Taiwanese artist Yin-Ju Chen exhibits the third and final instalment of her “Extrastellar Evaluations” series, investigating humanity’s future through the lens of space physics, cosmography and alien mythologies.
The multimedia installation takes over Taipei’s TKG+ Project’s space, immersing audiences in a comprehensive other-worldliness.
The central lesson of quantum physics is that humans are part of the nature that they seek to understand. In “Extrastellar Evaluations III: Entropy: 25800”, Taiwanese artist Yin-Ju Chen peers into astronomical, biological, cosmographical and physical practices to prove this intimate connection. Her use of video, installation, sound and drawing must be understood as intra-actions among component parts of nature. She seeks to narrate – or, perhaps, excavate the narrations of – the universe so that viewers understand the geological, computational and technological realities synonymously.
This kind of imbroglio cannot be articulated through a theoretical or fictional exhibition alone; as the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher writes, “sometimes the threshold into another world may only be a matter of re-scaling… the notion of the in-between is crucial.” The primary concerns of Yin-Ju Chen’s ongoing solo exhibition is to exhume or delineate the entanglements between reality and speculation, to articulate this world or another by re-scaling one’s understanding of fiction, theory, science and fact.
Chen uses the ‘in-between’ as an allegory, encouraging the gallery visitors to question the standard perceptions of history and to consider alternative interpretations of scientific phenomena. For the artist, mysticism and astrology are given the same weighty consideration as physics and astronomy, both regarded as conduits for contemplating the “consequences of quantum entanglement” and the destructive tendencies of human activities.
The artist plays with these ideas by looking at doomsday prophecies, from the Book of Revelations, the Millennium Crisis and the accounts of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. Here, she says, “the end of the end of days seems imminent, yet it never comes”. Through an occultist perspective, Chen’s installation asks the following questions:
What is the purpose of the doomsday prophecy — to serve as a warning to the world or as a means of manipulation? And what awaits us in the future — another cycle or an infinite wasteland?
As a continuation of the “Extrastellar Evaluations” series that began in 2016, the artist questions the future of the human race and its inevitable demise through a playful and interactive exploration of history, legend and mass-produced culture. More specifically, “Extrastellar Evaluations III: Entropy: 25800” is Chen’s attempt to reveal when exactly Doomsday will take place and both the scientific and mythological, or fictional, methods by which it can be predicted. She claims that both NASA and “several ancient mythologies” agree that the cycle of the “Great Year” is 25,800 years, meaning the “Spring Equinox has made a complete cycle around the ecliptic.” Whether this research is based on fact, fiction or somewhere in-between is intentionally obscured, allowing for distorted readings of both the exhibition and the fate of the universe itself.
Further, the installation – complete with video, sound and drawings – toys with the notion of entropy from the second law of thermodynamics. Also known as the ‘measure of disorder’, the artist connects entropy to what she calls the “belligerence of human nature” (PDF download), tying physics and psychoanalysis into one interconnected study. The video component of “Extrastellar Evaluations III” is narrated by a voice who illustrates this point. As such, the crux of the entire piece, and perhaps the series as a whole, is that everything – the universe and the origin of all beings within it – are the products of extraterrestrial work, made manifest in the artist’s understanding of mysticism, history, ethics, cosmology and supernatural phenomena.
In conversation with Art Radar about her longstanding interest in mysticism and (pseudo)science, Chen quotes Evelyn Hill’s Mysticism (PDF download):
So remote, however, are these matters from our ordinary habits of thought, that their investigation entails, in those who would attempt to understand them, a definite preparation: a purging of the intellect. As with those who came of old to the Mysteries, purification is here the gate of knowledge. We must come to this encounter with minds cleared of prejudice and convention, must deliberately break with our inveterate habit of taking the “visible world” for granted; our lazy assumption that somehow science is “real” and metaphysics is not.
Chen’s narrative unfolds in this exhibition through a seemingly logical scientific evaluation, urging the viewer to see parallels in fiction and speculative science, the artist’s forays into “space physics” being only one example. This investigation goes beyond the TKG+ exhibition and is found throughout the artist’s experimental career.
For example, the second instalment of “Extrastellar Evaluations”, subtitled, “A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” refers to the infinitude and homogeneity of science practices. In the piece, Galileo Galilei’s astronomical text is approached as a theoretical dialogue of sorts, detailing a conversation between three individuals and their understood models of the universe: the Ptolemaic system and the Copernican system. Prominent within the project is a double-screen animation illustrating the contrasting views between the Geocentric and Heliocentric cosmos, respectively. The digitally-rendered film is partnered with an immersive sound piece, narrating Galileo’s text and selected excerpts of the I-Ching, a Chinese cosmological text of the 9th century BC used to answer moral and universal questions. The installation is completed by two drawings inspired by the Bible and the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. Each of these elements, the artist claims, allows for an alternative reading of the universe – or, perhaps, an extra-terrestrial reading.
The various methods used to narrate, or translate, universal messages and connections to human consciousness make Yin-Ju Chen’s work multi-faceted on several levels: she not only addresses relations between the cosmos and human behaviour, but also the function of power in manmade ‘isms’, namely, nationalism, totalitarianism and destructivism. By looking into these human constructs as theoretical elements, the artist is able to summarise, or at least illustrate, what she calls “collective thinking” or a “collective (un)conscious”. Chen’s inclusion of ‘ancient’ mythologies and contemporary sciences – be they factual, speculative or rooted in fiction – gives her work an expressive and critical position. Her recent ventures into space science and occultism in “Extrastellar Evaluations III” is only the next step of many into her examination of the relationship between the universe and humanity.
Amongst an impressive array of solo exhibitions, Yin-Ju Chen has participated in numerous international exhibitions and film festivals including the Liverpool Biennale (2016), Forum Expanded at the 66th Berlin Film Festival (2016), the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016), Shanghai Biennale (2014), the Taipei Biennale (2012) and the International Film Festival Rotterdam (2011). “Extrastellar Evaluations” is, according to the artist, a stepping-off point:
[It is] a defining era from an extrastellar point of view, encouraging a different interpretation of our existence… [allowing] us to acknowledge the severe long-term risks that humans undertake in the name of progress.
“Extraterrestrial Evaluations: Entropy: 25800” by Yin-Ju Chen is on view from 1 January to 14 February 2018 at TKG+ Projects, B1, No. 15, Ln. 548, Ruiguang Rd., Neihu Dist., Taipei 114, Taiwan.
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