Statement

3 Channels HD Video Projection/ 44"08'/ 2010

Chia-En Jao


Artist Statement: The Policeman
My work sets out to select and carry out absurd behaviors. Actions formed and juxtaposed in real time and relative space, to awaken people's consciousness regarding their actual state of being.My work often leads to a circular mechanism, a linked chain, double-sided; an arduous struggle between life, time and animating forces. The issue is not the cruelty of destiny, but to understand how we must use our bodies and physical lifetimes to confront and transcend this destiny.People must first be aware of this black hole of bathos in time and space before being able to maneuver with meaning. All my works draw from this point.

Artist Statement: The HousepainterI am oil paint! I know not the time and place of my birth, only that when I was brought into the plant I was separated and separated again by the slim fingers of a lady worker who turned me into viable raw material. After which I knew nothing about what was going on in the world, just that this is a plant filled with machinery. And as the machines clanged and clacked, with one great pounding sound, POOF! I turned into powder.The bodies of my companions are piled before the machines, sacrificed with a POOF. More clattering, then something pushes me and I slide into a long tube, plummeting into a vat of water, bobbing up and down surrounded by my companions. Suddenly, as we're floating or sinking, workers begin fishing us out, rescuing us, waiting for us dry.Now I'm tossed into a pan of oil and stirred into a viscous syrup, scalded beyond belief. Someone plucks me out of the inferno, and I wake up inside lead buckets, among paper labels in red, yellow, green and purple with my name written on them. I lay down to enter cardboard cartons with these labels, then enter the world of people. One day someone buys me. He's a painter. Every day he squeezes me out, mixes and tweaks, spreads and brushes, and after a long, long time I finally dry into a painting, and I'm hung on the wall at an exhibition. Wow, I never imagined so many people would look at me with such envy, admiring me. Why is that? Because of my arduous plight?

Artist Statement: The Camera Shop Owner
In modern life nearly everyone has a digital camera. Vast quantities of digital images have become a method for recording our lives. Eva Rubinstein said that to take a picture and was to find a part of yourself somewhere in the world.In my works, I try to approach real life from the perspective of photographic aesthetics, to use its qualities - the notion of an unintentional, fleeting moment, the deliberate mistakes of flash photography - to freeze images in a sort of "photographic" state. I believe this kind of visual state more closely reflects a contemporary state of living that relies heavily on interpreting the world through images.Media images break the narrative whole into shards. The feel of art becomes "flat" – the time and space of people's lives becomes cracked, and all elegant, tranquil, spiritual things are scattered, thereby changing the way people see. For my part, I attempt to use forms of painting to glimpse the essence of totality from among those broken shards that cannot be put back together.

Q&A with Chia-En Jao

LYL
: How did the project come about?

CEJ
: This project, Statement, was conceived around Aug 2009, when I returned to Taiwan for a short visit. It came out of a desire to interrogate the question of regional aesthetics. Having lived abroad, in Europe, from 2000 onwards, for studies and for my art, I was naturally familiar with British, French, American and Taiwanese attitudes towards contemporary art, as well as their different constructions of artistic value. The role played by artist statements in contemporary art is rather unique, because artists rely on these statements to fill a gap in how the average viewer perceives contemporary art, in the hope that they will lend greater legitimacy to the artwork. I was thus inspired, during my three month sojourn, to collect some artist statements, cataloguing them by type and by chronology.

LYL
: I noticed you invoked "the speech act" in your own artist statement about the piece. What are you trying to achieve by making these people from all walks of life give speech acts?

CEJ
: The speech act is a term from linguistics; its basic function in speech is to create or suggest a hidden meaning. For example, in a restaurant, if the question were asked of the waiter, "do you have water?", the speech here is really to express the speaker's desire for water, at the same time as it achieves the effect of getting the waiter to put water within reach of the speaker. The reason for which I compare the artist statement to a speech act is that the artist statement's raison d'être is also to let the listener get the artist's desire, in the hope that the listener will put "X" within reach of the artist. But in my work, I deliberately misassign the artist statement, or more accurately, I act on the artist's thought, and ascribe the artist statement to an unexpected non-artist. By doing so, I enlist the masses to reenact the speech act of the artist. Turning the tables on the artist this way, I draw attention to the "X" that the artist wants, and throw open the discussion. What exactly does the artist want? Is contemporary art truly as unconditional in giving to the masses as myth has it? These are the questions I hope to provoke.

LYL
: Let's talk about the 3 statements that are presented here: that of the policeman, of the camera seller, and of the painter. Can you tell us how you matched the artist statements to these people? Are they in any way related to how you perceive their professions?

CEJ: These statements were extracted from more than 170 artist statements I collected. They belong respectively to Chen Cheng Bo (b. 1895), Tang Huang Zhen (b. 1958) and He Zhu Jun (b. 1982); they were not picked according to the artists' achievements; rather, they were sampled from a broad spectrum. The whole process more or less went like this: firstly, I collected the "field data", and catalogued the information; after that, I picked out 35 artist statements, then, considering the text's various possibilities, did some lateral thinking and imagined from whom else these statements might plausibly be uttered. After that, it was a matter of tapping my network of contacts to find people to be part of the project. In the shooting process, I did not allow the actor to prepare too much; in fact, in most cases, I went with the first or second take, to preserve the sense of estrangement of the speaker towards artspeak.

These 3 artists and the 3 non-artists are connected in the videos here via analogy, homology and contrast. The old and experienced artist who compares himself to paint is replaced completely by a manual labourer in the form of a housepainter, the policeman's duty is contrasted to the artist's disregard of societal mores, and a young artist's stance vis-à-vis the cinematic image is relocated in the utterance of a camera shop owner, who has personally witnessed the shift from filmed-based to digital.

Rather than reflecting how I see the policeman, the housepainter, or the camera seller, these interventions are meant to provoke an inquiry into the relationship between the masses and contemporary art. This is a bizarre situation, because almost every artist will say that his artwork is open to everybody but, in reality, even with the help of the artist statement, only a small number among the masses actually gets art. Although, living in a society that protects our freedom of speech as we do, everyone has the power to explain a work of art, we still need to acknowledge the fact that the production of art often operates outside of our shared cultural understanding as it stands.

translated from the Chinese by Lee Yew Leong

Click here to view the installation as it was shown at the 2010 Taipei Biennale.

Click here for the artist's website.



Read the original in Chinese, Traditional

Read the translation in Chinese, Simplified

Read editor’s explanation

Chia-En Jao attained his BA degree in fine arts in Taiwan. Upon graduation, he moved to Paris and London to continue his studies and art practice. With his diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, he has developed a unique perception on the question and relationship between identity, different languages, societies and ethnic groups. Oftentimes, he shapes his experiences into myriad forms of artistic expression. His work is characterized by humor, but is always unfailingly precise in its observation.

In his 2007 single channel video "Father's Tongue", language is used to address the issues of identity between cultures, ethnic and social groups. In 2009, his solo exhibition "You Are The Horse That I Would Never Ride" demonstrates meticulous interventions on both aesthetic and conceptual fronts. He expands his interest from "language", into ways of constructing meaning, into the evolution of cultural images, totems and symbols—to reflect on Taiwanese history, culture and society. In 2010, his "Statement", shown at the Taipei Biennial, invites the general public to perform "artist statements" written by artists from different generations, and in so doing, interrogates the political meaning of speech and of writing, and the construction of history.

Lee Yew Leong is the founding editor of Asymptote. He is the author of three hypertexts, one of which won the James Assatly Memorial Prize for Fiction (Brown University). Currently based in Taipei, he has published in The New York Times, Words Without Borders and DIAGRAM, among others.

An artist statement belongs to the category of the speech act. Widely used by artists, it is a means to control and influence the artwork's reception. Jao's work investigates artist statements used by Taiwanese artists from 1930 till today, and "enacts" them with the help of the general public, to examine how an artwork's meaning is produced in all its linguistic and performative aspects. By doing so, he highlights the differences between art lingo and everyday language, as well as the changes in usage and terminology over time.

Presented here are three extracts from the video installation first shown at the 2010 Taipei Biennale.


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