Multimedia artist Yin-Ju Chen encourages audiences to question the categories of art, science, superstition, history and ritual, whilst creating new mythologies around minimalist art.
Yin-Ju Chen’s exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art (CFCCA) in Manchester, which continues until 15 January 2017, follows on from her inclusion in the Liverpool Biennial 2016. The Taiwanese artist also features in the group exhibition “No Such Thing as Gravity” launched at FACT Liverpool in November 2016.
For Liverpool Biennial Yin-Ju Chen focused on the possibility that extra-terrestrials live amongst us, whereas the CFCCA show, the second installment of her Extrastellar Evaluations project, takes as its starting point a book written in 1632 by Italian Astronomer Galileo Galilei that saw him accused of heresy. As the CFCCA press release outlines, the controversial book detailed
[…] conversations occurring over a span of four days among 3 people: two philosophers and a layman. Their discussions compare two models of the universe: the Copernican system, where the Earth and the other planets orbit the Sun and the traditional Ptolemaic system, in which everything in the universe circles around the Earth.
The Catholic Church took extreme objection to Galileo’s theory and forced him to renounce his views. Yin-Ju Chen‘s imagining of this controversy employs a lightness of touch, but manages to de-stabilise the categories of art, science, superstition, history and ritual.
Yin-Ju Chen’s primary medium is video and to anchor her concept are two luminous video works presented in confrontation with each other in a darkened space. The planets in the ‘Ptolemaic system’ defiantly produce intricate drawings with their orbits, whereas those in the Copernican or ‘heliocentric’ system (which Galileo championed) are locked in orderly concentric circles.
The artist, who was educated in San Francisco, the United States and Taipei, Taiwan, layers additional depth and transcultural meaning through a constellation of graphite on paper drawings, a sound work and wall quotations from the bible and by Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet and theologian. The drawings evoke new-age ‘flower of life’ forms, as well as minimalist art, perhaps a link back to her Liverpool show where she suggested 20th-century Western minimalist artists such as Carl Andre or James Turrell could be aliens living amongst us transmitting information back to their home planet.
The sound work includes sections of Galileo’s text as well as readings from the I-Ching. The press release elaborates:
Known as an ancient Chinese divination text originating from the 9th century BC, I-Ching was used to provide guidance for moral decision making and later as a cosmological text for exploring the origins of the universe.
The I-Ching divines meaning from apparently random numbers, and its importance for China and Chinese diasporic communities has endured over two millennia.
Yin-Ju Chen’s cool, pseudoscientific delivery, as well as the blurring of information from different world-views and time periods help the audience suspend their disbelief. She complements her exhibitions with tarot card readings, which prompt further questions about how hierarchies of information are established. In Manchester she held a tarot event for young people at the Godlee Observatory.
From her Liverpool tarot reading, which was documented for the Liverpool Biennial catalogue, she asked:
What will cultural development in Liverpool be like in the second half of the 2016?
And using a reading from the cards she responded:
[…] the moon suggests that to develop cultural affairs one should descend to a very basic level and dig out what is worth developing, look inward and backwards to review the city’s history and investigate the depths of its soul, as well as perceiving deep-seated fears.
In this we can perhaps divine what makes Yin-Ju Chen’s blend of critical thought, ritual and conspiracy theory so timely: the notion that any knowledge or system of knowledge is inherently unstable and can be superseded or discredited. Her practice presents an argument for openness and a suspension of scepticism, as well as a warning from history not to violently attack new ideas because they challenge what we know and it makes us afraid.
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