‘Digital Break’ is a series of screenings bringing contemporary Taiwanese film and video to cities around the UK. Curated by videoclub; a platform for artists’ film, video and moving image based in Brighton, the selection bursts with poetic narratives that are both universal and specific to the Asian context. The pieces were curated from OSMOSIS, Taiwan’s leading film, video and music festival.
The intention of ‘Digital Break’ is to place Taiwanese video art in a European context and widen the reception for their subject matter, process and techniques; it’s fair to say that this is a welcome yet uncommon occurrence. The exhibition at the Pheonix, Leicester, exhibits Wu Chi-Yu’s Reading List alongside a host of contemporary artists all with a subtle commentary on the human experience. For the screening Wu Chi-Yu’s work sits alongside duo Chen Yin-Ju and James T. Hong, Fan Chih Ming, Lin Shih Chieh, Niu Jun-Qiang, Hsu Che-Y and Wu Tzu-an.
In a conversational documentary style Zaidi Musa and Ezzmer Daruh, two charismatic bookshop owners from the Northeastern region of Malaysia, recount the origins of their devotion to the production, acquisition and distribution of printed literature of various kinds. The film entitled Reading List by Wu Chi-Yu is a candid account of knowledge sharing, particularly through print, and the way in which this fuels the transmission of ideas across generations and place. In his fluid speech Zaidi Musa, owner of a weekly bookshop in the market called Kedai Hitam Putih, positions himself in a local history of upsurge and decline in the output of independent publishers from the 1930s to 1970s. He speaks modestly about his DIY revival of printed literature, relaying his onus within the community to invigorate an essential part of it. Zaidi places the duty upon himself as both the keeper and teller of local and international histories. His role could be downplayed in a European context where censorship is rarely spoken of beyond dystopian reading circles. On the contrary, the realities of surveillance and policing of bodies and books in Asia is still apparent in certain parts of the continent, and his revival of the cultural of information sharing is a continual expression and carving of what can be considered a simple freedom. Wu Chi-Yu’s work is an exciting examination of seemingly ordinary act of reading.
Modern surveillance feeds into a societal desire to always know, be it a governments investigation of the individual or vice versa, the non-stop and infinite news outlets feed into our constant scrutiny of one another. Niu Jun-Qiang’s When I’m Getting Older With You is a somewhat comedic comment on the 24-hour investigation and reporting of ‘news’. Within the domestic environment and a disused office space the news continues without an audience and questions the appropriateness and value of information where it fails to speak to anyone (literally and metaphorically). Is this style of reporting wasteful and hysteria driving? The image of the world presented through this news anchor is one with constant happenings, whilst en masse this may be true, that is far-fetched from the banality and silence of everyday life depicted.
The film closes with the same journalist reporting the break down of her car; a comedic ending that puts the production of news into focus. Niu Jun-Qiang’s well positioned revelation leaves the viewer with a host of questions surrounding the validity of the news presented throughout the piece, a topical issue in the an age of fake news. Again, the tone is not overpowering, the subject creeps up on the viewer and hangs over our heads, a weighty suspense that Niu Jun-Qiang executes well to make the point.
Against the backdrop of homogenous products and indistinguishable consumer goods in the market, Chi-Yu speaks of the way that Zaida would suggest books for customers to read on the basis of their interests, like a pharmacist administering the right medicine. The exchange is personal and intimate like the reading experience itself. Zaidi studies the customer and interprets their desired text on the basis of his knowledge of books he’s read. The title of the video seems most fitting. Both bookshop owners speak in almost philosophical fashion as is offering a lecture to friends and appear to hold the self appointed position of academic with information to satisfy some kind of self led education. The artist focuses on the Gall-Peter map that visually differs from common representations of the world. It brings into question how our depiction of the world impacts our understanding of it; a sentiment the artist appears to share. Wu Chi-Yu toys visually with the possibilities of differing scale of countries and distance between them, offering the viewer a literal and simplistic illustration of the power of perception. There are no limits to the methods used by the artist to emphasise his point, he elevates a usual element and challenges the audience to interrogate the sources and production of information.
The visually captivating work of Fan Chih-Ming’s In the Fog – Abandoned City, is a split screen depiction of a post-war city using a video game system. The empty streets are towered by both completely and semi-obliterated buildings, placing this somewhat apocalyptic cityscape as one existing in the aftermath of extreme violence. The shots swim flawlessly through buildings accompanied by a sea of ambient sound that blankets the video in an air of stillness. Were it not for the rain that beings to fall, the video would be devoid of any evidence of life and completely silent, a depressing realisation. End Transmission is similarly ominous and works with bleak urban space. Chen Yin-Ju and James T. Hong’s slide through and sporadic shots of known ephemeral spaces; tunnels, roads and well lit highways punctuated with a slightly authoritarian voice alerting the viewer of an imminent invasion that materialises by the end of the film.
The collection currently touring the UK is a testament to the vivacious nature of contemporary art in Taiwan. The political overtone is not avoided but subtly introduced to the viewer in the same way that it permeates our lives.
Written by Samra Mayanja, art critic, October 2017.
Wu Chi-Yu, Reading List, 2017, 20mins 11sec
Until 13 Nov
11 Oct – Fabrica, Brighton
12 Oct – Backlit Gallery, Nottingham
16 Oct – CCA Glasgow
It’s a lazy Sunday morning and you’re reading the news in bed. Or perhaps it’s Wednesday afternoon and you’re hurriedly scoffing away lunch in order to get back to the office in time for the next meeting. Little do you know, the world is about to change. Machines, household appliances and gadgets across the planet are becoming sentient and they intend to overthrow human civilisation. This is the premise for Stephen King’s cult movie Maximum Overdrive, from which Southend’s Focal Point Gallery departs in its latest exhibition. Released in 1986, King’s movie tapped into a cultural fear of emerging technologies, that, following the subsequent three decades appears to be returning in full swing. Focal Point Gallery’s exhibition asks us to draw parallels with this earlier time, and challenges how technological innovation is both perceived and utilised in our most precarious present.
Though there are five artists that make up the show, for the sake of brevity I will not attempt to address them all individually. Instead I will focus on Thomas Lock’s film Within, 2017 and part of the exhibition’s outreach programme.
Lock’s film is a four-channel floor to ceiling projection whose arresting animation recalls the work of Pipilotti Rist. In an alternate future, intergalactic sentient beings have visited earth. Like an anthropologist conducting field research they have studied humanity and concluded that though we are an intelligent race, that intelligence is misused in the reinforcement of hierarchy. The aliens propose swapping genetics in order to save humanity from itself. Whether the aliens’ intentions are sincere, or they are hiding some ulterior motive is unclear, yet it raises pressing questions about how humanity might survive in an ecologically, politically and economically unstable future. In a perverted way, perhaps it’s somewhat comforting to imagine our paradigm of humanity does not stand alone in its relentless pursuit of self-destruction. For now I’m left awaiting our own aliens with open arms!
However, before encountering any of the artworks in the gallery, one is greeted with a large wooden flower bed in the lobby. Inside the flower bed are growing an array of different vegetables, their growth monitored by sensors and cameras. When the soil becomes too dry, the gallery attendant is alerted. As Maximum Overdrive draws to a close in early September, Focal Point Gallery intends to take the produce grown in this flower bed throughout the duration of the exhibition and host a meal open to the public of Southend. Some might see this as no different to the relational aesthetics work of artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, yet unlike New York (where Tiravanija originally exhibited), Southend is largely a working class town with little engagement in contemporary art. When I visited Focal Point Gallery, I must admit I was perplexed about the conceptual entanglement between the works on show and the emphasis on community engagement. I couldn’t separate Maximum Overdrive from the myriad of other exhibitions that have been staged on technology which never breached the walls of the gallery.
Artists are imperative to the ever-changing discourse surrounding technology, yet so often in cities such as London, New York, and Berlin these debates are confined to extraordinarily small circles considering the global scope of the subject. More than anything else, Maximum Overdrive is therefore a stark reminder that contemporary art must go beyond its traditional modes of dissemination in order to tease out its emancipatory potential.
Maximum Overdrive is on at Focal Point until 10 September 2017.
Written by Louie Young, videoclub intern, July 2017.
An interview with Choi Sai Ho following his residency in Brighton in August 2016, and the making of his work Brighton is Our Playground, commissioned by videoclub and Royal Pavilion & Museums, for the exhibition Experimental Motion. Brighton is Our Playground was created using found footage from Screen Archive South East.
To start off with, can you tell us a little about the work you make, and what inspires you to make it?
In regard to found footage, it really depends on what found footage you’ve got. The structure I was editing, in fact, involved a very primitive “story” or “narrative” structure – a man goes to the car, then car journey, Brighton, introducing people at the beach, and so on. I started thinking about what musical style would fit the work while watching the footage.
Your work often involves a combination of visuals and sound – is either more important to you? How do you decide what kind of visuals go with what sounds?
In making this work, I treated it as making a film. Both visuals and sound are important to me. While I was watching the found footage (most of it is silent film), I had some ideas about music genres such as Triphop, Downtempo, Ambient, etc. within Electronica style, and that it should not be too complicated, and should not have too many instruments for the soundtrack.
After building a very rough piece of music, I edited the footage following the beats and rhythms of the music piece. The music always decides the tempo and rhythm of the film. So it makes easier for editing. The good thing about being a composer and filmmaker is I can make changes immediately during the creative process if the footage does not match with the music or vice versa. I can change either one of these in order to fit with the other. When I watched the old footage, I found that the beach footage was so beautiful, basically this old footage was so beautiful, and they were real and existed – the people at the beach [Father Neptune Ceremony on Brighton Beach, 1951, Roger Dunford], the young couple, the cameraman and the director inside the film [Local News in Brighton & Hove, 1951]… I knew I had to include this footage to show these beautiful images. And I needed the beautiful melodies to match with this footage so I composed it and put it to this film artwork.
In August, you took part in a residency in Brighton with videoclub, and worked with Screen Archive South East to produce a new work for Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Brighton is Our Playground. Can you tell us a little about the film, and how you decided on which archive films to include in your final film?
I saw that so much footage was from car driver seats, train windows, trams or other transportation in UK. I’ve always liked the point-of-view shot from driver’s seats. I wanted the audience to also experience what it was like a few decades ago journeying in a car or train. A bit like music structure, the beginning and the ending is the same or similar, so you would see the POV shots were used at the beginning and the ending of my film artwork here. Furthermore, I tried to include different eras of Brighton and UK while deciding upon the archive films.
What was it like working with the Screen Archive?
They were so helpful and they manage the archive and access to footage very well. Normally the general public may not be interested in watching these films unless you are film scholars, film lovers, researchers or artists, etc. It is a very good way for the public to watch the footage through my work. I guess it is also a kind of cultural preservation, preserving the old films and cultural activity as well. I hope my work can bring this old footage to life again, showing the beautiful things that exist in history.
The soundtrack to Brighton is Our Playground is quite fast-paced, quite in contrast to what people think of a soundtrack to archival films, why did you decide to compose this type of music?
To me, making music is similar to editing films. Practically, electronic music is more convenient for me to work on. The spectrum of electronic music is so wide. I hope people have a different perception about electronic music after watching my work. It can be fast-paced and soft downtempo too. For the beginning of my work, you would hear my own field recordings of Brighton beach. The contemporary electronic music mixing or colliding with old film footages may be a good mixture here. Making artworks always involves experiments. Creators are always trying different combinations to see if it works or not.
Seoul is an energetic, exciting city, with a lot going on; commercial galleries, large museums, and many private institutions, which are run as not-for-profit spaces. Artists’ moving image can be seen at most types of space, whether government funded or privately financed.
Our first stop was at Seoul Mediacity Biennale at Seoul Museum of Art, which included moving image, installation and photographic work. It’s a curiously curated show, fragmented and difficult to navigate, with artworks intruding on others – a moving sculpture occludes a collection of photographs – and sound bleeds, making some work unintelligible.
An installation by Marguerite Humeau, an ugly yellow room with incomprehensible singing, vexes and confuses, and does little to satisfy, even the deadly black mamba venom mixed into the paint on the walls fails to grip. Other works sit in odd positions, screens hidden or in cocoons. Though there are some great works throughout the biennial, it just needs a little time and space.
One work stood out for me, João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiv’s installation of several 16mm projectors showing ordinary objects in glorious states; in one film, Chopping Fruits and Vegetables (2015), shows fruit and vegetables being thinly sliced, projected at speed, revealing the undeniable beauty of everyday food. Not perfectly installed, the fluttering of the 16mm projectors flew out to bleed over other work, but it pulsed beautifully on the lens.
Later that evening we went to the opening of MMCA’s Film & Video programme, opening with a film by Vincent Meessen, ‘One.Two.Three’, which crescendos inside a fiery rumba club after some slow-paced tension. MMCA’s deck overlooks the mountains, and we were treated to a blushing sunset. We met with Eunhee Kim, Assistant curator, MMCA Film and Video. Followed by dinner with Jangwook Lee, Director of EXiS Film Festival – a rich and comprehensive experimental film festival in Seoul – at his family’s restaurant for some traditional Korean food. Spicy bean soup (Doenjang-jjigae); the best.