Taiwanese artist Wu Tien-chang at festival of new media art MADATAC 08, Madrid

Wu Tien-chang has been challenging the status quo with his painting, digital photography, video and sculpture since the 1980s.

Art Radar takes a look at some of they key themes in Wu Tien-chang’s work, on show at Spain’s contemporary festival of new media arts MADATAC 08.

Wu Tien-chang in his studio. Image courtesy MADATAC and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang in his studio. Image courtesy MADATAC and the artist.

From 12 January to 5 February 2017 the Cultural Centre Conde Duque in Madrid presents MADATAC 08, the contemporary Festival of New Media Arts and Advanced Audio Visual Technologies. The festival brings together over 100 audio-visual, experimental and new media artists from 40 countries. The emphasis of the festival is on work that is experimental and that pushes boundaries. It brings together artists, audiences, critics, curators, collectors and the academic community in order to explore new technology and innovative ideas. The festival includes exhibitions, projections, conferences, talks, interactive performances, video installations, workshops and audio-visual concerts.

Wu Tien-chang, 'Pilot', 2016, from "Farewell Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions". Image courtesy MADATAC and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘Pilot’, 2016, from “Farewell Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions”. Image courtesy MADATAC and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, 'Two Would Treat Each Other', 2001. Image courtesy MADATAC and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘Two Would Treat Each Other’, 2001, type-C print. Image courtesy MADATAC and the artist.

The theme for the 2017 edition is “Humantrope” and it looks at the limits and nature of being human, as well as incorporating aspects of technological progress and the use of machines. The festival includes a screening of 50 shortlisted video artists for the MADATAC prize and a special programme of screenings on the biggest LED screen in Europe. There are also interactive installations from Canadian Hugues Clément, Spaniard Juan Carlos Sánchez Duque, Italian Giuliana Cunéaz, Polish artist Przemyslaw Sanecki and Russian collective Tonoptik.

Wu Tien-chang, installation at the space of TKG+. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, installation at the space of TKG+ at the exhibition “Wu Tien-chang: Never Say Goodbye, 2001-2015” from 18 June to 9 November 2016. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

A creative practice of social commentary

One of the highlights of the festival is the exhibition “Liquid Glare” by Taiwanese artist Wu Tien-chang. He is known for work that critiques social policies and inequalities through painting, digital photography, video and sculpture. He uses a vibrant baroque aesthetic that is reminiscent of Taiwan’s post-war period in which the country began a process of Westernisation.

Wu Tien-chang, installation at the space of TKG+ at the exhibition "Wu Tien-chang: Never Say Goodbye, 2001-2015" from 18 June to 9 November 2016. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, installation at the space of TKG+ at the exhibition “Wu Tien-chang: Never Say Goodbye, 2001-2015” from 18 June to 9 November 2016. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, born in 1956 in Taiwan, first came to widespread attention in the 1980s when he portrayed taboo subjects in his works, using symbols and narratives to interpret history through his alternative perspectives. He began working in paintings, and moved to photography in the 1990s. In his photography he used diverse textures, such as velvet cloths, sequins and Christmas lights to create pieces that incorporated a Taiwanese aesthetic style.

Wu Tien-chang, 'Beloved', 2013, single channel video, 3'11. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘Beloved’, 2013, single channel video, 3’11. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

In the 2000s he began to employ digital retouching and image-collaged techniques in his staged photography, however the way he composes his scenes through distinct settings, textures and lighting is still a key feature and strength of his work. Since 2010 he has been integrating video, moving images and the creation of interactive installations into his work. Through his work Wu Tien-chang uses recreated scenes and irony to create a mysterious atmosphere rich in character.

Wu Tien-chang’s work has been exhibited internationally and he represented Taiwan at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 with a solo exhibition.

Wu Tien-chang, 'Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions', 2015, video installation, 4’10’’. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions’, 2015, video installation, 4’10’’. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Investigating Taiwanese history and culture

In an interview with Art Review about his Venice Biennale exhibition, Wu Tien-chang explained the creative motivation behind his work:

Maternal culture and the belief in life of Taiwanese people are the main inspirations of my creativity. I hope to create a powerful visual impact with Taiwan’s highly recognisable unique visual aesthetics and universal humane spirit to break the barriers between ethnicities and countries.

Wu Tien-chang, 'The Blind Fumble Around in an Alley', 2008. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘The Blind Fumble Around in an Alley’, 2008, light box installation, 240 x 478 cm. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

His multi-layered works that show different facets of Taiwanese history – including its colonial past – create a diverse portrait. Wu Tien-chang added that throughout his work he has always striven to present Taiwan’s unique culture. He commented that

As an artist who commenced on the foundation of historical and cultural criticism, I firmly believe that the awareness of cultural subjectivity is necessary and real; also, I believe that the nature of globalisation is not in conflict with the nature of localisation. On one hand, my works very much appeal to the purely visual and intuitive perceptions, but on the other, I communicate with the world through a precise artistic language; what links the two are themes related to universal values, which are embraced by the world.

Wu Tien-chang, 'Luan', 2010, single channel video. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘Luan’, 2010, single channel video. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, 'Luan', 2010, single channel video. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘Luan’, 2010, single channel video. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

An evolving practice

Wu Tien-chang’s work continues to evolve. In an interview with Director of Taipei Fine Arts Museum Ping Lin, he explains that he keeps challenging himself every ten years:

I think, as an artist, there is an important mission to respond to the times and the spirit of an era which resonates with the changing environment. So almost every ten years I make a change to reflect the era we live in and to solve problems related to the bottleneck in my artistic practice.

Wu Tien-Chang, 'Unforgettable Lover', 2013, video, 4'30". Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-Chang, ‘Unforgettable Lover’, 2013, video, 4’30”. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

However, a common thread that carries throughout his work is the concern with the hidden symbolism of farewell, and the interplay between death and love. His work, which can sometimes display a dark soul, places side by side the elegant and the obscene, the moralising and the decadent. Seemingly contrary positions interplay to create a complex picture that tackles the conflicts inherent in human nature.

Wu Tien-chang, 'Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions', 2015, video installation, 4’10’’. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

Wu Tien-chang, ‘Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions’, 2015, video installation, 4’10’’. Image courtesy TKG+ and the artist.

This theme of farewell also references the continual change of regimes or change of leadership witnessed in Taiwan. In his interview with Ping Lin, Wu Tien-chang observes that he hopes Taiwan can become an independent country or new type of country that will not be dependent on external leaders.

Claire Wilson

1524

Related topics: Taiwanese artists, new media art, photography, events in Spain

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