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Yan-Wei Tsai’s Urban “Invasion” and “Occupation”


Artist: Tsai Yan-Wei

Curator:Chen Kuang-yi

Exhibition Time:2017.09.06(Wed.)~ 2017.10.06(Fri.五)

Opening Party:2017.09.09(Sat.)

Art Forum:2017.09.16(Sat.)

Exhibition Introduction : 

Yan-Wei Tsai was born and grew up in Kaohsiung. He went to New Taipei City for college and started his boarding life around the vicinity of school. Banqiao is one of the most densely populated cities among Asia and his university locates at Fuzhou district which has peculiar scenery. Students’ renting apartments there are often small and instable. This experience makes Tsai underwent a hardship for living in Taipei. Owing to his rational, calm and humble personality, he began to paint some meticulously tidy images illustrating his paraphernalia and living space. Then, he gradually expanded his theme to the urban space of Fuzhou region. These ordinary themes which can be called still life, interior painting or landscape somehow permeate with an peculiar atmosphere: the old apartments which should be messy and shabby, as well as the narrow lanes and old community otherwise all have clean and bright appearance. The small room is filled with details but every object has clear outline and neat edge, which prevent its beholder from untidy and messy feeling. Coming from dim streetlights, warm or cold rays illuminate monotonous night scenes. The downtown, streets, parks and land bridges are all empty, whereas are set ghostlike tables, chairs, closets, used tableware, stationery, food and so on. Does these chairs still have the remaining heat? Why this space exists? Were such familiar sites (undoubtedly the typical landscape of Taiwanese cities, and even Fuzhou residents can clearly recognize these spots), depicting in detail but not splendidly, otherwise characterized by Sigmund Freud’s “uncanny”? Yan-Wei Tsai lived in the capital of New Taipei City. In this area, twenty-three thousand people populated in every per square kilometers. However, why his urban spectacle never shows any people?       

The venduta inspired by Dutch landscape paintings of the 17th century and the “Grand Tour” of the 18th century, the prosperous metropolises’ spectacles under Impressionists’ brushes as well as the urban activities undertaken by avant-garde artists all present the subjects that artists have obsessed with. Not only Charles Baudelaire’s “la flânerie” but also Guy Debord’s “la dérive” chanted the magnificence, poetry and theatricality followed by the Industrial age. However, acute artists were bound to sense the spatial changes caused by urbanization and metropolitan vicissitudes: the disappearance of center, the decomposition of structure, the dysfunction of city, and the unreadability of space. Thus, when artists countered the gradually incontrollable urban spaces, they recalled memories from the past, or spontaneously transferred, reconstructed, and imagined the space against their recollection.

One should know that Fuzhou, which Yan-Wei Tsai wrote about, is an island surrounding by Dahan River; thus, this island is doomed to be isolated. The former military dependent’s village and the school land of National Academy of Arts have gradually crushed by economic profits, and the wholeness of regional panning has also been cut into pieces by the mega infrastructure. The old mixing with the new, and severe wealthy inequality characterize the isolation in this highly urbanized city. Yan-Wei Tsai spent his young age in this environment. How should he observe and write on this city as well as note down his life in such place as an artist?

Tsai at first became a fetishist. In his journey between North and South, he always brought the same set of painting paraphernalia; in every removal, he always carried the same articles and furniture: his obsession with objects goaded him to depict the objects in his life. Our vision thus is caught by his exquisite technique and when we gaze at these objects, they seem like living creatures. In his autobiography, he once mentioned his inspiration from Zhuangzi’s philosophy which considered “Tao” as the way to reconcile the opposites and held the attitude of “identity of object and self.” From my perspective, however, his practice is more close to pre-Socratics philosophy. He views the cosmos as arrangement of individual material (such as gold, water, earth, fire), instead of transcendent figure. Otherwise, like Aristotle’s belief, one can maintain the universality comes from individuality, and belongs to individuality; therefore, the category of “art” being spiritual does not exist, unless it shows as individual object. Thus, the objects in Tsai’s painting are the leading roles. He designated their meanings and properties, which likes an artisan creating the world. Sometimes, he just liked a storyteller writing a play, setting the scenes, and then performing a drama talking about modern cities.

The meaning of invasion and occupation are not merely from the spatial perspective. What virtually perplexes Tsai is “temporality”: the vicissitudes of a city and the variation of its appearance are the process of chronic accumulation. Different paces of groups lead to overlapping and interlacing temporal modes; standardized living style otherwise prevents people from countering repetition and lapsing of time. Yan-Wei Tsai’s earliest works all represent limpid states; the evenly and thin distributed color layer cannot totally cover the tiles and perspective lines at the bottom layer. This kind of technique, on the one hand, reveals the creating process and emphasizes characteristics of materials. On the other hand, this technique also menaces the figures which the artist wants to represent. Thus, these objects have clear outlines, but their volume looks like phantom that cannot hold, which creating a strong sense of vanish. As an adherent of materialism, Yan-Wei Tsai gradually invent a complex technique managing to crystalize time: printing and transfer printing temporal images counter drawings which emphasize durée. He applied many transparent epoxy layers, separated different layers of image segments, piled pigments into subtle gradation and finally created the glossy texture as lacquer painting, which unifying varied figures and techniques. Therefore, he examined the temporality of painting with handmade craft and photographical reproduction in slow as well as rapid, thick as well as thin, sluggish as well as elapsing ways. These complex practices of painting respond nothing but unusual temporal feelings in modern city.       

Finally, why and how objects “intrude” and “occupy” a city? Such phrases and those should not appear on the streets, or even the flying paraphernalia and furniture explain that Yan-Wei Tsai composed a science fiction for his city. It is these objects that invade into the ordinary street scenery and overwhelm the street to transform into their stage lights and scenery. These objects also coagulate time into timeless in unmanned and empty sites, presenting a familiar sense of trembling weirdness. As Renny MacLean’s sensational book title Eternity Invading Time, Yan-Wei Tsai is isolating himself in rapid changes, encapsulating urban experiences of the past and the present, which expects the encounters with future or eternity.