Learn how a crash course in animal husbandry inspired Taiwanese new media artist Wu Chang-Jung to discuss themes of life and the world economy in her art.

In a short video interview produced by Hong Kong-based K11 Art Foundation, Wu discusses the influences behind the first documentary she ever filmed, Documentary 1 – Pig Five Flower.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

In 2008, a dramatic increase in the price of raw ingredients, a result of the Asian economic crisis, forced Wu Chang-Jung’s parents to rethink their family feed business. Their solution was to raise their own pigs to eat the feed they could no longer sell. Wu moved back to the farm and, with no other help, she and her parents began raising 2000 piglets.

Over time, she began to notice a relationship between her parent’s happiness and healthy pigs. How could she help them to recognise which pigs in the herd were healthy? Wu noticed that the healthy pigs moved around their feeder in a way that reminded her of gazing through a kaleidoscope. As she states in the video interview, inspired by this perspective, the artist decided “to record the various activities that the pigs engaged in and turn this into a moving kaleidoscope documentary.” Sick pigs could then be easily recognised and, once identified, they would be covered in a plastic sheet to preserve their body heat. The pig’s level of health was then determined largely by listening to the animal’s breathing and bodily sounds.

East Lobby, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. Wu Chang-Jung, 'Documentary XIII - The Kaleidoscopig Farm Cuckoo Clock', 2012, video installation, colour, sound. Image by Art Radar.

East Lobby, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. Wu Chang-Jung, ‘Documentary XIII – The Kaleidoscopig Farm Cuckoo Clock’, 2012, video installation, colour, sound. Image by Art Radar.

City chic disguise

In the video interview, Wu’s cool, global city style makes it difficult to imagine that the same person cleaned and fed two thousand pigs in a farm in Taiwan. As she tells this story of family survival, the camera cuts from her artwork to her elegant hands gesturing and flipping through a magazine. It follows her as she walks through the studios of the K11 Art Foundation in Hong Kong.

In an artist statement on a wiki managed by AVAT (Association of the Visual Arts in Taiwan), Wu provides some insight into the transformation. “As a cost-cutting measure, we laid off all of the employees at the pig farm and my mom and dad took on the work of caring for the two thousand pigs on the farm,” she explains. “I took off my nail extensions, put on my Wellington boots and pitched in to help out at the pigsty.”

From pigsty to metropolis

Today, Wu has traded the farm for Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, where she lives and works. Her most recent solo exhibition, “Current Sounds Uncovered” at Project Fulfill Art Space in Taiwan in December 2013, was an audio visual installation that also sprang from her farm experience.

In “Current Sounds Uncovered”, Wu has, according to the gallery statement on the artwork, attempted to extract “the truth from sounds.” She used the acute listening skills needed to monitor the breathing and digestion of a sick pig to eavesdrop on the lives of Taiwan’s city dwellers. As noted in the gallery statement, “Each audio-visual work stems from the experience of listening to and contemplating on life, world economy, the real and the imaginary as well as the intangible and indescribable relationships between people.”

Wu Chang-Jung, ‘Lost Taipei’, 2013, single-channel video, color, sound, 4m:30s, in "Sounds Uncovered", Project Fulfill Art Space. Image courtesy Project Fulfill Art Space and the artist.

Wu Chang-Jung, ‘Lost Taipei’, 2013, single-channel video, colour, sound, 4 min. 30 sec., in “Sounds Uncovered”, Project Fulfill Art Space. Image courtesy the artist and Project Fulfill Art Space.

More on Wu Chang-Jung

Wu graduated as an ink artist from the Graduate Institute of Plastic Arts, Tainan National University of the Arts in 2008, after which she worked with her parents on their pig farm. Since 2009, Wu has held six solo exhibitions and shown in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, United States, Germany, Britain and Japan. She has exhibited her new media documentaries as well as traditional Chinese ink and oil paintings, sound and video art, and photography.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Barbara Eadie

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Related Topics: Taiwanese artists, new media art, art about animals

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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