TAIWANESE CONTEMPORARY ART INSTALLATION TAIWAN-CHINA RELATIONS ARTIST INTERVIEW
When Tsong Pu was studying overseas in the 1970s he would introduce himself as Chinese or as being from China. Later, as China opened it’s borders and more art from the country was exposed to the outside world, Tsong began to introduce himself as Taiwanese. Now, he introduces himself as a Shanghai-born artist who lives in Taiwan.
Cultural relations between Taiwan and China have always been complicated and the current success Chinese contemporary artists are enjoying globally generally outstrips that of artists who are living and working in Taiwan. Although originally from China himself, abstract artist Tsong Pu does not see much collaboration between the two countries.
“Each side does their own thing. At the moment you will find that very few Taiwanese artists show their work in Mainland China, in galleries or in museums. But you will find that many artists from China show their works in Taiwanese galleries or museums.”
Tsong believes that Taiwanese artists and art professionals need to work hard to change this situation, “to give collectors and buyers more confidence in Taiwanese art.” He goes on to state that the Chinese art market is created and supported by the Taiwanese collector.
“Much of the artwork coming out of China is being sold to Taiwanese collectors. The [Taiwanese] government supports Chinese artists, but the Chinese government doesn’t support Taiwanese artists.”
This view is expressed in the installation One Comes from Emptiness (2009, mixed media), which we discuss with Tsong in this article. Blake Carter, writing for the Taipei Times in November last year, talked about the piece:
“I was surprised to find that some of the ropes he installed at the Biennial fall onto a bent metal signpost that reads ‘Taiwan Contemporary Art Museum.’ There is no such place. Many artists complain that Taiwan’s museums – especially in the capital, and specifically the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) – don’t pay enough attention to the country’s artists.”
Blake went on to say that “Taiwanese artists are relegated to the museum’s smaller galleries downstairs while Chinese artists Fang Lijun, Cai Guo-Qiang and Ai Weiwei get large exhibitions at TFAM.” When asked by Blake whether One Comes from Emptiness was a comment on Taiwan’s art institutions and their treatment of Taiwanese art and artists, Tsong replied, “Yes.”
This is part three of a three part series. In this part we relay to you Tsong’s views on the artistic relationship between Taiwan and China and look at two further installations by the artist. Both of these works are tied to the artist’s signature grid pattern, the repetition of 1 x 1 cm squares often intersected with a diagonal line. This grid form is represented in the weave of the nylon rope in One Comes from Emptiness (2009, mixed media) and pulled apart and reconstituted in the separate canvases of Declaration Independence (first presented 1996, mixed media). For more on what to expect from the first and second parts of this series, please read the notes at the bottom of this post.
One Comes from Emptiness (2009, mixed media installation) was shown at Viewpoints and Viewing Points: 2009 Asian Art Biennial. In your artist statement for this exhibition you suggested that people from the West and people from the East will perceive this installation differently. Could you explain further?
“I tried to pretend that the rope is just like calligraphy: more natural and softer. This soft line is like Chinese calligraphy or Chinese traditional ink painting. When you see a Chinese courtyard, it makes you feel very natural, it’s soft…. It has something representing the water, the wind, the earth. I used very simple lines or string to create circles. These circles remind me of a Japanese courtyard, its oriental elements, and the lines are like the rain. A traditional Chinese courtyard always expresses these kinds of things. I tried to … merge [this] with Western style.
The steel part is more structural – it has more strength – and represents Western art expression: strong, energetic, long lasting. I am influenced by an artist from England called Anthony Caro who creates sculptures from steel.”
Why do the circles overlay the steel?
“At the very beginning, I tried to present only the circles and the simple white lines but I thought it was too beautiful…. It didn’t have any power. [The circles overlap the steel because] the nylon rope is soft and flexible. It can’t be cut or broken and it will flow over things. Of the material, you can see that one is soft and one is hard, so they contrast. That is the basic structure [of the work]. Different style, different shape, different material, different thinking. But when they come together they can merge.”
So they can exist together?
“Yes, yes. Together they can generate something new, a new way of thinking.”
Is there anything else you’d like to say about One Comes from Emptiness?
“This work was created in 2009. During this year a major typhoon hit Taiwan. This typhoon caused a landslide which covered a mountain village. Because of this event, the natural environment and the view of the landscape was changed. A house that has been moved or destroyed might not actually look so terrible in its new position. After you have viewed it for sometime, you might realise that it actually looks quite beautiful.”
We are interested in your installation Declaration Independence (first presented 1996, mixed media) because you showed it in 1996 and then again this year at your TFAM retrospective, “Art From the Underground“. Can you explain the relationship between the objects and each painting?
“The idea for this work comes from [Transposition of Light and Water (1992, mixed media installation)] but it is represented in a different space. I took one cube from this work and distributed it into several pieces.”
The way you have used the gallery space in Declaration Independence is quite different to how you have used it in other installation pieces.
“These are canvases, just like [The White Line on Grey (mixed media, 1983)] is a canvas. I used the same technique [to paint them both]. The ones that are the same are grouped together. The paintings are like different pages in a book; the pattern [on the canvases] resembles words without any special meaning.
This [coat hanging on the wall] is an object and this object has some dimension – it is 3D and not flat – but [the paintings] are flat, so when they are placed with the 3D objects they will have a conversation. The paintings are like a code and when I separate them in this way they are like the pages [of a book] on the wall.
The paintings have no meaning, but the objects may project some meaning onto them. Among the objects are some maps. When all these things are separate they have no meaning but when they are placed together they could have some meaning. I am not sure whether the paintings influence the objects, or the objects influence the paintings. When you open a book there is a lot of information in it. It is like this book on the wall has been opened and many things have started to happen. There is a conversation between [the paintings and the objects], a relationship.”
And is it you, the artist, who brings meaning to this book, or is it the task of the viewer?
“It should be both. I hope it is the viewer.”
About this series
This Art Radar interview with Taiwanese artist Tsong Pu has been presented in three parts. In part one, Master Tsong discusses two works in which he has used and adapted his most well known technique, a 1 cm by 1 cm grid pattern. In part two, the artist speaks on two very different installation pieces, close in date of construction but not in their theory of development. Part three talks about some of the artist’s most recent installation work.
We have also premised each part with some of the artist’s views on the current Taiwanese contemporary art industry, as developed from his roles as mentor, curator and master artist.
- Tsong Pu discusses six artworks: Part II – Installations and art funding – August 2010 – the second part in this revealing series
- Tsong Pu discusses six artworks: Part I – Chasing lines across space – August 2010 – the first part in this revealing series
- Not-so-underground artist showcased in basement gallery: Tsong Pu’s TFAM solo – June 2010 – an overview of the Tsong’s 2010 TFAM retrospective, images and biography
- Is China shooting a cultural missile at Taiwanese art? Taipei Times examines – April 2010 – a summary of an editorial, discussion of the two nations’ cultural “cross-pollination”
- China to use “soft power” of arts for international influence – January 2010 – a summary of an article, puts forward the idea that China is intentionally promoting its art and artists to disseminate its political agenda globally