|text by Cindy Black Cheng
Taiwanese artist Wang Te-Yu creates inflatable balloon-like installations that invade the viewer’s space and forces the audience to bodily readjust. Cindy Black Cheng talks with Wang about her latest exhibition, No. 72, her artistic background, current works and views on contemporary Taiwanese art and culture.
Wang Te-Yu (王德瑜) was born in Hsin Chu, Taiwan in 1970. She graduated with a BFA in Fine Art in 1993 from the National Institute of the Arts and an MA in 2005 from the Taipei National University of the Arts. Wang was a member of the Shin Leh Yuan ‘New Paradise’ Art Space (新樂園藝術空間) in Taipei, an artist-cooperative gallery founded in 1995. Wang’s latest exhibition ‘No.72’ at Kalos Gallery in Taipei shows off her most recent interactive airbag, balloon-like installations.
Wang Te-Yu creates soft sculptural installations with simple shapes and colours in accordance with the space in which they occupy to create a dialogue between object and space. Her works are also interactive and allow the viewer to physically become a part of the art work. The artist’s work seeks to emphasise physical experience over visual interpretation; everything returns to its simplest form. Through her works, the audience is forced to just be with the distorted space created by the artist, where simple colours represent the clean and unpredictable canvases of nature, and the audience must bodily readjust to comprehend the situation.
Wang’s choices of form and material for her works are often based on impressions, memories and imagination. Her idea of ‘man imprisoned by space’ was inspired by a scene in the 1979 horror sci-fi movie Alien, in which the female lead dreamt of an alien creature breaking her belly and climbing out. The realistic image of the tension and tissue of the skin imprinted in her mind and became a core sketch for her works since. Even after years of development in her works, Wang’s latest installations still allude to this one scene.
In her latest exhibition ‘No.72’ at Kalos Gallery in Taipei, Wang exhibited three of her huge air-filled installations. All three of the balloon-like airbags are made of single-coloured plastic sheets and are attached to a machine constantly keeping the bags inflated so that they retain a fixed structure. A zipper along each bag allows the audience to climb in and out of it.
Wang names all of her shows numerically, from her first ‘No.1’ to the latest ‘No.72’. According to the artist, titles and names provide people with a clue to what the works are about, but they also tend to limit further imagination. To Wang, for the audience themselves to connect and interact with the space and to create their own experiences is key to her shows; the numbers, then, are mere signposts for the viewer’s journey through the artist’s works.
・Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and your art career up to now?
I wish I could say that I have had an unusual educational or family background growing up, or that I have been through some extraordinary experiences, but really I couldn't be a more typical art student professionally trained under the Taiwanese art education system. The main encouragement and support for my art career would be, first and foremost, my mother’s passionate imagination in the arts, and also the way our teachers taught us to fathom our own artistic understandings and to recognise our own creative paths without ever revealing how to do it.
After university graduation, I met several artists and theorists of various artistic fields through Shin Leh Yuan ‘New Paradise’ Art Space and was introduced to a few important curators, critics and not-for-profit art organisations who gave me the opportunity to exhibit my works in several different spaces and thus sharpened my ability to improvise. That was an important experience in my early career.
・Where do your inspirations come from? Throughout your creative process, are there particular artist, people or things in particular that inspired you?
Usually, my previous work leads me to doing the next. There are always new ideas emerging after the opening of a show, so I would start to imagine the next show based on these new ideas. Nevertheless, the interaction between people and space, whether abstract or symbolic, has always been fundamental to my works, which also explains why I am especially fond of 1970s land art.
・Can you tell us about your latest show ‘No.72’? How is it different from your previous shows? Are there any breakthroughs?
In No. 72, you can see the distinguishable shapes and colours of each of the installation, which is quite unusual for my work. Usually when I first encounter an unfamiliar space I cover or fill it with a gigantic plain-coloured airbag, so when the audience enter the space, they also immediately start to interact with it, creating a dialogue between them and the space. Since this is my second time working with Kolas Gallery, I added the symbolic shapes and colours based on my impressions of and imagination for the space and the people working here. Also, I now feel more relaxed and open minded about using colour in my work; colours are no longer a distraction for me to avoid as they used to be.
・As a contemporary Taiwanese artist, does your work reflect Taiwanese culture? Or in other words, what role does Taiwanese culture play in your work?
Since I have always lived in Taiwan, I can’t really compare my own culture to that of others. I am more concerned about the fundamentality of and similarity between certain things and humanity than about cultural differences.
・Your works are large in size, with simple lines and made with soft materials. They are both elegant and, at the same time, lively with a touch of humour. They seem to be welcomed among a wide range of audience. Was this your intention? Do you think attracting a wider range of audience is also a key aspect of contemporary art? What do you think is the role of artists in contemporary society?
I have never really thought too much about what audience I would like to attract through my work, I am just glad that people appreciate my work. Perhaps it is the simplicity of my work that attracts people. Anyone can easily and intuitively experience my work without even having to think.
As for the last question, I do think that we need a whole variety of different types of artists in our society, whether at work or simply in life. We would be living in a whole new different way.
Interview by Cindy Black Cheng