Installation view of "Yeh Wei-Li: Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate,” Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, 2016. Photo by Shih Pei-Chun and Yeh Wei-Li. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery. 

Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate

Yeh Wei-Li

Hanart TZ Gallery
Hong Kong Taiwan

Museums tend to have a halo of authority to exhibit historical and artistic objects in order to make sense of the past and identity of a city or country. The objects on display are usually invaluable crafts of social and historical significance and, therefore, become part of the visitors’ cultural pilgrimage. However, what if these objects are rubbish from a dump?

That is the question that Taiwanese artist Yeh Wei-Li posited in his latest exhibition. Since his 2004 residency in Treasure Hill, a historical community in Taipei facing demolishment to give way for urban renovation, Yeh has photographed the area’s changes, cleared its abandoned sites of dust and trash and revitalized them into community areas for seminars, concerts and recitals. As such, he is no stranger to the world of antiquity.

From 2010, he has teamed up with 13 artists to collect discarded objects from various construction sites, beaches, riverbeds and illegal roadside dumping grounds. These objects were carefully selected and transformed into installations by the artist and his team, some of which were displayed at “Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate” at Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong. This exhibition of photographs, installations and displays featured Yeh’s poignant observation of historical communities, as well as efforts to preserve parts of their history and creativity.

Wooden Box Shoe Collection (2010–12) comprises various discarded shoes, including children’s, heels and working boots, along with other objects such as brooms, toys and tree sticks, placed on wooden boxes. The witty display reminded one of a fancy shoe shop and also reflected past fashion trends. The dirty and threadbare condition of the objects, meanwhile, cleverly reinforced the cruelty of economical selection and evoked the intimate relationships they once had with their former owners. It was evident that each object has a story behind them.

YEH WEI-LIDivinity Trace #2, 2010, inkjet on canvas, two panels: 156 × 126 × 5 cm; 156 × 70 × 5 cm. Courtesy the artist. 

Company Products Plaques and Antiquity Office Table Without Chair (2011) gave viewers a further look at the definition of rubbish. A combination of a table, decorations, stationery and plaques, the installation comprises a decent set of office furniture. The plaques, which interestingly show quotes of positive thinking and morality, give a glimpse of the ideology of older generations. Elsewhere, the younger generation’s understanding and connection to the past were examined in Antiquity Core Value and Production (2010), which featured 26 plaques on the wall displaying different corporate product names and their respective core values. The texts are amusing and baffling, with such lines as “Baby Boy Guaranteed” and “Sister Won’t Turn on her Phone.” They speak of a bygone era and questions how the mass’s values and memories were once constructed.

Yeh demonstrated his powerful visual language in a few photographic works. Divinity Trace #2 (2010) reveals a worn-out chair lit dimly inside a shabby, dark room. It appears that both the room and chair carries a lot of past memories of the building and its residents, and their beat-up condition had predicted their environment’s fate of being demolished. The photograph and frame are split into two pieces, with a blade-like cut. Haunting and hard-hitting, this piece suggests a building’s painful farewell to its community. The juxtaposition of Dr. Sun Calligraphy Wooden Relieve (2010) and The World of Da-Tong in Cologne #2 (2012) is compelling. The former work is a display of calligraphy by Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China, depicting Da-Tong (a piece of text from the Confucian canon Book of Rites) in woodcut characters, while the latter is a photograph showing these characters scattered about at a corner of a chic, modern department store. The solemn calligraphy and its decorative transformation poses questions regarding the idea of value.

Yeh brings his A game in the creativity and thoughtfulness of his installations, by producing an open-ended dialogue about history, memory, value and the definition of an art space. At the same time, one also hopes to see more of his reflectiveness in his other photographic works.

YEH WEI-LI, The World of Da-Tong in Cologne #2, 2012, C-print, acrylic face mount, 107 × 130 cm. Courtesy the artist. 

Installation view of "Yeh Wei-Li: Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate,” Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, 2016. Photo by Shih Pei-Chun and Yeh Wei-Li. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery. 

Yeh Wei-Li’s “Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate” was held at Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong, from January 22 to March 5, 2016.