating a rich tale. Along with Hsu Chia Wei’s work from last year, which shot Huai-Mo village, the cultural links to northern Thailand is an important geographical strain in this exhibition. In this single-channel video (with the same name as the village), a Nationalist (Kuomintang) agent who had changed names four times stayed in the jungle with a large group of orphans. One of them, the oldest girl, was in charge of the interview, while the other children operated the cameras. We see the old church in the background and everyone’s concentrated looks at night. If one’s memory of Hsu Chia Wei’s exhibition setting from Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum—especially of the complex, interlinked, and referential plotlines—is still fresh, then perhaps this vast web arising from the exchange and intimate cooperation of many artists will not be unfamiliar either.

Yeh Wei Li (叶伟立), whose vast amount of objects and bricolage from his studio (with the sobriquet “Antiquity-Like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate”) was shown in the Taipei Biennale last year, is one good example that illustrates how this exchange has been spontaneous. Yeh’s “Divinity Trace”, shown in the exchange exhibition in Thailand last year, was the result of his cooperation with Jutamas Buranajade and Piti Amraranga; here, it has grown to become “Divinity Trace #5”. On one side, there is also another project collaboratively attempted by him and the brothers Kritsada (curator) and Suwicha Dussadeewanich (artist). The period where these basic, impoverished materials go back and forth is much like an improvisation, constantly changing its appearances and structure. The artists remarked that whether the cooperation was smooth and easy or else riddled with misunderstandings, the works were surprisingly equal when it came to the final result.

The story of this unusual experience is not peculiar to those familiar with the Open-Contemporary Art Center. In fact, even the Art Center itself had moved to Bangkok’s Chinatown for six months in the process of carrying out this three-year project, while its members went back and forth. In honest truth, the guiding principles in this exchange project was not to organize but to entangle. Some were obviously moved at the opening: the forking paths of co-operation had led them along by chance occurrences. Just as the “5” at the end of Yeh Wei Li’s title “Divinity Trace” reminds us how every time the works land in a space is very much like a reincarnation, so the different combinations and versions cannot be more natural. And because of this, many agree when discussing this exhibition: the numerous videos and installations cannot be clearly narrated; they only work with someone from this journey leading the way.

Hsu Chia Wei, “Huai-Mo Village”, single channel video, 2012 (film still)

Yeh Wei Li & Jutamas Buranajade + Piti Amraranga, “Divinity Trace #5”, installation, 2012
葉偉立與Jutamas Buranajade + Piti Amraranga,《仙跡 #5》,裝置,2012