Commemorating the Taishin Arts Award and I
Exhibition Plan: The Seeking Visitor—Chak Gya Chenpo of Completed-in-Forgetting Old Lady
In 2005, I Go Traveling 5/A postcard with Scenery was awarded the 4th Taishin Arts Award. Fifteen years later, Completed-in-Forgetting Old Lady, Tang Huang-Chen 2019 Action Plan was nominated for the 19th Taishin Arts Award.
This time, the emphasis is on the seeking visitor – the artist Tang Huang-Chen. In twenty years, she will be eighty-four years of age, and the year will be 2042.
I came across a book in 2009 – The World Without Us. In the book, it is stated that no matter how a manmade building is indestructible, as long as human interferences are out of the picture long enough, the building will be taken over by the law of nature, which is stronger and more enduring than the human race.
From decay to rebirth, eternity does not exist.
There is a very popular YouTube channel recently. Its logo is two English letters “EX” written quite powerfully in cursive. The YouTuber of the channel breaks into various abandoned (the French verb “abandonner” will surely appear early in a dictionary) residences, which are living spaces used to be but no longer inhabited by people. Starting from Belgium in Europe, the owners of these residences, no matter how wealthy, powerful, glorious their lives in the past, have abandoned their residences. When they did so, they surprisingly left almost everything behind—clothes, objects, collected medals and badges, furniture, cars, photographs, table lamps, glasses, watches, letters, leftover food, etc. All these things are left where they are. In these visits, has the YouTuber not talked about how afraid he felt, our sorrowful attention would often be drawn to the style of the living space accumulated over years (could be decades, or even centuries), which came from art, or the imagination of the bitterness and happiness in the lives of those past inhabitants, which came from culture.
—Otherwise, what would we break into instead?
To search and to visit: whereas “to search” implies the absence of knowledge about where one’s going (in French, the verbs are “chercher” and “parcourir”), “to visit” suggests that an appointment is made in advance for one to pay a visit (as in the French verb “visiter”).
“The Seeking Visitor” was at first used as a general title for a collection of Tang Huang-Chen’s audiovisual documentations (2003, DVD publication). To understand her creative work at that time, one shall begin with five clues for the search: place, space illustration, labyrinth, travel and communication, and narrative/behavioral schizophrenia. “Chercher” and “visiter” have long revealed the artist’s view on life and art—her most fundamental questioning: WHY & HOW. If life were a transition from birth to death, if traveling were a transition from departure to arrival, if communication were a transition from conveyance to reception, and if we were born in order to inescapably march towards death, the seeking visitor would surely ask: What inevitable connection with life does the art aim at?
Traveling certainly involves physical difficulties and restraints. However, the biggest challenge are no longer the adventures to and discoveries of unknown places via the ocean and the sky since the 17th century—the challenge of traveling in the 21st century – which is similar to Tang Huang-Chen’s I Go Travelling that has taken fifteen years of exploration – unquestionably comes from a dominant, unlimited, digital metaverse made by humanity itself. The metaverse runs constantly and ubiquitously, controlling people with minutes or seconds of extremely short expressions, and consequently forms the imprisonment of humanity—the exchange and interaction between people no longer affords time for us to trace complicated context, nor to have a clear understanding of the vital folds in life. The truth about the human mind and psyche, which require time and wisdom to develop, is lost completely. The difficulty of the century – the inability to even utter a full sentence – has rendered communication impossible. What is left is the desire to communicate and the mere loss of words.
Like Tang Huang-Chen’s I Go Traveling, also a proper noun that can be easily misunderstood (the work serves as a metaphor for situations) – Completed-in-Forgetting Old Lady is inspired by a real figure who has lost her memory entirely—the artist’s mother. However, she can also be many others. The ancient Greeks believed that the real punishment for a person, a permanent hurt that could ever be done to an individual, is loss of memory. When a person does not know who s/he is, where s/he comes from or is going to, autonomy becomes an unaffordable luxury. This is because autonomy is established on the human consciousness enabled by awareness and knowing. A person who “loses connections with different aspects of life” is called “the deceased.”
When senility becomes your reality instead of mere imagination, all those imminent situations in life are not virtual reality, but everyday scenarios of not being able to find the words to express your ideas, to find your way home, to recognize the person lying next to you, or to remember how to walk and eat. Such loss of order, collapse, fears and worries do not require problem solutions, nor an artistic inquiry into life – the enlightening questions of WHY & HOW – because the artist will not find a possible foothold for art to function in any way.
The Mandarin term “成全” (literally meaning “to help something or someone become complete”) does not have a proper English equivalent. To help someone become complete in forgetting, in fact, beckons something larger and more comprehensive than “COMPLETED-IN-FORGETTING.” It signals the creativity, from which Completed-in-Forgetting Old Lady aims to draw. It allows any one of the Completed-in-Forgetting Old Ladies to cope with aging, and to face with the “other,” whose physical and mental state is utterly different, in order to achieve co-existence. The artist, being one of the Completed-in-Forgetting Old Ladies, therefore, returns to the sole purpose of art—the sculpture of life that calibrates the state of consciousness through creativity.
Venturing into the silver years would probably be the ultimate journey for the seeking visitor, who hopefully can find true peace in the realm of delight – Chak Gya Chenpo – for the Completed-in-Forgetting Old Ladies. Through spiritual refinement, one is able to “wander” and “take delight.” Where could the seeking visitor take delight, though? Where could one wander? Materials piling up seems to form the inescapable reality. No amount of effort is enough to liberate people from the futile endeavor in stopping the progression of life. The illusion of this world and life, in which everything is short-lived, is not the Chak Gya Chenpo where the Completed-in-Forgetting Old Ladies could find eternal peace. Consequently, the seeking visitor has chosen the simplest, conclusive here and now of a performance potentially life-devouring to a performance artist, and dive, with all her being, into the daily reading of life about the WHY & HOW.
When you enter Chak Gya Chenpo of the Completed-in-Forgetting Old Lady, you will find the seeking visitor resting here, refusing to close her eyes and gazing into the present.
It is just like the Taishin Arts Award, which has set a milestone for the surging, event-filled two decades of Taiwanese contemporary art.