Thursday, 16 July 2015, 6 to 8pm
17 July – 13 August 2015
Codes and Fictions
Valerie C. Doran
Hanart TZ Gallery is proud to present this special duo solo exhibition event featuring the works of two exceptional young artists: HO Sin Tung (Hong Kong) and Agi CHEN Yi-Chieh (Taiwan).
Ho Sin Tung’s ‘Icarus Shrugged’ is a composite environment of seven conceptually complex, finely executed works across a variety of media, from drawing and painting to video installation, to create a narrative fluctuation between the fictional and the real. Like echoes of Icarus, Ho encodes her works with fragmented, doomed tales of people’s attempts to escape the labyrinth of their own circumscribed lives and to reach an elevated plane of connection with an idealised ‘other’—their object of desire—only to end, inexorably, in failure.
Agi Chen Yi-Chieh’s ‘Encoded Islands’, makes for a sensory experience that is the polar opposite from that of Ho Sin Tung’s quietly chilling worlds. Chen creates an explosively colourful network of works from series of appropriated cartoon landscapes and machine-made ‘Rotatory Portrait’
installations, inhabited by circular beings formed of concentric rings of colour. These cheerfully colourful, almost cyclops-like forms (which are actually abstractions of cartoon heroes), are both amusing in their child-like simplicity and disturbingly familiar, jogging visual codes embedded in our memory.
The strong difference between Ho Sin Tung’s delicately rendered studies and Agi Chen’s Post-Pop whirlwinds would seem to disallow a connection between the two artists, but a deeper analysis of their work shows tendrils of ontological connection in their conceptual processes. Both artists are engaged in a kind of encoding and decoding of the phenomenal world, which in the 21st century is a hybrid landscape of the real and the hyper-real. As children, both Chen and Ho were fascinated by animated cartoons, which they both confess to watching religiously—but to which they related in very different ways. Agi Chen identified with the heroes—those characters whose power suits of iconic shining colours constitute a kind of embedded moral code for the masses. Ho Sin Tung, on the other hand, identified with the villains—those scheming, yearning souls who stopped at nothing to achieve adulation and power, but who were always doomed to failure.
In their methodologies, both artists are strongly cerebral, using research-led investigation to analyze what one might term the DNA of the fictional and the hyper-real, as a means of leading us back towards an understanding of deeper human truths. Agi Chen’s work is reductive: she abstracts and distils phenomena to their most primary colour sets and then plots complex maps of the way we resonate with this minimalist decoding. Ho Sin Tung’s work is expansive: she is engaged in a kind of genetic splicing, spinning off infinities of possibility contained within the fictitious and the hyper-real, but then brings these flights of fancy crashing back down to earth. In the end, both Ho Sin Tung and Agi Chen reground us in the human world, reminding us that it is here where all connectivity begins.
Ho Sin Tung
In his Literary Memoirs
, the artist and writer Mu Xin offers his own interpretation of the Greek myth of Icarus, the boy who flew out of the Labyrinth borne on a pair of wax wings and then crashed into the sea:
The Minotaur symbolizes desire. Daedalus, the architect who built the Labyrinth, symbolizes the formulation of ethics, systems, morals, rules. The Labyrinth symbolizes society, the things that confine us and from which we cannot escape, including marriage, laws, contracts. The architect himself has become a victim of his own creation. The only way out is to fly. To fly out of the Labyrinth. But flying too high results in madness and death. It was Icarus’ nature to prefer to risk death in order to soar ever higher.
The modern labyrinth exists in the spaces hidden within spaces, in the people hidden within people: each person is himself a labyrinth, composed of layers within layers. In this exhibition, I have appropriated and adapted the score to the song ‘Miss Dong’ by Song Dongye; I have painted copies of book covers used in different editions of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair
; I have recreated movie posters from August 6, 1993; I have used both my right hand and my left hand to copy out a series of letters that appear in Zhong Ling-ling’s novel Ode to a Lotus
and then used a scale to weigh them. The dull repetitiveness of these tasks served to stretch out time, and their complexity to expand space. The different methods used resulted in different outcomes. But the overarching conclusion is the same as that for all of the characters contained within the works: We are all like Icarus -- full of yearning, benighted, doomed.
This exhibition is about defeat, failure, invalidation. The characters in these narratives failed to build or maintain a relationship with the object of their obsession. And in the process of building a relationship with my characters, I hit many deadlocks, and experienced failure as well. But if anything has actually been achieved in this tangled process, it must be kept a secret. As Borges wrote in The Garden of Forking Paths
: ‘To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it.’
Why create codes and riddles? Because ultimately, speaking in riddles is the most appropriate way to communicate in a Labyrinth.
Why quibble about whether someone is a theologian, a philosopher or an artist—in the end they are all of one mind. They are all Icarus, yearning to soar into the heights, and certain to come crashing down.
(Translation by Valerie C. Doran)
Agi Chen Yi-Chieh
Animated cartoons are an abstracted, virtualized reality. As we watch the imagery unfold on screen, our conscious mind focuses on the action of the characters and the progression of the plot; but we are less consciously aware of the iconic colour codes that are integral to these objects of our gaze and consumerist desire. This is because the colours are subsumed within the overall form and structure of the characters; and yet, during the viewing process, these colours are repeated constantly, imprinting themselves on our subconscious mind and forming a kind of latent visual memory code that becomes integrated into the shifting visual landscape of our daily lives.
Over the past ten years I have been working on the development of my ‘Function Colour’ concept, using different methodologies to bring this latent colour memory to the surface of conscious awareness. My core method is a process of abstraction and reduction, in which a global cast of characters from famous cartoon series, such as Batman, Superman, Doremon and the Power Puff Girls, are abstracted into minimalist forms comprised of concentric colour circles. These concentric circle forms are then repositioned digitally back into the characters’ original cartoon settings. From within this juxtaposition of abstract and concrete signs, I seek to trigger the collective visual memories that have been implanted in the mind of the public through the constant repetition of broadcast media. The ‘Function Colour’ concept encoded in the matrix of these concentric circular forms is a means of exploring and exposing the cultural messages embedded within the colour palettes of these popular, media-transmitted cartoon characters.
My interactive projects Circle Island
(2010) and United Islands expand the ‘Function Colour’ concept into an ongoing collective visual memory database. For Circle Island, I opened a Facebook page and invited visitors to join the Circle Island
Internet Group, which allows members to interact via the concentric circle avatars of their favourite cartoon characters, and also allowed me to map the inter-activity of group members. My Circle Island
mural is in a sense a collective portrait of this process. In 2013, I created an automated rotating painting machine to create high-speed ‘Rotatory Portraits’—actual paintings produced in acrylic on round wood panels. The machine, the process and the resulting portraits have all become part of an installation environment called United Islands
which I first showed at the Fukuoka Triennial in 2014. For this project, I created a United Islands
website and invited members to place their orders for ‘Rotatory Portraits’ of their favourite cartoon characters, and then incorporated 50 of the requested portrait paintings into the installation. Both Circle Island
and United Island
s projects use the Internet communication between island dwellers to create information links, and to stimulate even greater awakening and sharing of collective memory. By extension, it is also a process of exploring, mapping and decoding the behavioural group dynamics of Internet information sharing. Thus Circle Island
and United Islands
can be described as evolving databases of this collective visual memory: the concentric circular portraits of favourite and remembered cartoon characters become an identification system based on colour codes, and this system in turn becomes a collaborative platform through which the audience and I communicate, share and encode islands of memory.
(Translation by Valerie C. Doran)
Ho Sin Tung (b. 1986)
Ho Sin Tung was born in Hong Kong and has lived, studied and worked there ever since. Ho began her artistic training at the age of three when she attended workshops in the studio of Hong Kong painter Gaylord Chan. She graduated with a BFA from the Fine Arts Department of The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2008. Ho’s work is multidisciplinary and cross-media. Her two-dimensional work predominantly uses pencil, graphite and watercolour in combination with found and ready-made images – including the use of stickers, maps, charts, rubber-stamps and timelines. These are reinterpreted to narrate stories of places, relationships and periods of time often within a considered, objective historical setting. Ho also creates video art and process-led projects that interpret and extend different narrative frameworks. Her artworks are sometimes exhibited, sometimes collected, sometimes abandoned.
Agi Chen Yi-Chieh (b. 1980)
Agi Chen Yi-Chieh was born in Taoyuan, Taiwan and lives and works in Taipei. Identifying as both an artist and a consumer of mass media culture, in her artistic practice Agi focuses on using the colour matrixes of popular cartoon characters as a vehicle through which to create series-based artworks that both reflect mass media culture and, on a deeper level, help to awaken collective visual memory. Agi holds Ph.D. in Art Creation and Theory from Tainan University of the Arts in Tainan, Taiwan (2014). She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the Arts Prize from the Taipei Fine Arts Museum for her digital print series Powerpuff Girls’ Wednesday
(2005); an Asian Cultural Council grant for artist’s residency at Arcus Studio, Japan (2005); the Taiwan-England Artists in Residence Programme at Loughborough University in the UK (2007); and the Glenfiddich Artist-in-Residence programme at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown, Scotland (2013). She has participated extensively in international exhibitions and other major art events both in Taiwan and abroad, and most recently featured in the 5th Fukuoka Asian Art Trienniale 2014 in Fukuoka, Japan and the 'Post-Pop: East Meets West' exhibition at London's Saatchi Gallery (2014-15).
Installation images by Kitmin Lee.
Press release courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.