2003 :: PAIN 301 :: HUANG Hsiao-Hui
School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Out-Walled | HIP'03 | Self-evaluation
Campus Gallery School of Fine Arts University of Canterbury New Zealand.
view gallery: installation view & opening
Imposing a different way of viewing images and patterns, an installation that is full of meaning and at the same time is devoid of meaning – which all depends on the position the viewers take.
We all have immediate response to the human figure and the images of which, the western history of art, I think, has a great interest in figure, and there is a long tradition of training to achieve the techniques to create illusionary images to represent as truly as possible the human figure. I remembered when learning Chinese history of the Ching dynasty at high school, when the Western paintings were first seen by the Chinese, they gazed with amazements – how could the people in the painting be so real? Or, to the other end, how could one side of the face be so much darker than the other? – Though now it seems the 'whole world' reckons the illusionary way to represent figures or portraits is the ‘better' one (the 'higher form of art', which the artists are considered talented and able), still, the non-shadowed portraits hasn't died down, taking a step further to the extreme flatness, as now we see in the Japanese animes.
People's first response to my work might be: "so you like Japanese cartoons?" or that I'm interested in the Japanese pop culture. – Yes and no, really. There's no denying the Japanese culture has a great influence to the eastern-south Asia, and it is so influential that it is everywhere. In Taiwan, where I come from, being colonised by the Japanese until 1950, then by the R.O.C. government from Mainland China after WWII, what is, exactly, the true voice of the Taiwanese? And yet, from that, the mix of different cultures, developed our own – though it may not seem much different to the 'outsiders', I think pop culture looks the same in every parts of the world, while so unique to its own people; though the 'readability' is one of pop's characteristics, it's very specific at the same time.
In my installation, I set up a space that is filled with different me's, representing the self, likewise in traditional portraits, there are certain techniques to express different emotions in different situations, here I tried out different gestures (often related to the most 'in' poses amongst young Asians) and facial expressions with the 'mini-me's', with an ultimate goal – to achieve cuteness. In the middle of the room, a big cute 'mega-me' welcoming the viewers with its innocent eyes and friendly smile, creating a focus of attention, while other mini-mes are just floating around in the room.
At first, I thought of hanging a TV-frame in the middle of the room and thus divide the room into 2 parts – the 'real' and the 'artificial' (though the whole installation is artificial). The first part by the entrance, with mini-mes sitting and being feed by the artificial world on TV, whereas those from the back of the room dress up like the pop-stars – here I chose a Korean commercial character 'China doll' called Puka, whose images can be found in various commercial products, including letterheads, pens, cups, notebooks, etc. and another well-known Japanese cartoon character Maruko, whose position in Taiwan is relevant to 'The Simpsons' in the English speaking countries, or even higher. They are not just copies of those characters, but mini-mes imitating their idols by dressing the same, and this is called 'cosplay'. In countries where the Japanese comics are dominated, those who live in the world of comics and who are disconnected from the real world are called 'Otaku'. They have cosplay parties where everyone dresses as his favourite character in the comics.
There is another 'real vs. artificial' in my work, which is taken place not so much in the installation itself, but the interaction between the work and the viewers. By the entrance I invite people to write whatever they like on the speech bubbles and put them around the room; and also there are those 'limited edition' products on the racks (in the installation room, there are cups; and in the photographic record, there's a catalogue of other limited edition products, ex. cell phones and a TV set), reflecting how nowadays marketing has changed art, and the activities of art. Also, there are photos of me interacting with my created world: talking to a paper microphone, eating paper ice-cream, etc.
Though I am placing a whole different culture here as some may think, I am not forcing how people view it. For most, it may be fun, or as a visual sensation without any special attempt, and that is when the viewers impose their own story to the work – people always try to read into things even when they don't have to – and this is my attempt: to find out what people think about those things which couldn't be more familiar to me, when my culture being exposed to the mainstream, how much information would the viewers take in, and how far removed would the receivers develop their own system of reading from the original.
At the start of the year we started our first project – to combine the practice of 2 contemporary artists, which has given me a very good opportunity to research on contemporary artists and look at their practice thus understood the currant art world better. Though the 2 artists I chose were quite different – one visual (Katharina Grosse), the other more conceptual (Daniel Buren), at the end I thought I came out all right. What interested me were their concepts (things they have in common): dealing with space, replacements / displacements, and how they treated 'painting' itself – disintegrating painting to only colour / form (which I thought was relevant to my PAIN201 work), and painting for them was not just showing a picture on the gallery wall. I think Buren's strip work has its advantage in his time (when the conceptual, minimal and environmental art was fashionable); Grosse's work for me is no (much) difference to Buren's strips in terms of their graffiti attitude, though visually they look very different. They both have established their icons for recognition.
Though I like painting abstractions, I am more interested in the meaning the painting suggests – we live in a time that is packed of images, and with those super tools, I don't see the impossibility of not able to create pretty pictures that move people. But, to the other extreme, thinking too much never helps, one still have to present his work visually to catch people's attention, for a starting point, maybe, and I guess it is why I chose to do Buren and Grosse: applying their concepts to my work, and because Grosse's use of colour is so eye-catching, it somehow lifts the level of my installation to not just squares but colourful and painted squares. I didn't want my installation to be the centre of attention though, I hoped it could be a part of the gallery – as you walk around, you discover different perspectives.
After the Out-Walled exhibition, I stayed inactive for a few weeks. Do the artists need to be loved? – Sure, everyone needs to be loved! Though I was quite confident of my installation, still, I got a bit upset when my family said, “oh, so is that it?”, and a friend of mine made a comment that "some people are only forced to look at ART"… though I could have kept on doing it forever, placing my squares everywhere (which I did a bit in the classroom): on campus, in other public places… having only one installation is surely not enough to bring out my concepts.
Looking at the currant art world, one thing I realise is how nowadays people would do ANYTHING to get the status they want. And in the art world, probably that means to show-off to the extreme: creating work that is extremely personal, though knowing people don't really care who you are. This year I feel that I have the freedom to do what I want to do, being an artist is my only goal in life, but how do I get noticed is another thing. In the art school, shouldn't it be "whatever you do is art cos you are an artist", having thought that, I decided to take a leap. Back in Taiwan, I hated people being adored only because they could draw comics well; I've always thought art is something different. But if getting noticed is all that matters, I'm willing to do whatever. – Actually, at the start, I thought though my last year's work has some Chinese influence, I am not satisfied because I don't see it as expressing myself, I don't know much about my traditions, thanks to the globalisation, I've always been experiencing a flat and artificial culture.
Cartoons and comics don't really interest me THAT much, I don't like those illustrators make their fortune only because they draw cute stuff. On the net I've seen some really cool commercial work with cute pictures, at the time I saw that, I was thinking if I were to make work like that, I would never do better than those people, they are commercial designers who create for selling. When I started painting my mini-mes, I was hoping people would ask me WHY, but perhaps they felt distant from my work – when it gets personal, people are more afraid to make a comment – I thought.
Seeing the success of Takashi Murakami, there's always a sense of irony in it. Someone who reflects the currant culture in Japan, and who dislikes the mass marketing and globalisation, played with the idea and turned it around – now he is the master of art, pop culture, and the designer of LV. However, if he hasn't been to the US, I doubt he'd have the status he has today.
With my installation, I've shown some traces of marketing, though for many, it's not very clear. I've asked some Taiwanese what they think my intension might be, they got quite the same idea as mine, maybe it's still very cultural specific. Technically speaking, I don't think I have mastered the way to draw / paint cute cartoon figures, and I should have sanded the edges of those woodcuts before painting them. But overall, I am happy at this stage, things turned out well, and I am pleased. I have tried to make the installation as welcoming as possible, but some people still hesitate to go in, maybe they are afraid to dirty the white floor, maybe. Also, the figures don't really have a central theme, though I think at this stage, having fun and make the installation work (visually) is good enough, as a starting point.
What I might do next (maybe in the summer holidays) is to work on my images on computer and put them on the internet, but at this stage I am not interested in going commercial. One thing I will have to think about during the holiday is where to find the balance between mocking and being commercial. I have to admit my thoughts are not very clear right now, because I am putting so many references into my work. The feedback from others is very important too, what they write on the speech bubbles and how comfortable they feel to be in a closed artificial room, how they relate themselves to the figures, etc. and if I am really to make work that deals with cultures, I think it is necessary for me to find out more about the Kiwis, though I'll always be looking at it in my own way. – I take everything personally.
Looking back, this year I have been using a lot more colours, and have a more open attitude, I think it's great. ^^
Last note: as I expected, my parents like my work because they are cute, who cares about the concepts?
view gallery: in between