Text by Chen Hui-Chiao 2004
IT Park is supposed to be an alternative space with its own marginal and alternative character. Indeed, this has been etched on its history and has become part of its spirit. Yet ironically, the majority of artists that frequent this alternative space have become the mainstream in Taiwan’s contemporary art. Over the years, the space has been maintained by Liu Ching-tang, who runs a photo studio within the gallery; this photographer has kept up IT Park through his commercial photography work.
In order to understand the development or situation of any spiritual activity, one has to first understand its spatial and historical background. Let’s take a quick trip back to the beginning of IT Park. That was a time period in which artists explored in order to find themselves, searched for art and truth, and lived in their own styles and rebelled against tradition. Perhaps when events happened at the time, the truth was not evident to most people. Although some names, thoughts, patterns and mechanisms existed in language, we could not find any concrete things in real life to match with these abstract words or expressions. Maybe based on some visual forms or internal factors, we were able to take action. With this space, we found a “spiritual arena” to find a direction for ourselves and to merge ourselves into artistic works. We tried to mingle time and space. All those transitory things, and the appearance of artistic symbols, compel us to think, to learn and to search for an explanation in the essence of many things.
Since 1988, IT Park Gallery has been labeled experimental, non-mainstream, roaming, marginal, substitutional, avant-garde and alternative – all words usually used to describe art forms or non-profit business space. This naturally highlights the characteristics of this space. Although space can be destroyed, it is like a claw tearing through fabric, changing the existing system and structure of art at the time, while forcibly creating the strange and indeterminate system that exists now. The fact that this bolt out of the blue forces one to think underscores the power of external forces. Moreover, this bursting into existing things and ideas can become a field of force, where alternative strength and intervening forces are turned over and mixed together. This in turn forces all visible spaces to be seen differently – not as a substitute, but in a way that differs from designated ways of viewing or interpreting. At the same time, this is replaced by a different form of viewing and interpreting that points towards expanding the topology of the field and thinking, thereby linking with and influencing contemporary art. Art critic J.J. Shih once said that IT Park has developed an interactive network with Taiwan’s contemporary art in recent years. It seems to have built a direction of display and aesthetics based on the experience of metropolitan culture and art concepts. IT Park has become not only an important stage and communication window for Taiwan’s contemporary art, but also a magnetic field that attracts people. It is an important place for artists to gather together, exchange opinions, collect information and meet others.
Preaching is certainly not our job, but art is like the spreading of good news. How does it come to existence? Who needs it? Perhaps the most important function of art is to communicate. No matter what material an artist uses to reveal the mystic meaning of his or her work, and no matter how important art may be for the world, even if we reject someone’s work because of irrelevance, we still believe that we have some faith in the arts. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to overcome the barrier or gap of “language” to analyze the deeper layer of meaning in art. We probably can never fully understand all details of art. Nowadays, the saddest issue in the art world is that most people have lost their ability to “feel” beauty. People tend to take on the role of “customers,” forgetting that they are entities with souls despite the fact that they say their life is now globalized, modernized and networked.
The way we see things comes from the way we view ourselves. The cultural tactics disguised under today’s political and economic situations and power struggle have “blocked” the defenders of art and left them with no way out among thoughts, concepts and words, due to the ever-changing nature of art. Even those who are in a state of escaping cannot find the way out. Perhaps this explains why art views the world with such a sarcastic attitude. When we ask ourselves how many art events became the center of discussion because of political reasons, perhaps we will realize that although we are in the same world, we don’t seem to be able to communicate with one another. For some hidden things, we cannot hear the inner voice of any sound. We can distinguish the causes from the results. For you, this might be just a choice to make, but as they have different ways to present themselves, you can describe the situation as an interpretation or a reflection instead of a logical relationship that can be explained clearly with a cause-effect relationship. This situation helps us realize that we are in a dream that will never end. IT Park is a long battle in which one side struggles to fight against the other. I cannot say the present art environment in Taiwan is better than that during the time when IT Park was first established. I only know the darkness existed at that time is still present today. In between, we have witnessed a tale of progress, the worry of failure, the dreams of revolution, and the approaching reality.
The fate of reality is indifference; the essence of reality is mundane. Within the vast realm of utilitarianism, if you stand on the plateau of politics to view the art scene beneath and can see an idea or a blueprint, perhaps you can have victory over reality. However, truth is not equal to reality. Ideals are not abstract. Truth does not exist in the illusion of anything. Although truth may be illustrated by the symbolic world and be materialized by some features, truth itself does not have any form. It is the synonym of void. Art is the medium that leads to truth and essence. At the same time, it looks into the purest form of time and fully reveals the “in-between” zone and the multiple compounds in the current of time. Although this seems an interesting situation, it is certainly not comfortable, as truth is not as perfect as we want it to be. Instead, it is a process of fighting, a continuous movement.
Edward W. Said once pointed out that the most despicable strategy in knowledge is to point out the bad behavior of others with a self-righteous attitude while forgiving the same behavior in oneself. In the external reality of globalization, the mainstream of local or international ideology undoubtedly will become the burden of cultural strategies when the international community has the preconditions, limitations and frameworks for contemporary art in Asia. If the position in the market is determined by capital, the invention and breakthrough of new technology can only lead to the unlimited development of capitalism. Such a pace of development will result in a peculiar madness. Such development is indeed a brutal torture for artists, and also the reason contemporary artists in Taiwan feel so much uncertainty. The loss of ultimate meaning and the results of self-doubt constantly put people in a state of “already happened.” We never know the reasons for history and life to begin. In this struggle, artists are unable to guess how time will evolve or where they should go in the future. When people, especially artists, look back at the development of culture, they find themselves constantly in the struggle of form and formalism. Nowadays, few forms can possess unique creativity. We have experienced many things, yet cannot fully express them. Or we may try very hard to express what we have gone through, but can only use another method of expression. Worse yet, there is no similarity between these methods and the original experience. They only exist to show our instincts, needs and the balance acquired. In effect, the exhibition is a mirror, one that faithfully reflects not real cultural phenomenon, but instead the image a person desires for him or herself.
Today, the rapid spread of the internet and development of digital imaging means that virtual or real images can be captured, edited and transformed into a concrete world of images. The use of new technology to recreate human culture is an integral part of the New Millennium, while at the same time, local cultural differences or identities have enlarged the field of vision in art. Between the new and old exists occasional and opportunistic fissures, and many shining possibilities. However, what we truly worry about when it comes to an exhibition arena or “alternative space” is whether we can analyze and grasp the realities of coexistence, to create a complete and harmonious environment that provides another path for viewing and realizing ideals, so that people can come back many times over and still take with them strength and a message.
Ps. Taiwan’s first modern art museum was established in 1983. It has been asked whether the lifting of Martial Law in 1987 had a great influence on art and this is probably best seen in the work of those artists whose addressed political issues. As a result, artistic forms of expression became more diverse, open and free. In terms of spatial and installation art, this process began in around 1982, with the return of Lin Shou-yu (Richard Lin) from overseas and in 1984 the “Alien -- Play of Space” Exhibition at Spring Gallery by Tsong Pu, Lai Jun-jun, Chang Yung-chun and Hu Kun-jung etc. In 1985, they curated the “Transcendent -- Play of Space II” Exhibition. In 1986, SOCA (Studio of Contemporary Art) was founded and exhibited a group show “Environment, Installation, and Video.” In 1987, together with the Taipei Fine Arts Museum SOCA organized a group exhibition, “Experimental Art -- Action and Space.” Over 20 artists took part, including Tsong Pu, Lu Mi, Huang Wen-hao, Lu Ming-de, myself and several art students. IT Park Gallery was founded in 1988 by the group of artists listed above and gradually expanded to include Lu Ming-te, Chen Chien-pei, Chen Kai-huang, Ku Shi-yung, Tang Huang-chen, Chi Tie-nan, Chen Shun-chu, Chu Chia-hua, Yuan Kuang-ming, Michael Lin, Yao Juei-chung, Peng Hung-chih, and Wang Jun-jieh etc.
In 1989, another group of artists founded “Space II”, including Lian Te-cheng, Hwang Wey-jeng, Marvin Fang, Yang Shih-chin, Hou Chun-ming, Huang Chih-yang, and others. In 1991, group show “Avant-garde, Experiment -- Apartment” at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, next year they curated the “Native Taiwan Thematic Exhibition” at the Up Gallery in Kaoshiung, Go Go Gallery in Tainan and Yellow River arts Center in Taichung. In 1995, a group of around a dozen young artists including Tu Wei, Wang Te-yu and Hung Tung-lu founded “New Paradise”, the same year, Huang Wen-Hao and Chen Kai-Huang set up “Etat”. In 1996, Margaret Tan established the Bamboo Curtain Studio.
In 1986, Lin Ju, Chen Chieh-Jen , Wang Jun-Jieh they organized an exhibition “Living Clay” at the Eastern unfurnished. In 1990, Lee Ming-sheng, Wu Mali, Hou Chun-ming, Lian Te-cheng and Chang Cheng-jen organized an exhibition of political satire “Congratulations on the Inauguration of the Eighth President Chiang” at Gam-a Grocery. In 1991, the same group of artists exhibited “Supernaturalism” at the Mo-yei Art Center. In 1993, Chen Kai-huang curated the group exhibition “Ineffable Taiwanese Contemporary Art -- Exile and Outcast” at the Up Gallery in Taipei and Kaoshiung and the Go Go Gallery in Tainan. In the same year, Victoria Lu curated “New Conceptual Artists of the 90s in Taiwan” at Hanart, Taipei. In 1994, Mei Dean-E curated a group show “Post-Martial Law -- Conceptual Mobilization” at the Gate Gallery. Later the same year, Marvin Fang organized “Nomad Museum” in the Apollo Building. In 1997, art critic Huang Hai-ming curated a site-specific installation project “Landscape, City and Symphony -- Taiwan Installation Art” in Chiayi City. With such a variety of events since 1984, installation art has gradually gained recognition and acceptance in Taiwan.
On a different level, in the end of 1982, Wu Tien-chang, Yang Mao-lin, Lu I-jung and Ye Tse-chi organized “101 Modern Art”, exhibiting politically critical paintings. In 1987, they all organized another group except Ye Tse-chi, a group of artists including Lu Hsuen-ming, Ni Zai-gin, Lee Min-chung and Lien Chien-hsing established the “Taipei Painting Group”. In 1998 this was reorganized as the “Fierce Painting Group”, with eight members. In this period, Wu Tien-chang manifested great creativity by transforming his portraits from a pure painting medium to one that incorporated multi-media installation art.