|text by Chin Ya-Chun
Hot Chicks Are Bleeding is a sub-title I strongly suggested to Su Hui-yu when discussing his upcoming solo exhibition, The Fabled Shoots II. He thought the title was cool, but in the end decided against using it.
At the time of his September 2007 solo exhibition The Fabled Shoots, Su was anxious to report that after he experienced exploding gunpowder on his own body, that next time he wanted to blow something up on a hot chick. From the fragments of writing and various images he continually issued over the course of the following year, I gradually realized that he wasn't joking when he said this.
Long term preparations for the project included sketches, discussions with a costume designer, advertising for models, screen tests and putting together a production team. Next came two days of focused work at the photo session, and after all of this, we were finally able to see this group of images and photographs that were made to professional movie standards and comprise the exhibition entitled Bloody Beauty, as well as another series of photographs named for their predominant hue. In total, there are six female models, and in addition to their beautiful bodies, generally speaking they all seem to fit the definition of “hot chick” under their fashionably colorful and elaborate makeup.
Bloody Beauty is no doubt the core of the work in this solo exhibition. The word “bloody” in the title carries a lot of implications, as does the proposed title Hot Chicks Are Bleeding. On one hand, the titles seem like subject headings on pornographic spam, and there is an attempt to imply more than what is on the surface of the words in these otherwise frank and straight-forward descriptions. On the other hand, they really just are straight-forward descriptions because the models are really bleeding in the video. The same words will produce divergent interpretations, based on the reader's individual cultural experiences that have given rise to their a priori understanding of things. Faced with this inevitability, the artist has chosen a strategy of creating imagery that carries an obscured narrative yet is richly symbolic. In this way, Su draws the audience's attention, and by relying on the reader's potentially unlimited interpretations, has created a work that actually belongs to the viewer.
The Bloody Beauty series is an extension of Su Hui-yu's most video/media oriented creative line. Su once wrote he was a “TV kid” in an artist's statement , and even if his childhood days are far behind him, his longing for the television is no less now than before. Many serious studies have proven that watching television has a negative effect on personal development, so watching television (or perhaps watching too much television) is more often regarded as something bad. In 2004, Su Hui-yu started developing work related to television, and by stating that he himself was a critically conscious observer legitimatized his embrace of television.
Random Thoughts: This is Television Love
In his 2005 work Endless Recalling, Su placed two simultaneously operating televisions face to face. On one side there was a man saying, “Hurry up and go! Hurry! It is dangerous here, quickly leave!” and on the other, a woman saying, “No way, I don't want to, I won't go unless we go together.” The gestures and tone of these two people are completely overwrought with emotion, but lacking context and circumstantial clues, and so it is impossible to see where the danger lies. Also, the slight time difference between the two continuous video loops makes it so their dialog does not match up at times, and creates an overall feeling of absurd humor. The inspiration for this work came from a conversation between lovers that Su had heard on the street which seems very much like dialog commonly heard on a television soap opera. While we can't help but laugh, this moment also creates a feeling of involuntary uncertainty; after all, does theater always faithfully reproduce circumstances from real life, or is it the other way around? Those fabricated feelings have already seeped into our consciousnesses without us even knowing it, with the result of these theatrical phrases unexpectedly appearing in our everyday speech.
Idol worship is another social phenomenon that television has given us, and as it accompanies globalization almost everywhere, it seems to know no bounds. Speaking of 80s idols, Michael Jackson is extremely representative. Su Hui-yu, who worked in alternative independent theaters for many years, once while chatting with the director Wang Chia-ming discovered they both liked Michael Jackson, and so agreed to work together on a project. Along with Huang Yi-ru, they formed the 3M Organization in 2005, and made the work Michael Jackson. They used Michael Jackson's many popular singles to reproduce and string together various social incidents that happened in Taiwan in the 1980s for this work. Besides directing this project, Su Hui-yu had the idea of making a Michael Jackson music video, in which the three of them would personally star.
Michael Jackson's music video Bad, was the inspiration for 3M's work of the same name. The same year that Jackson's song came out, the two theaters at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall were completed and opened for use, and so 3M's Bad was filmed at this site which carries this special background of that time. 3M's Bad used the underground parking lots below the theaters as a substitute for the subway station in the original Jackson video, and they strove to make every minute of their video identical to Jackson's. Three big guys with their faces painted black, wearing eyeliner and dressed in black did their utmost to copy every nimble dance move in the Jackson video. They used their own bodies to recall this worshiped singer who climbed to the top yet was mired in scandals, and who was also an important model reflecting the locus of culture.
After completing his tribute to this huge international star, Su Hui-yu shifted his gaze toward Lin Chih-ling, who set off the super model craze in Taiwan. In 2005 he planned Lin Chih-Ling, inviting people from various fields to contribute to the work based on this idol, who at the time could be seen on television everyday. Here he exhibited a work he made with Cheng Shi-jun called The Super Model Love. Cheng Shi-jun, who was invited to attend the exhibition, heard at the time that Lin Chih-ling was going to the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts to participate in a performance, and so suggested going there to perform an art action. Su and Cheng therefore started planning how they could secretly return to their alma mater to carry out their idea.
On the night of the performance, Lin Chih-ling was standing among many models and designers with her usual smiling face that she presents to the media. Suddenly, two guys—one short, one tall—wearing bathing caps, robes and facial masks, forced their way to Lin Chih-ling's side and struck Chih-ling's trademark poses. Everyone was shocked, and after a minute or two, Su and Cheng were forced backstage where they were surrounded by security guards. Lin Chih-ling, who never lost her composure throughout the entire affair, came off stage and as she passed by them, said with a smile and sweet voice, “Oh, you guys go too far!”
That evening, the image of these two men standing behind Lin Chih-ling and imitating her, especially their faces covered with facial mask, was continually broadcast by various news and entertainment media, and even appeared on the political satire television show Everybody Speaks Nonsenses II - Hot Pot the next day. Su Hui-yu was extremely excited, and even if it was broadcast for only a moment, in the end this symbolic act was a stain on this idol's perfect day.
The Supermodel Love is perhaps the only one of Su Hui-yu's works that involves an action in real society. Among all his works before and after, it is the only one that leaves the art system to reflect or critique actual society and to meet his object of provocation face to face. If we say media today has become a domineering monster in the public imagination, then it also plays an important role in the transmission of information. If you don't go through the media, no matter how penetrating your insights are, then you are just muttering to yourself. By using media's keen interest in Lin Chih-ling and everything out of the ordinary, this work successfully attained a front-line position in the media, and called into question this current phenomenon.
The Starting Point of Systematic Discussions: The Fabled Shoots
The works described above all revolve around topics that have always held Su Hui-yu's interest. However, they still were unplanned, random samplings, and mostly a few flashes of inspiration from everyday experience. Su Hui-yu would reproduce these fragments that have caught his eye in an art context through imitation. After the process of remaking, where absolute faithfulness to the original was a basic requirement, Su earnestly presented the material as a work of art. Related procedures overstate the theatrical effect of these fragments, and when the audience encounters familiar scenes and language in unexpected situations, it generally makes them laugh and see things in new ways, and furthermore they start to examine the peculiarities in the work.
Su focuses his attention on a broader context while watching hours of television, tending to reflect on the amusing absurdities he is enjoying at the time, and practically all of the inspiration for Su Hui-yu's work comes from moods and perceptions that arise from these reflections. In his early works, his main efforts lay in giving expression to the traces of interaction between the media and everyday life of the public. The central question that slowly arose after Su's fragmented experiences continued to accumulate over a longer period of time was, what makes people indulge in the content provided by television and movies even though they clearly acknowledge that it is phony and absurd, and even when they know television and movies have an intensely manipulative intent, why do they continue to clutch the remote control? Afterwards, Su Hui-yu started systematically organizing his television and movie watching experience, and attempted to refine the essential elements of this experience. The first time he presented the work that came after beginning this process was at his 2007 solo exhibition The Fabled Shoots.
Su Hui-yu first chose his favorite kind of movie scene, the shoot out, when attempting to use a different object for his analysis. Besides being a favorite of the artist, shoot outs and explosions are presented extensively in many movie genres, from westerns, gangster to war movies, and a few guns or explosions are even present in most fantasy and horror movies. According to the logic of the movie industry, it is obvious that these scenes strongly attract movie audiences.
When describing some of his favorite shoot-out scenes from movies, Su mentioned that they have become more realistic as technology has developed. It sounds quite reasonable at first, and I believe that this must coincide with the experiences of most movie goers. However, whether or not these scenes come close to reality, is related to one's own assessment of analogous experiences in real life, and the number of people who have undergone these kinds of experiences first hand is really quite small. In other words, it is very possible that these references are fabrications of the media industry. From the layers of overlapping images in a great number of films, television programs and twenty-four hour news broadcasts, we receive false impressions that gradually start to become facts in our minds. Therefore, even if no one really gets hurt or killed in those movies, these scenes still shake us up with their intensity.
For his work The Fabled Shoots, Su Hui-yu chose to make direct use of movie industry special effects. Bags of fake blood strapped to his body were burst with exploding gunpowder, making a loud popping noise, spraying blood and slowly releasing smoke, and look just like gun-slinging shoot outs in the movies. The different part was, the heavy black tape sticking the explosive charges on the artist's naked body were not hidden from the audience's view at all, making it clear that this was just a performance. Because of this we could cast off the feelings of crime and fear commonly associated with shoot-out scenes and pay close attention to each explosion, perfectly enjoying this violence-filled aesthetic experience just like when we appreciate any work of art. Here it seems the essential nature of media as an entertainment tool is revealed; regardless of whether it is real or fake, and what kind of or what extent of sentiment it summons, we just need to shut off the electricity and the world in those images will momentarily disappear, and then our lives will carry on as they always have. When images can be produced and transmitted so easily, the content in the images becomes less extraordinary. Therefore, increased exposure to the media leaves us with an endlessly expanding desire for seeing and hearing more, as well as perpetuating our alienation from the real world.
Another video in the solo exhibition, The Fabled Shoots—A Warning, also casts light on a similar kind of logic: it is a terrorist's warning that is presented with the lively rhythm of a television commercial. Su Hui-yu has said that the spirit for this work comes from the shocking shooting incident at Virginia Tech. According to news reports, the assailant who charged onto the college campus, killed thirty-two people and then committed suicide, made a warning video beforehand and sent it to the news media. After the 9-11 incident, it seems a lot of terrorists use this kind of tactic. When these potentially harmful threats were thrown to the media, their connection to the real world seemed to have evaporated, and they even appeared less real than fictitious events. For many viewers, the amount of attention they garner depends on the brilliance of their special effects.
An Experimental Process of Abstraction : Bloody Beauty
In work for his solo exhibition The Fabled Shoots, Su Hui-yu abandoned his handmade and extremely flexible photographic style, started to move in a more professional direction, including inviting a special effects technician to assist him and using high definition photography technology. When attempting to dialog with the media, it became necessary to use a context that was identical to it, in other words, the artist's work needed to be at least as attractive as what we see in the media. This direction was pushed a step forward when it was applied to The Fabled Shoots—Bloody Beauty.
In terms of content, in addition to its highly popular bloody violence, this work is also equipped with the universal naked babes that are everywhere in the media. Su also uses a high-speed camera that can capture up to 1000 frames a second, which records details and particles that normal vision cannot perceive. Ok, so here we have completely naked hot babes and slow-motion explosions, do you want to see it or not?
In Bloody Beauty, two female models, either individually or in a pair, strike interactive poses commonly seen in porn. In front of a pitch-black backdrop creating a high-contrast effect, not only was their skin taut and giving off a slight sheen, but the exploding units were strapped to some sensitive and tender parts of their bodies, like their throats, breastbones or spines. As the image fades in and out, the models are usually wearing indifferent expressions or occasionally flash superficial smiles. The moment of the explosions, bright-red fake blood and bits of black material fly in all directions, with some slowly landing on the models' snow-white bodies. As the white smoke slowly spreads, their bodies and hair faintly shudder, but it isn't until afterwards, from their involuntarily shut eyes and knit brows, that we can see they were suffering.
The visual aspect of the video includes the models standing, posing, and waiting for the explosions. All of this has been set up by Su Hui-yu; his judgment is primarily intuitive and comes from his art experience, making the images full of rich painterly effects. The uncontrollable variations after each explosion are perhaps a few surprises waiting to be exposed. Because the video is in slow motion, the sound of the explosions has become indistinguishable, the artist therefore used one low note produced by a piano as a substitute. This single loud tone suggests that the explosion has happened, and the lingering, reverberating sound that carries on endlessly produces a corresponding atmosphere.
High speed photography actually isn't usually used for shooting movies, but is commonly used when many detailed images are needed within a short time frame. Advertising is one such example, such as when good looking men and women are showering and the camera catches the floating water globules as they are splashed on their skin, or when dancers are jumping through the air in brightly colored dance clothes. This technology can create exceptionally beautiful and eye-catching aesthetic experiences, consequently drawing consumers to products by creating interest and identity. With the content and quality of explosions, women's bodies, meticulous planning of visual effects and advertisement-quality images, Bloody Beauty actually concentrates a large amount of media material and uses it to attract the audience's attention, and because of this the first thing that strikes the audience about the work is its beauty. However, when putting his objective into practice, Su Hui-yu handles his own experience as a media viewer the best (after all, he is a grown up TV kid), and relies on the accumulated attention he has paid to this topic over the long term. In other words, this work certainly, and very precisely satisfies the artist's own desire, but whether it meets the expectations of most viewers is still an open question.
Compared with earlier works in The Fabled Shoots series, this time Su Hui-yu has prolonged momentary images from the real world with the assistance of special equipment and technology for Blood Beauty. As we fix our attention on these minute and rich details, the original actions secretly disappear and accomplish the artist's goal of abstracting the content in his images. Also, in the other series of photographs named for their predominate hue, he directly substitutes other colors for the red of the exploding blood. The models are wearing typically fashionable clothing, and are striking poses commonly seen in fashion magazines. At first glance, they seem to be advertisements for ultra-modern fashions, and to analyze this kind of expression we still need to start from the following question: why does it appear in an art context?
Observing the results of Su Hui-yu's attempts to reveal media's drug-like addictive quality, I can't help but think of media production. While media is accused of manipulating and influencing the audience's thinking, its ultimate goal is only to exert all its strength to present that which will win over and fulfill the desires of the viewer. In other words, does everything we see in the media represent the deepest desires in our hearts? Here it would seem that the audience is neither completely innocent nor helpless, but instead, the audience might be the invisible hand that colludes with the media.
From Su Hui-yu's TV Kids No More, not published.
Part of this article is excerpted form a previous article by the author, TV Loves Su Hui-yu Loves TV, NCAF Quarterly, Spring issue, 2008, pp.26-29