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Taiwanese collage artist Liu Shih-tung on 18th Street residency – profile

Posted by artradar on September 16, 2010


TAIWAN LOS ANGELES ARTIST RESIDENCIES COLLAGE CULTURAL EXCHANGE

Liu Shih-tung is a Taiwanese mixed media artist, born in 1970 in central Taiwan’s Miaoli County. He has been a practicing artist since 1985 when he entered the newly established senior high school art major classes and has been working primarily with collage since the early 2000s. From July to August this year, Liu undertook a residency at 18th Street Art Center in Los Angeles, California and we talk to him about this experience.

Says Clayton Campbell, Artistic Director of 18th Street and international artist residency expert, of the artist’s selection,

“Liu was selected on artistic merit and excellence, and his stated interest to be in Los Angeles. He came with his family, which we like when it’s possible. Otherwise he would not have been able to leave them and be here. We have a long term commitment to supporting artists from Taiwan.”

Liu Shih-tung's 2010 work on exhibition at Page Museum, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of the artist.

Liu Shih-tung's 2010 work on exhibition at Page Museum, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of the artist.

By the time Liu had graduated from college and completed his compulsory military service it was the early 1990s. Installation and performance art were popular mediums of expression in Taiwan at this time, perhaps because the country had recently broken from decades of authoritarian rule. In 1997 and 1998 Liu took part in two environmental art projects, River, sponsored by the Taipei Country government’s Cultural Affairs Bureau and Land Ethics, sponsored by the Fubon Art Foundation.

In 2001, during an artist residency at South Korea’s Younge-Un Museum of Contemporary Art, the artist created an indoor performance sequel to work done in Land Ethics, called Regeneration II. In the same year the Taipei Fine Arts Museum exhibited one of his installation pieces, Neon Light, Flash, Flash, Flash.

Liu Shih-tung has been moving away from installation and performance art since the early 2000s, and is now inspired by folk tradition, namely collage creation. He uses images cut from printed materials, a major source of which is fashion magazines, and recombines selected images with paint on flat canvas. Says Liu,

“In my earlier [installation and performance] works, my collage approach and development can clearly be identified. I have always used a collage approach; I re-arrange [my subjects] with humor. Subjective cutting, deformation and the traces from a paint brush: I combine all these elements into a perceptual space and create contemporary collage which goes beyond the traditional. This is what I have been pursuing.”

In ‘Cutting Out a New Reality‘, a Taiwan Review article from 2009, Pat Gao writes that the artist “first and foremost seeks a free form of expression, one that has a humorous aspect and offers an alternative to the ingrained, monotonous way of thinking about daily life.” The writer continues by stating that “Liu was one of the first major artists in the wave of ‘playful art’ that emerged in Taiwan at the beginning of the new century. …his previous performance and installation works, despite their different forms, all reflect the same ideal of combining playful action and the creation of art.”

We asked Liu if he will continue to work with collage. “Of course I will,” he said. “Collage has always been a part of me.”

Liu Shih-tung has undertaken artist residencies in New York, Korea and Los Angeles. Since the early 1990s, he has held solo and been involved in group exhibitions throughout Taiwan and his works have been collected by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.

How did 18th Street Art Centre support you during your residency with them?

They provided me with a great studio and organised an open studio event twice, one on 10 July and another on 7 August this year. Many artists and members of the public came during the open studio. By having these people view my creations and works, this achieved the purpose of a cultural exchange.

Why do you think you were selected for the 18th Street artist residency?

18th Street was my first choice because I wanted to understand more about modern art development on the West Coast of the US.

How has the 18th Street artist residency helped your art?

During this residency I mainly wanted to work on 2D creation, making collage using materials from LA (Los Angeles). 18th Street provides us with a lot of magazines and books, as well as information on how to purchase art materials.

What was the most important thing you will take from the residency? Why?

I think when you’re in a foreign land you discover cultural differences in easier and more leisurely ways. My greatest gains have been the experiences I have taken from LA life and culture: visiting all the art galleries and museums and discussing art with other artists at 18th Street. Their points of view assisted me in discovering the spirit which American culture is pursuing and the development of its art environment.

Who were you most excited to meet or interact with during your residency? How did they help or inspire you in your art or your life?

The people who I enjoyed meeting and interacting with the most during this residency were artists, critics, curators and art gallery dealers. However, I can’t deny that it’s not easy to gain practical benefits within such a short period of time.

How is the art community in the US different from Taiwan’s art community?

I think they are about the same. It’s just that those within the US art community can integrate their art into their daily life better.

Is this your first international residency outside Asia? Can you briefly tell me about any others, if any?

This is my third residency experience. The first one I undertook was in 1998; I recieved a New York art scholarship from the Asian Cultural Council. My second residency was at Younge-Un Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea in 2001. I believe that 18th Street, by bringing foreign resident artists to the US to participate in related art activities, achieves its purpose of cultural exchange.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.

KN

Related Topics: Taiwanese artists, artist residencies, collage

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Debbie Han first Korean artist to be awarded Sovereign Asian Art Prize

Posted by artradar on May 10, 2010


KOREAN ART ASIAN ART PRIZE

Art Radar Asia is pleased to bring you an article by guest contributor, Kate Bryan. Her article, Hybrid Graces, presents an in depth insight into the work of Debbie Han, the first Korean artist to be awarded the Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Han’s work is a useful starting point for exploring the status of contemporary art and culture in Korea today.

A Sovereign Winner

Earlier this year Debbie Han became the first Korean artist to be awarded the Sovereign Asian Art Prize, the biggest accolade of its kind in the region. The presentation of the award to Han can be seen in the context of a shift away from Korean art as an enigmatic, closed world to a thriving, open and accessible contemporary art market. That said, Korean artists are yet to penetrate mainstream consciousness, but if the quality of the work being produced by Han is anything to go by, it will not be long until they do.

Seated Three Graces

Han was awarded the Sovereign Asian Art Prize for Seated Three Graces, which subsequently entered the hallowed Sovereign Art Collection. The work is part of the Graces series which combine the typical body of a Korean woman with the face of an idealised Greek sculpture.

 

 

Debbie Han, Seated Three Graces

Debbie Han, Seated Three Graces

 

The composite form is painstakingly digitally rendered to look like marble, pixel by pixel for optimum realism. Subverting the practice of figurative sculpture and portrait photography, Han navigates the boundaries between illusion and reality and between western standards of ideal beauty and the reality of contemporary Asian women. Beyond the scrupulous technique and unexpected crossbreed form, the viewer is quickly drawn into the debate which Han instigates. “Beauty is a cultural conception and has long pervaded art history, what can be a better of way of understanding a given culture than through navigating this phenomenon?” Central to Han’s work is an enduring interest in how human experience is shaped and conditioned by contemporary culture, and as such the Graces series provides a sharp insight into the specifics of the world in which they were created.

A Korean artist?

Han’s interest in culturalisation makes her practice a useful starting point for a look at the developing status of both the contemporary Korean art market and Korean culture in the twenty first century more widely. That said, Han is actually an atypical Korean artist; in fact she resists the generalised label strongly. Han emigrated to the U.S. with her family as a child and went on to complete her art major at the University of California and her MA at the Pratt Institute in New York. Having begun her career in the U.S., she returned to Korea only in 2003 for an artist residency programme. Han was a stranger to Seoul and her unique perspective as a culturally disembodied artist propelled her to document what was happening in Korea and in Asia more widely. “I had a strong desire to interrogate what my Asian identity was and became overwhelmed by the inherent westernisation at all levels in both society and art.” Despite the ‘identity crisis’ that sparked her profound creative journey of the last decade, Han could not be described as an unsure woman. She is a strong intellect with a mind that constantly questions the world around her.

The Beauty Myth

Han was effectively an ‘outsider’ to the art world when she returned to Seoul and it is this objectivity that lends her work such strength. As an American-Korean woman navigating the city, Han was immediately struck by the forcefulness of the western beauty mantra. Korean women were spending billions on cosmetics and plastic surgery to conform to an ‘ideal’ type of beauty, specifically a eurocentric beauty. “The perversity of the situation became clear to me when I learnt that women would have cosmetic surgery to make their eyes more western before their first job interview, it was a new rite of passage.” More than 60% of women in Korea have undergone cosmetic surgery and the numbers are on the increase. The act is no longer a choice made by a liberated individual, but a survival tactic. A telling indication of the seriousness of the situation is found in language – the term for having your face done in Korea is literally ‘face correction.’

Sensation with Content

Navigating what the polemic feminist author Naomi Wolf described as ‘beauty myths’, is characteristic of an artist whose raison d’être is to understand the world around her and present complex issues to the viewer in order to raise debate. Han’s work has always been characterised by the dual forces of painstaking, diverse craftsmanship and pieces which demand attention, cause shock or surprise the viewer. These tactics are combined to address questions of personal identity and larger social patterns. An early example is the Hard Condom Series (2001-2003) where small bronzes take the form of soiled condoms, an object which arouses great discomfort. Han therefore interrogates the complexities of society’s reaction to something as innate as sex.

 

 

 

Debbie Han, Hard Condom Series (2001-2003)

Debbie Han, Hard Condom Series (2001-2003)

 

Han’s work is certainly conceptual, but is in many ways a direct rebuttal of the earlier conceptual artists she encountered as a student. “For me, ideas will always be important and central to my work. You cannot create things just to cause a sensation, they have to have content. But on the other hand when I first saw conceptual pieces at college I was disappointed that they were not visually compelling or creatively unique.” Han bridges this gap between ideas and form, producing works that make us stop in our tracks for one reason or another, marvel at the craftsmanship and then engage with the issue at hand.

Beauty as Sport

In 2008 the artist created a departure in her practice by beginning to employ Korean lacquer on wood inlaid with mother of pearl, a technique which demands over 20 processes to produce one work. Employing a medium which dates back thousands of years, Han’s challenge was to incorporate Korean inlaid lacquer into the contemporary arena, not only lending it a new relevance but having it underscore her subject matter. Sports Venus I is testament to the great success of the project. The life size lacquer bust is a rich dark brown, completely at odds with the classical white Venus.

 

 

Debbie Han, Sports Venus I, lacquer on wood inlaid with mother of pearl

Debbie Han, Sports Venus I, lacquer on wood inlaid with mother of pearl

 

As she puts it, “the reference to ancient Asian culture almost takes over, preventing a traditional appreciation of the classical Venus.” More startling still is the mother of pearl inlay which forms the pattern of a modern football, like an aggressive tattoo, across the face. Venus has entered the arena of sports, making explicit reference to the notion of ideal beauty as a new form of sports entertainment.  Han draws attention to the futility of the ideal beauty dogma, “it is just a game – in reality no one can conform to something which is a fabrication, an illusion.”

Food and Sensuality

The illusory nature of ideal beauty is deconstructed in a global series which Han has been working on since 2005. In Food and Sensuality Han collaborates with a regular woman from a given country, refashioning her into a model garnished with food from the culture in which she lives.

 

 

Debbie Han Food and Sensuality

Debbie Han, Food and Sensuality (since 2005)

 

In choosing non-professional models, Han unravels the myths about unattainable beauty by arguing that “any woman can look like a beautiful seductress given the right tools. As an artist I work to bring out to the outmost degree the unique beauty and style in each woman.” Her point is not about the benefits of a good makeover, but more about the breaking down persuasive myths and presenting a new reality. The combination of food – which is often draped over the woman to resemble clothing or jewellery – and female beauty makes explicit reference to the long held advertising mandate that sex sells. Further, in the face of a globalised world, Han rejects the homogeny of culture by identifying its distinctiveness, “food is like language, every culture has their own version and proudly supports it. This is at odds with our notions of beauty. The photographs aim to readdress the balance.”

A New Era

In all of her work Han champions the re-unification of concept and technique. Her philosophy and quest to understand the constructs of the human condition are deeply entrenched in her practice, but she does not allow herself to fall victim to her intellect. Moving between mediums – and never choosing a simple process – Han’s work demands attention not just for its subject matter but for its craftsmanship and distinct visual appeal. Han believes we are entering a new era, a movement without a name, “art must not any longer end with a concept. When I returned to Seoul I saw very thought provoking work in the context of a rapidly changing city, but I wanted to know where the form had gone.” The gravity of the themes in her work coupled with her exquisite dedication to mastering mediums makes Han a worthy prize winner, and for an audience new to Korean contemporary art, a fascinating starting point.

Kate Bryan is a contributing Editor for Asian art News, World Sculptures News and her work has been published in Kee Magazine, The Sentinel, Essence and West East. She received her BA in Fine Art from Warwick University and subsequently worked at the British Museum in London for four years. She recently completed her master’s degree at the University of Hong Kong and is the Deputy Director of The Cat Street Gallery.

Editorial disclaimer – The opinions and views expressed by guest writers  do not necessarily reflect those of Art Radar Asia, staff, sponsors and partners.
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Posted in American, Body, Debbie Han, Eyes, Female form, Food, Human Body, Kate Bryan, Korean, Lacquer, Mythical figures, Photography, Prizes, Sculpture, Sport | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »