Interview: Hsieh Chun-te
Le Festin de Chun-te
Emily Burke interviews Hsieh Chun-te
Emily Burke: As the largest Biennale, and one of the world’s most important platforms for the dissemination of contemporary international artwork, do you think that the Biennale participants have a social obligation to represent their various countries in a certain way?
Hsieh Chun-te: From the aspect of astronomy, we all know how to calculate the age and the distance of the universe. The farthest planet is 15 billion light years away from the earth. However, the universe without light doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist because its light doesn’t reach the earth yet. This implies to the limitation of human beings. When we stand on the ground, we are unable to the see the world beyond horizon. In brief, what we can not see doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Through the eyes of artists and their representations, we have multiple aspects to understand that the lives of the people from different areas. Therefore, the Venice Biennale of Art becomes the platform that we could realise what those artists from different countries have observed, and tried to say. With no doubt, I am one of them because I also expect that we could be seen and have the chance to communicate with the people around the world.
EB: How important do you feel it is to present the work of Taiwanese artists on an international stage?
HC: In order to answer this question, I would like to provide one example from the novel “The General in his Labyrinth “ by Gabriel García Márquez. When the general met the British officer who helped him constantly, he said, “Sir, although we walk side by side now, you have to know the cultural difference between us at least for two or three hundred years. In this moment, we are forced to walk together, but the cultural difference still exists.”
EB: Are there particular aspects of Taiwan culture that you feel need to be expressed through art?
HC: For many years, there was only one major political party in Taiwan, the Kuomintang (KMT). Until the day that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the election in 2000, President Chen Shui-bian invited one famous American economist to visit Taiwan for one week. When he finished his journey, he gave ten suggestions to Taiwan government and I want to underline two of them.
Firstly, Taiwanese society should regard the creativity as the social property. Secondly, we should encourage the young generation to bravely try and fail. The value system in Taiwan has changed a lot in recently years. All the medias, educational institutions, everything is talking about how to be successful, including how to succeed in love relationships, how to have successful business, how to succeed in the stock market. Nobody teaches the young generation how to face the failures. People forget that most of the successes are based on the accumulation of frustrations and failures. This is the problem in Taiwan because our value system has been changed. That is the reason why our former president is in the prison because of the corruption sentences.
We have to solve this essential question: what is the value of human existence? In the recent twenty or thirty years, Taiwan is so called “the island of economy miracle”, or “the island of technology OEM”. I try to express what I have observed in order to provide a caution and a reflection.
EB: Do you think that artists in general have a certain social responsibility to represent their country, or in the modern culture that we live in do individual art practices take precedent over ties to our culture?
HC: My personality is to seek for those unseen, or to speak out for those unspoken. During those years when there was only one major political party (the Kuomintang, KMT) in Taiwan, I have participated in the opposition party and join the demonstrations in the street. At that time, we aimed to voice for the civilians in these activities. I hope to change the society. For an artist, I believe that he/she should express the dissatisfactions and precede the improvements for this world. Consequently, I make use of the tools that I am good at to express my opinions.
EB: How do you expect the audience at the Venice Biennale, being such a wide and diverse range of people from all areas of the world, to react to your work?
HC: The series of photos “Raw” is a project that commenced in 1987 and finished in 2011.
In the summer of 1987, I closed the workshop in Taipei city and moved to Sanchong city, which is located on the other side of Tamsui River. Most of the residents of Sanchong city are from the central or the southern part of Taiwan. Before they stepped into Taipei city, they stopped by the suburban city and waited for chances. Therefore, they had a processing factory of hardware on the first floor of their apartment. You might ask them, “Where do you come from?” Although they have lived here for around 20 years, they would still answer that they are from Changhua, Chiayi or Kaohsiung. (Note: Those are the name of the cities in central and southern Taiwan.)
I asked him, “Why don’t you say that you are the people coming from Sanchong?” They said, “Here is dirty and messy. I don’t want to be someone coming from here.”
Yes, each residence here was locked up. If you go to the streets and alleys, you would see trash everywhere.
Those residents in Sanchong city didn’t regard it as their hometown so they were not willing to devote themselves to this city. As for the place where they were born, it becomes the nostalgia in their minds. Therefore, I moved to Sanchong in order to hide the primitive desire in people’s dark inner minds so I started everything by myself.
Hopefully, I could make more people know our living circumstances in Taiwan since home is the most important thing in the world.
EB: Could you give us an insight into the work that is being presented?
HC: I would like to provide one particular point of view. About 20 years ago, there was TV news report that two policemen caught a stowaway from China. The policemen asked him the reason why to be a stowaway. He said to the camera, “I just arrived in this land later than you did!”
It is the universal problem for all the countries. The nationalism is to occupy the land first and announce their legal ownership. But, we all say that the civilians have the right to migrate. However, the fact is that you could move out, but nobody allows you to move in. So, how about the ownership of the earth? If we believe that land should not be regarded as private property, how could we tolerate the government to occupy the land from other people? How do we face this problem? At the same time, how to find an insight into my works?
If you take off the coloured glasses, I believe that you would see my works insightfully
EB: How integral is performance to your work?
HC: In the very beginning, I didn’t consider how to integrate the performance to my photography works. I believe that any art work should not be limited in any fixed space. It could be everywhere and anywhere. If so, space is supposed to be open to all kinds of art creations. Therefore, I attempted to put a performing artwork, such as my Cooking Theatre, in a still space. If you are willing to do so, the integration will come out naturally.
EB: Do you aim to bring artist and audience closer together through food?
HC: Enjoy the performance, by being part of it!
When food becomes part of the art, the dish is not the only performer, and the dining table is not the only stage. There is no differentiation between audience and performer. Everyone will join and be part of the performance, and in the end, finish the act by eating it!
All the sensations towards this performance will occur instantly, and no one can ever predict the ending of each performance. When the scene of a food banquet is concluded, it will be a calling, a touching, a journey of true art.
EB: Some of the images you are displaying are quite harrowing. What is the aim of these photographs?
HC: The aim of these photographs is certainly not to scare anyone. There are two purposes in my works. From my experiences in stage and theatre photography over the years, I have learned that when I take a picture, the photograph itself becomes dissociated from the original space and process, and transforms into a different stage of images, engaged with the stage in a dialogue.
So when I express my childhood dreamscapes and growing-up experiences as photographs, using Sanchong as the stage on which they are acted out, these photos in themselves are no longer manifestations, of either reality or imagination, but opinions on the environment in which I live.
EB: Is there a story throughout your images?
HC: It is a story about the homecoming of the prodigal son.
EB: What is the link between the images you are exhibiting in the Raw exhibition, and the live cooking performance?
HC: I plan to present one sacrifice ceremony through Cooking Theatre. I saw a documentary where Eskimos would grab some snow and melt it in their mouths and pray for when they are going to eat small seals. Also, I have even been to the boundary between Russia and China in order to interview Oronchon people who are also called the last hunters in the world. They led me to the hunt and they also repent after they shoot animals. In brief, for the natural lives which are sacrificed to become human food, the aboriginal people often treat them with the feelings of appreciation and apology.
Let’s think about your own situation. It is the same that rice, vegetable, chicken, duck, beef and lamb are scarified for human food. How about us? This is what we should think about carefully. Now we are facing the crisis of lacking water resource and food. Through Cooking Theatre, I want to express my point of view that we should return to the beginning of everything to do the serious introspection.
Through the link between the images in the Raw exhibition and the live cooking performance, I hope to “explore” these question.
Originally published on Line magazine: A Virtual Biennale blog