“When I feel vexed or I feel like wanting to escape from something, I will get on my motorbike and start to wander through Yangmingshan National Park. Sometimes I would just ride through the mountains and continue straight heading toward the North Coast.”
Chih-Hung Liu is skillful at recording fragments from the sceneries he encounters along his path. Often permeated by the artist's imagination, these fragments are sometimes hard to distinguish between reality and fiction. This unique style of “outdoor sketching” presents a fast-paced flowing of lights, sceneries, and time. Liu’s works are not only sketches completed on the spot, they are also paintings executed with an exceptional style, images that represent and reconstruct memories.
Whether as a friend or as a working mate, it is easy to notice that beneath Liu's bright and lucid personality, lies a certain obscurity along with a delicate desire for narration. This big boy has many stories to show and tell, but it seems that the materials available often cannot keep up with his pace. In other words, one may say that a single material cannot fully represent the rich dimensions of Liu’s inner stories. This aspect seems to prevent him from confining his artistic practice to mere static paintings: he moves on a temporal level. In addition to visual works, he also needs to express his story telling through sounds, performances and emotions. Sound Geography can be seen as an extension of such concept: with a current total of six volumes published, Sound Geography includes recordings of the artist’s residency experiences abroad, and fieldwork results obtained around Taiwan. It is a collection of stories, depictions of sounds, as well as photographs and sketches whose colors hint at Expressionism while embracing sentimental tones.
Sound Geography is not only the artist’s personal travel notes but also a “geography” that uses art as its methodology. The wholehearted devotion and enthusiasm to dig into a certain place and seek a deeper understanding subsequently reflects the artist’s personal perception. When viewers start to “wonder” by following the artist’s writings, depictions, and visual records, they, too, will delve into this flowing structure of space/time the artist creates. It should be emphasized here that Sound Geography does not represent a creation in itself from his paintings; on the contrary, the paintings are its needed complementary element. And both the two types of creations belong to Liu’s sketch-forms of flowing imagery.
“Shiasei” (sketch) was a creative practice originated from the East-Asian classical painting tradition where artists were required to observe and depict nature. However, with the process of modernization and the introduction of Western art, “Shiasei” gradually started to indicate one of the Western art’s practices, too, which is the “sketching” of an actual object or scenery. By the time Taiwan started to practice Western art during the Japanese colonial period, it began directly from the Impressionists, post-Impressionists in some cases. Therefore, as far as basic art education was concerned in Taiwan, “Shiasei” was closely connected with the idea of landscape. When Taiwanese people say that someone went to “Shiasei”, what immediately pops in their minds is the idea of a “person wandering into the woods or along a river on a sunny morning, often carrying along very simple art tools.”
During the 1990’s, contemporary artists in Taiwan tried to confront and abandon the traditions rooted in art history. They endeavored to experiment and follow the avant-garde practice in terms of form and concept. Nevertheless, it is quite impossible for any young contemporary artist to escape the influence of “Shiasei” even despite such new approaches. Therefore, one may ask, in a digital era flooded with temporary, visual materials, how can we discuss the concept of “Shiasei” with today’s contemporary artists who have been so intrinsically “branded” by this media art’s fire? It seems that Liu has provided his own answer through the creation of a balanced and complementary-structured body of works.
In Taiwan, the local context of “Shiasei” has never been merely related to depiction, observation, or some type of painting technique. Since Kinichiro Ishikawa, the first to establish the concept of "Shiasei” in Taiwan, “Shiasei” has been closely connected with Naturalism. Thus, when we embark on a discussion about the degree of “Shiasei-ness” in Liu’s works, we do not superficially refer to its technical acceptation only; we need to further understand it in terms of how strong the sense of Naturalism is contained underneath the artist’s works. In Liu’s past creations, whether photographs, installations, or paintings, we can feel the artist's intimate relation with animals, the forest, and plants. Similarly, this kind of tenderness towards nature is expressed through his artworks to a proper extent reflecting the artist’s inner feelings.
Considering our inner feelings as an assemble of intricate emotions flowing in various directions, it is reasonable to infer that the most crucial way to understand Liu’s works is by looking closely at his narrative montage. Whether his paintings or works created through different media, it feels as if we were watching a string of flowing images. The viewers linger on these images that seem to possess a timeline, whilst seeking the poetic quality that exists outside the narration. Liu’s works are like an invitation to a visual journey that welcomes all viewers to participate or embark on. This journey goes way beyond the far-away residency programs the artist had successfully completed over the past years. In fact, to ride his bike into the nearby mountains, wandering without purpose, is already an authentic journey in itself: it is a whimsical adventure that reveals a longing for freedom, a desire to escape from the mundane, and a spiritual route that eventually leads to a naturalistic rhapsody.
Through seemingly insolent and energetic brushstrokes, the images of the past captured by Liu engender a strong sense of vitality. Here we can see three different senses of speed presented in the artist’s “sketch collage”: the first comes from the artist’s subjective viewpoint, which is the sense of speed he feels when riding on his motorbike. This is a strong “physical speed”. The second is the sense of speed he experiences during and after his journeys, when he uses his collage and narrative methods to arrange a memory timeline. We may call this the “mental speed”, which simultaneously guides the audience to visually picture the different spaces. The last sense of speed is given by the subjects depicted: whether plants, stray dogs or trees encountered in the forest, they together form an external temporal structure based on their own entities; we may label this as the “natural speed” that exists in the woods. Immersing oneself in and experiencing these different perceptions of time/speed structure not only reveal the artist’s poetic world but also go back to the logic of the geographic methods long cultivated and taken up by Liu.
The title of this solo exhibition Paludes is a quotation from the work of French writer André Gide which carries the same title. Paludes (1895) is an autobiographical diary novel that mocks the cynicism rooted in the Parisian intellectual circles on the one hand, whilst it simultaneously conveys a strong sense of loneliness that pours out directly from the author on the other. Perhaps it is precisely this sense of oppression that results in the artist’s desire to “escape”. In fact, this concept very much shapes the main idea of this exhibition: Liu’s works constitute a visual diary, an interface that expresses the artist’s physical existence as well as his sensuous dimension. In conclusion, Liu’s paintings are sprinkled with acute observations about time, space, and memory. His art is not only a montage of his journeys but also a modern idyll composed by a soul whose roots belong to the naturalist world. Such artist with sensitivity and solicitude is rare in the field of contemporary art nowadays. We could even say that the art sphere Liu creates functions very much as the Yangmingshan National Park he depicts: it provides a natural space where people stressed out over the urban lifestyle can seek asylum, explore possibilities, and recollect memories. It allows us to further construct a self-healing sensuous world by rearranging our fragments of memories.
Chih-Hung LIU Solo Exhibition
nca | nichido contemporary art,
Friday 2nd March – Saturday 7th April, 2O18