Humanistic Manifestation of the Artificial Nature—The Poetic Charm of Chien-Jung Chen’s Rebellious Artworks
文╱蕭瓊瑞 Xiao Qiong-Rui
Originally published in Artist magazine No. 501 Feb 2017
Chien-Jung Chen was the winner of the 10th Visual Arts Prize of Li Chun-Shen Foundation in 2007. The jury awarded the prize to Chen because “his entry embodied a converging loop of construction, detachment and reduction, and thereby brought a spatial dimension to the composition that suggests many possibilities.”
Chen was born in Taipei in 1972. He had established his creative path and technique ever since early 1990’s when he studied the Department of Fine Arts in the National Institute of the Arts.
Growing up in the age of models and transformable toys, Chen is far more consumed with the instruction manuals than with the models and toys per se. The graphics and symbols in the manuals tend to spark his fertile imagination. They betoken the physical configurations of the models and toys, indicating the being of three-dimensional structures with extremely neat and tidy geometric patterns. The abstract and the concrete, the graphic and the three-dimensional, as well as the symbols and the physical commodities are ergo connected and illustrated through these linear schemata, and the correlations and gaps between the two shores are exactly where the artist’s gaze lingers on.
After entering art school, Chen had shown much more interests in the floor plans attached on the wall of the museums or printed on the brochures than the actual architecture or its interior.
Later when he started to teach in the architecture related departments at schools, the design diagrams done by the students including elevations, sections, and plans which are virtual spaces constructed by lines had become his important inspiration for his creation.
Chen’s award-winning entry to the 10th Visual Arts Prize of Li Chun-Shen Foundation bore this characteristic signature, presenting an impressive result of various techniques such as deconstruction, rendering, transformation and proliferation on the basis of architectural blueprints. It immersed the spectators in the ambiguity between reality and virtuality, truth and fiction, immediacy and history, as well as between future and memory. The intimidating, awe-inspiring size of this work also stimulated the spectators’ profound reflection and deep contemplation.
Such a work was neither an abstract painting, since it contained recognizable perspectives and symbols, nor a landscape painting by traditional definition, for the artist meant not to highlight the picturesque scenery’s depth of field or aura of ethereality. Following the laws of perspective, the artist managed to open up new humanistic horizons for the spectators with color-fields and blots produced by daubing, masking, embossing, pasting, tearing, shedding, and so forth. Admiring Chen’s artworks, particularly those created around 2007, is no less than entering a ruin bristling with traces of life. The multifarious traces left by the previous dwellers on the mottled walls vividly evoked a myriad of plausible memories and imaginations. It is nothing short of a humanistic landscape in the absence of figures.
In fact, Chen have had numerous experiences way before winning the "The 10th Visual Arts Prize of Li Chun-Shen Foundation", solo exhibitions included: Employ Spirituality" in 1999, "Lo-Fi" in 2001, "I heard you looking" and "Peintures Récentes" in 2003 and "Reconstruction" in 2004. After the prize, he had continuously done solo shows included: " Sky Blue × Landscape" in 2010, "A Block" in 2011, "Paradoxically" in 2013, "Frozen Music" in 2014 and "Decontextualization of Production" in 2015. In every exhibition, Chen had made some changes and features in the styles or techniques, however, the fundamental concept and skill of creation have remained coherent and consistent.
On the spiritual level, Chen is filled with a passionate longing for artificial order. Such kind of order is reflected in the logic and sense of space brought by lines and geometric patterns. Treating the logic, order, and sense of space as the departure point for his creative practice, the artist contrarily tries to deconstruct and rearrange them in different ways such as destruction, overwriting and transformation. Beneath the surface of the artist’s rigorous, precise, and careful measurement lurks the shades of his intuition and subconscious. Based on the moves he terms “posturing” and “pseudo-technology,” Chen turns the compositions of his artworks into vehicles for spirit in which all the logic, order, spaces, realities and meanings are eliminated. He also gratifies his desire for “modeling” and “de-modeling” in the process of daubing, scraping, alteration, highlighting and transformation.
In addition to his rebel-like predisposition, Chen finds himself wistful yearning for some sorts of indescribable material textures. He tends to deconstruct, regenerate and restructure the original textures with different methods such as photographically reproducing, printing out, photocopying, rubbing, daubing and shedding. Quovis modo, his approach always gives the originally clear and regular patterns an elusive quality. On top of that, each method creates a specific physical texture capable of drawing out wider psychological implications. In this situation, to admire Chen’s artworks is to visit a huge ancient ruin or to read fragments of mysterious texts, a personal experience full of serendipitous discoveries. A bite of the apple makes one yearn for more. The spectators may be lost in reverie or curious sensation due to their infatuation with such ambiguity and fracture in history. The artist stated that:
“I am captivated by these traces. They are auxiliary in nature, yet sometimes seems as if the inmates have taken over the asylum. Appearing as seepage or overflow, these traces are physically made with adhesive tapes that conventionally serve as a supportive object. In recent years, I have used adhesive tapes and erroneous brushstrokes to challenge my intuitive intellectual horizons. I attempt not to predict the outcomes of such kind of experiments, while these stubborn stains in turn veil the previous outcomes of experiments and erroneous brushstrokes, and hence faithfully and lovingly preserve the diachronic changes on the canvases.” (2015)
The title of the exhibition "Well-Lighted Room" shown in Project Fulfill Art Space in 2017 was inspired by the gallery’s significant bright space. It is quoted from the well-known art publication" Has Modernism Failed? " in where the last chapter named " The graffiti in the well-lighted room".
More or less, Chen’s paintings involve graffiti-like content. His “graffiti” is something of a rebel against graphic patterns and order, just as those on the streets of New York created by American avant-garde artists in the 1980s whose criticism and rebellion against mainstream values lurked beneath the vigor and vulgarity of their pieces of graffiti.
To create the new batch of artworks for his 2017 solo exhibition at the Project Fulfill Art Space, Chen followed his consistent approach, drawing on various graphic illustrations from different sources such as the floor plans of Taipei Metro’s underground shopping areas, patterns and space graphics in textbooks of graphic studies, design specifications of aerial vehicles retrieved from the Internet, plates in catalogues of Western arts, and even the spacecraft drawings by the artist at the age of five. This solo exhibition is installed in a gallery as bright as a white box, featuring these paintings’ unique quality of lingering amid virtuality and reality as well as between rationality and poetic charm. The spectators may feel bewildered by Chen’s mesmerizing artworks in which the virtual and the real intersect. Some vibrantly colored pieces among the exhibits are also highly reminiscent of the neon lights that radiate auras of mystery and ambiguity on the streets.
Chen’s oeuvre has been detached from Mother Nature since he began his career as an artist. Instead, he is enchanted with the geometry of architectural and mechanical blueprints, and construes such order as the second-hand or even a third-hand “artificial nature.” By rearranging the order of these artificial graphics, the artist not only manifests his sui generis humanistic thinking and poetic criticism, but also challenges the spectators’ breadth of vision and logic of speculation.
事實上，早在陳建榮獲得李仲生獎之前，他已經歷了相當豐富的創作歷程。「精神輸出」(1999)、「低傳真」(2001)、「I heard you looking」(2003)、「Peintures Récentes」(2003)、「Reconstruction」(2004)……，是他此前多次個展的主題；而得獎之後，又有「 Sky Blue X Landscape」(2010)、「A棟」(2011)、「似是而非」(2013)、「是凝固的音樂」(2014)、「去脈絡生產」(2015)、等展出。每一次的展出，在作品的風貌或表現的技法上，都有一些改變與特色，但基本的創作理念和手法，則始終維持一定的連貫與脈絡。