Chen Tai-Song
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Freed From The Reality – The Trance And Elusion : A Note on Tang's “I Go Traveling”
text by Chen Tai-Song

“An old painter showed his friend his recent painting. In the painting there is a yard with a path by the creek; and, the path goes through the bushes towards a small house. The house has a small door for people to walk in. However, when the friend turned around the painter had already left: All of a sudden the friend found the painter himself in the painting – he is walking along the path to the house, turning around, smiling, and disappearing behind the gap of the door…”[1]

Audio/Video Installation

Why is this legend brought up? There are many reasons. The major one is artist Tang Huang-Chen's (“Tang”) more than one month’s artistic experience in last year's “I Go Traveling”.

Installed inside the Aveda showcase in AsiaWorld department store is Tang's assembled artwork – a TV screen equipped with automobile wipers, with a camera working to take in all customers passing by, simultaneously. Unsure about its intentions though, this interesting setup has successfully attracted people's attention. The purpose of “framing” the image of the merchandise is then achieved as people have been drawn to the front of the store to see what it tries to deliver. More surprisingly, when people enter the store and play with the gadget according to instructions, a fantasy into the space is triggered, with infinite whimsies.

In the gadget there is an operable telephone, and once connected, an “Audio/Video installation” will be prompted. At this time, the customers (including the one who makes the call) whose images are taken by the camera are soon replaced by a pre-recorded artist’s face (Tang's face), and with her tense facial expression as if she is trembling and mumbling in the wind, we sense a camping in the distant wilderness. Watching the screen, you have to listen to what it says on the telephone. The telephone automatically tells you different places in Taiwan ranging from Hua-lien Port, Chrshang, Taitung, to Eluanbi Peninsula, requiring you to circle the names of the places printed on the prearranged postcards, in sequence, and then mail to the artist. This is the kind of trip Tang has designed for her audience. At the same time, Tang is bringing along another set of “Audio/Video installation” to travel in Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Taitung, respectively, to receive phone calls from her audience in Taipei. Once connected, though not conversing with her audience, the aforementioned automatic place-reporting Audio/Video system is started and the audience in Taipei will then receive the message from the phone concurrently. In return, the face of the audience will then be transmitted from Taipei to the portable TV screen carried by Tang.

Translating a “Communication Behavior” into a trip is the soul of Tang's creation[2]. Her inspiration cannot be easily evaluated by the traditional standards of aesthetics, as it relates nothing to the crafts of arts; on the contrary, it relates more to the meaning of “signal” and the impact of an event's “planning”. Like what A. Cauquelin points out, the reality of contemporary art is external to the nature of the creation itself; further, it is structured on the basis of “the image of the creation stirred by the information channels.” This kind of image simulates a “signal” and functions like a language. In another words, the reality of arts is formed by the language and networks it is weaving, not simply “a corroborated existence endowed by the senses[3]” .

Image – “In” and “Out”

Indeed, as a signal the name of the place transcends the space and brings to mind the audience's memory and imagination for that place. For example, the invitation letter shows the wipers wiping the screen, lyrically recalling the driving in the rain. However, in a merchandise's world such as Aveda's, there is no guarantee for a poetic inspiration to take effect. Unless we ignore the spirit of this artwork and simply walk in, unintentionally falling into Tang's “Audio/Video installation”, things could then be otherwise. If this presumption of “walk in” or “falling into” stands, what would possibly have happened then?

Like what Hsu Chi-Ling indicates, this artwork contains either the issues of “in” and “out” or “A Game of Eternal Scenery[4]”, as she tries to interpret the subject of this artwork. When the audience is “in” the installation, Tang's image shows up on the screen to inform the audience that she is “out” for a trip. Her image replaces that of the audience who is supposed to be projected through the camera; and, in return, the audience's image transcends through miles and appears on the artist's portable TV screen. To the artist, the audience goes traveling as well. Tang says,” a curious audience might want to make a phone call from the gadget I set up for him/her, and once it gets connected, his/her mind of thinking is interrupted and falls into a trip I have directed for him/her[5].”

Everybody knows that only the artist's trip is for real. Interestingly, however, through the “Audio/Video installation” Tang attempts to interpret her traveling as a imaginary, yet mirror-like, reflective symmetry. In the symmetry, you watch me traveling and I watch you traveling; and when you are “in”, I am “out”, and vice versa. However “out” in perception, our images are all “in” when taken by the camera and shared on the screen.

Image, the soul of Tang's “I Go Traveling”, relates back to the legend that had long obsessed W. Benjamin when he recalled those fantastic illusions in China – a friend was invited to appreciate the painter's painting, and illusively, the painter eluded into the painting and became part of the legend. You can see this legend as a daydream when the painter's friend was in a trance trying to appreciate the essence of the painting. Even more, the painter who had evaded into his own painting may be just a reflection of his friend's mindset. Likewise, the friend himself may be the incarnation of the painter. Actually, the whole story is depicted as a painting, similar to Floyd’s world of dreams. It is the dream's “condensation[6]” in its “embodiment” (figurabilité). While we are indulging in the real meaning of this legend, here comes the common call for “roaming”.

“Roaming”, A Door Opened For Discussion

Speaking of “roaming”, it fully expresses the admiration for aesthetics that was specifically encouraged in the Six Dynasties of ancient Chinese history. For example, Liu Hsieh brought up the “Spirits contained within, senses roam with objects” to bolster his artistic theory of “Spirits roam with objects[7]”; Hsieh Ling-Yun also refers to his awareness of the beauty for the mountains and water and further incorporate it into his “ Captured by the eyes, read by the body[8]”; moreover, “Laying the painting and trancing into the wilderness[9]” that was proposed by Tsong Bing is another example of painting theory. This philosophy of “Object & Me” or “Mind & Object” can be traced back to Chuang Chou's Taoism, with “roaming” being the soul. It means a divine dialogue with Taoist spirit, mentally liberated by “roaming with deities[10]”.

While we are facing a dysfunctional world without the past “roaming spirits” being cherished nowadays, the idea of “roaming” proposed by Tang at this time serves as a salvation in our society. A comparison with a counter-example cited by Wang Chun-Chieh's “A Trip with Fireflies in the Seventh Heaven” in 1997 is provided here.

With the same idea of displaying the artwork in a market place, Wang Chun-Chieh had set up a computer for the visitors to schedule their tours. On the screen there were fake yet vivid pictures and literatures. This idea was a complete fabrication and could

simply be laughed away, though it tried to uncover the traveling industry's deviation, in a dramatic way, when having to cater to the consumption needs of our society. The way he designed his artwork is like a drama while sharing the same idea as Tang– creating “simulacre”, forging “an illusion of your counterpart[11]”. The counterpart referred hereunder is a reflection of our community's desire, and the tour means a “vacation” which was harshly criticized by Guy Debord as a consumption unit from “A society of drama” (la société du spectacle) and the “quasi-circulation of time” replicated by the modern economy[12].

Back to Tang's “I Go Traveling”, she went along without touring around. Her low profile and the commitment to converse spiritually with her counterpart is just the opposite of what Wang Chun-Chieh did, revealing a desire to fuse a real life experience with the reality. We can explain that Tang's “Audio/Video Installation” is a structure of places and events, combined with rules of game and preset activities. Her idea is not to criticize anything, though applying the strategies used by the “international activists” to critique the Capitalist society in the Western world in 1950s and 1960s. It contains the spirit of Guy Debord's “a spiritual & geographical game”, to return to “the reality of traveling” through “endless deviation[13]”, making our lives “a comprehensive trip[14]”. This is not an isolated event. A series of actions taken by the Japanese artist On Kawara can be a good example in early times. For example, the works of “I Wake Up” and “I Leave” in 1968, and “I Am Still Alive” in 1970 On Kawara transmitted his artworks to designated galleries through the mediums of documents, postcards and telegraphs.

A Parable from the Narrator

Undoubtedly, the core concept of the modern Romanticism has again exerted her power. This time we have to emphasize her narrator's role in the inheritable “verbal traditions[15]”.

For W. Benjamin, a real narrator (story teller) signifies the perpetual value of experience exchange and interpretation of legacy, with a purpose to “mix ‘the story told’ with ‘the story teller's life’”, and, to make them one. The aforementioned painter's legend and spiritual integration can be a good example[16]. In this regard, Tang, as an inheritor of the narrator, interpreted her “journey” into an actual trip, enlivened by an Audio/Video installation. Like the painter evading into his painting and peeking behind the door before disappearing, Tang's appearing on the screen is a statement to prove her existence.

Yet, there is a problem. However inspirational, in terms of Signal Semantics “Aveda” is still the main character to attract customers. The signal is only effective when giving in to the Capitalist economy.

It does not mean that Tang's “salvation” has failed; instead, she mythologizes “communications and interactions” with a parable to convey to the people her unique messages. In the parable there is no story told and only the message of “out for a trip” is delivered, regardless of the possibility of traveling in a society of patriarchy. Frankly, it imposes a crisis for narration and forms another face of culture; but fortunately, Tang still sticks to her principle of poetic invention without being trapped in a state of forgery and mediocrity.

In the past, the “avant-garde” used to be a violent means to revolutionize an undesired condition. However, this approach is no longer effective. At present, arts can only express her discontent by secretly collaborating behind the scene, trying to disturb an unpleasant status quo. Tang's “I Go Traveling” is one of them, though the outcome is uncertain. Notwithstanding in a dim corner amid the crowds, her insights are lit somewhere in the city. It is a trance carrying a “celestial message”, an elusion with an aesthetic call. Though it is so close to the “reality”- a merchandise world.

[1] W. Benjamin, “Sens unique”, pp.70-71, ed. Maurice Nadeau, Paris, 1988. French edition by Jean Lacoste.
[2] See Tang’s “Exhibition Proposal”.
[3] “l’art contemporain”, ed. P.U.F, p.40, p.60, Paris, 1992.
[4] Hsu Chi-Ling, “A Game of Eternal Scenery”, Liberty Times, Nov. 10, 1999, p. 39.
[5] See Tang’s “Exhibition Proposal”.
[6] Floyd, “Analysis of Dreams”, pp. 342-366, jointly translated by Lu Chun, Kao Shen-Chuen and Ho Hsang-Chun, ed. Mina belle, Taipei, 2000.
[7] Liu Hsieh, “A Polished Heart to Carve Dragons” - Transcendental Meditation.
[8] Cheng Yu, “An Overview on the Theory of Aesthetics in The Six Dynasties”, p. 160.
[9] Tsong Bing, “A Preface on Paintings of Mountains and Water”.
[10] “Chuang Chou” - The World.
[11] J. Baudrillard, “Pour unr critique de l’économie politique du signe”, pp.182-190.
[12] Guy Debord, “La Société du Spectacle”, p.118, Paris, 1992.
[13] Lin Chi-Ming, “Contemporary Era”117- Guy Debord and French Aggressive Thinking, p.13, Taipei, 1996, Jan.
[14] Guy Debord, “La Société du Spectacle”, p.136, Paris, 1992.
[15] W. Benjamin, “Story Teller”, translated by Lin Chi-Ming, ed. Taiwan Photographic Studio, Taipei, 1998.
[16] This is a hint from the narrator. Actually, in the painter’s legend, W. Benjamin, a fan of Chinese culture, talked about his childhood experience when he water painted, “I make color, and the color makes me;” “I feel like a china vase, walking into its clouds.”
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