Studio Banana TV interviews Taiwanese videoartist Chen Chieh Jen.
Chen’s near silent works visually condense a range of human emotions such as pain and isolation to examine the social, political, and historical burdens of marginalized people and communities in Taiwan and beyond. He presented his first video work, Lingchi – Echoes of a Historical Photograph, at the 2002 Taipei Biennial. In this work, the artist reinterprets Chinese history by analyzing an early twentieth-century documentary photograph of a criminal execution in pre-modern China taken by a French soldier and made famous by the French thinker Georges Bataille. In the video works Factory, Bade Area, and On Going, the artist focuses his lens on forgotten locations and ostracized populations.
His most recent works are, “The Route” and “Military Court and Prison”, the former commissioned by Tate Gallery Liverpool, for the 2006 Liverpool Biennial, the latter by the Reina Sofía Contemporary Art Museum in Madrid in 2008. Footage of both, as well as from “Portraits of Homeless People” can be seen in this video interview.
The artist comments: “Taiwan has become a ‘fast-forgetting’ consumer society that has abandoned its right to ‘self-narration’ and this has spurred me to resist the tendency to forget. One of my methods of resistance is to view each film I make as an act of connection, linking together the history of people who have been excluded from the dominant discourse, the real-life situations of areas that are being ignored, and ‘others’ who are being isolated. In this way, I resist the state of amnesia in consumer society.”
All of Chen’s video works are produced and shot on high-quality 16 or 35 millimeter film, which is then converted onto DVD format and looped for museum presentation.
Chen’s video works are also produced without spoken lines, voice-overs, or music; in his view, this is a reflection of the condition of marginal areas that have been silenced. The exception is Lingchi, where tiny sounds may be heard on and off for a few seconds at a time. These sounds are recordings of the electromagnetic waves emitted by Chen’s own skin; in this way, the artist physically inserts himself into the work. “Chen’s video works are unique in so many ways. For example, Chen looks intently into the morphological differences and similarities between photography, video, and film,” said Miwako Tezuka, curator of the exhibition. “His slowly panning video images, as sleek and grand as film, move out and away, slowly, from the medium of photography for which he is also well known.”
Chen took up video in 2002 after nearly 20 years of working in photography, installation and performance, or what seems to have been a combination of the three — manipulated photographs in which he added himself, Zelig-like, to horrific historical images of precolonial and colonial warfare and torture from China and Taiwan. One of these, a famous 1905 photograph of lingchi, an ancient form of Chinese execution known as “death by a thousand cuts,” also inspired his earliest piece of videoart.
Interview by Studio Banana TV. Translation by Sam Liu.