TAIWAN CONTEMPORARY ART ARTIST INTERVIEW INSTALLATION
In this second of three interviews, Tsong Pu reveals the concepts behind two important installations, Transposition of Light and Water (1992) and Backyard in June (1997). In it, he shows that works aren’t always created in ideal gallery spaces and what this means for the art work, and we see his unique grid concept move off the canvas. Additionally, independent art space funding issues are framed by a discussion of Tsong Pu’s involvement in the 1988 founding of Taipei’s IT Park Gallery.
Master Tsong developed his trademark 1 cm by 1 cm grid technique very early on in his career; it is evident in 1980s mixed media canvases like The White Line on Grey (1983). The installations discussed in this interview represent a ten year progression on this idea, pushing the interview into the 1990s.
During this time, in 1988, Tsong Pu and three other artists, Liu Ching-tang, Chen Hui-chiao, and Huang Wen-hao, founded IT Park Gallery, one of Taipei’s older gallery spaces and a recipient of the Taipei City government’s 13th Taipei Cultural Award in 2009. When they first opened the space it was unique in Taiwan. As Tsong Pu elaborates, “During that time, there were some similar [galleries] but none exactly the same. The partnership was different, even the interior design was different. Some of the [other spaces] were just rented houses without renovation.”
Tsong Pu's trademark grid technique is clearly demonstrated in this detail of his 1983 canvas 'The White line on Grey' (mixed media, 194 x 130 cm). Image courtesy of the artist.
To this day it is non-profit, although there is talk of turning the second floor of the gallery into a commercial space later this year, and from 1988 to 2005 was mostly self-funded. With no profits coming in, it was often hard to obtain funding. “There were always friends and relatives helping us all along, supporting us with small amounts of money,” says Tsong Pu.
While IT Park Gallery now gets some funding from the government – they apply for fund support from the National Culture Arts Foundation every year – Tsong Pu says the biggest constraint on the gallery is still financial. As he explains, today there is greater competition: “In the past, there were no people showing contemporary art but now it’s like everybody is doing it.”
He elaborates further on government support for contemporary art spaces: “The Taiwan government will always observe your operation only and they will not provide help. It’s only when you are successful they will help. Otherwise, they won’t. Unless you become very well-known overseas, then the government will help you.”
Tsong Pu is no longer involved in the management of IT Park Gallery, but through his association with the space, his work as a teacher and a judge, and his regular attendance at local exhibitions, he often finds himself exposed to new contemporary Taiwanese artists. Named as a “father figure to many young artists” by the Taipei Times he acts as a curator, selecting young and emerging artists for exhibitions: “… because I teach in two art schools; sometimes I’m the panel judge for competitions; I also visit exhibitions quite often. I will keep those young artists in my memory. Sometimes when I need to organise an exhibition I will get certain people to join certain kinds of exhibitions.”
This is part two of a three part series. In this part we look at how an installation created by Tsong Pu in the 1990s, Transposition of Light and Water, still reflects the unique grid technique he began using ten years earlier. We also look at an installation, Backyard in June, that has been exhibited five times and changed its name twice since its creation in 1996. For more on what to expect from the first and third parts of this series, please read the notes at the bottom of this post.
Tsong Pu's 'Transposition of Light and Water' (1992) on display at Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Image courtesy of the artist.
Transposition of Light and Water (1992) was given the Award for Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Art in 1992. It is now held in Taipei Fine Arts Museum‘s (TFAM) permanent collection, is that correct?
Yes. It is collected by TFAM.
Can you explain the concept behind Transposition of Light and Water? I understand it relates to early works such as The White Line on Grey (1983). How?
It’s actually related to the other one [The White Line on Grey] because their forms are the same. Maybe the differences are in the space, sizes, materials. The concept is basically the same; it’s just that it’s not in a square shape. This part [Master Tsong points to the glass boxes] is originally the grid box, taken out. And then a glass [plate] has been inserted to make the slash line. So this part [Master Tsong refers to the 1 cm by 1 cm boxes in The White Line on Grey] has been taken out, and it became this shape, form.
This is the cube, and then you can see the glass, that is the bisecting line. Because this is glass, it’s transparent, so you can see the inside. You can see the light, when the light goes through the glass it creates a rainbow. It’s on the ground, so you can see that there’s a line on the ground, just like the line on the canvas [The White Line on Grey].
This work dismantles [the grid pattern in The White Line on Grey] piece by piece.
You can see the relationship between The White Line on Grey and Transposition of Light and Water and the progression from one to the other. What about the other objects? How do they relate to the installation overall?
This is a tool, a clip… It’s just a coincidence. I use this to support [the glass cubes]. This is its only function. Because I was worried that after I added the water, plus the optical line, plus sunlight, there may be some movement in this line.
[These elements] added a feeling of time.
Can you explain how?
This is water. It will evaporate. It will disappear. I also put some iron on top and on the side. It will corrode, because the iron, the water and the sun will react together. Maybe you can see that there is, that this work is on the ground but with the water, with the iron, with the sun, they enable the work to show the concept of time. We can see that the glass and the water, they have a transparent quality so it’s more pure. When I see this work I think that it’s very beautiful.
So when TFAM displays it now, do they put water in it? Do they place all of the elements together?
Yes, it’s on display now and they put water in it.
Tsong Pu's 'Backyard in June' (1997, mixed media, 420 x 420 cm) shown restrospectively this year at Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Image courtesy of the artist.
Could you please confirm for me why this same installation piece has two different names, A Space Not for the Chorus (1996) and Backyard in June (1997)?
I’ve exhibited this twice. [A Space Not for the Chorus] is in a square shape. When I first did this work in exhibition, the venue space was not ideal, [there were other artworks on display around it]. That feeling was like, for example, if you are a singer and you don’t have the right partner to sing along with. It will not work.
That’s why I picked that name.
Let’s talk about Backyard in June then.
It’s in the right space.
Yang Wen-I was the curator for the “Segmentation-Multiplication: Three Taiwanese Artists exhibit at the 47th International Biennial of Visual Arts (Venice, Italy) in 1997. She is quoted in Taiwan Panorama as saying Backyard in June “is making a piercing commentary on the state of the Taiwan environment, human and natural.” How is this work doing that?
In the 1990s in Taiwan, if you were in Taiwan during this period you would have noticed a lot of political reactions in art. In a painting, the mediums blend together, but if I make an installation or a sculpture the mediums are separate. The elements are separate.
During the 90’s, there were a lot of elections and political disputes in Taiwan. [Yang Wen-I] felt that my work… each part is not attached together, they are separated…
Is that important to your work, when you do an installation compared to a work like The White Line on Grey?
To me it’s a habit more than importance. It’s not very important. When people look at my work, they will feel that it’s like the political situation in Taiwan. One moment they are attached to each other, the next moment they are separated, then re-attached, and separated again.
This separation is shown because it was originally a vase, a flowerpot.
Can you elaborate on what were you trying to show or achieve with this separation?
It’s very simple…. Originally it’s a physical item, a container. A little bit like in a cartoon, it’s been pressed or squeezed, spread into circles; a little bit like in a comic. In reality, it wouldn’t happen this way. I’m using a comic style. When you squeeze [the pot], it will become this way… But in reality, it’s impossible [for the pot] to become this.
It’s like in cartoons, when an object has been hammered… If it’s not a cartoon, you won’t able to see that kind of effect – spreading [out] circle by circle. This is an exaggeration. Normally when we watch cartoons, when [a character] hammers something, the cartoonist is able to draw out the visual effect.
[Backyard in June] feels a little bit like archeology…. When you are doing archaeological research, maybe you will also put it this way [Master Tsong refers to the placement of each piece of broken pot]; collect these pieces, label them with numbers.
About this series
This Art Radar interview with Taiwanese artist Tsong Pu has been presented in three parts. In part one, Master Tsong discusses two works in which he has used and adapted his most well known technique, a 1 cm by 1 cm grid pattern. In part two, the artist speaks on two very different installation pieces, close in date of construction but not in their theory of development. Part three talks about some of the artist’s most recent installation work.
We have also premised each part with some of the artist’s views on the current Taiwanese contemporary art industry, as developed from his roles as mentor, curator and master artist.
Related Topics: Taiwanese artists, Tsong Pu, interviews, installation art
Subscribe to Art Radar Asia for more on Taiwanese installation art and further artist interviews