Installation view of “(flare-s)” at TKG+, Taipei, 2013. Courtesy TKG+, Taipei.

Installation view of “(flare-s)” at TKG+, Taipei, 2013. Courtesy TKG+, Taipei.

Installation view of “(flare-s)” at TKG+, Taipei, 2013. Courtesy TKG+, Taipei.


Chen CHing-Yuan


In Chen Ching-Yuan’s solo exhibition “(flare-s),” at Tina Keng Gallery’s contemporary art annex, TKG+, 16 small oil paintings and a looped animation offer an intimate view into the artist’s own universe.

Heavily glossed, the A4-sized paintings hang on two opposing walls in the narrow gallery space. Radiating with a supernatural glow—an illusion created by spotlights fitted to the exact shape of each picture plane—the paintings serve to guide the viewer along a journey of illustrated events. While devoid of a cohesive plotline, these events are related by five reoccurring themes—cow, rainbow, flag, DNA and island—which, according to the artist, are a personal sublimation of Taiwan’s struggle to form a national identity. The invocation of these themes at multiple points in the exhibition creates a network of symbolic resonance, revealing that storytelling is an ongoing negotiation of meaning.

Rendered with high contrast and soft contours, the paintings, though often nonsensical, are reminiscent of 18th-century European still-lives. Whether it is a transparent cow shedding blood, a dog viciously attacking a DNA chain or a woman handcuffed by a rainbow belt, these events, shrouded in darkness, connote a distant time. This commitment to a singular painting style is surprising for an artist who has previously exhibited a schizophrenic array of styles and mediums. Conversely, the economic approach to style in “(flare-s)” demonstrates Chen’s movement towards a focused, eclecticist subjectivity—eclecticism being, as Diderot proclaimed, the state achieved after one “having analyzed all philosophical systems without any deference or partiality…constructs a personal and domestic one that belongs to him.” In this vein, Chen appropriates the aesthetic of 18th century painting in order to present his own personal mythology, lending his idiosyncrasies an aura of historicity.

Curtains obscure the dark room where Chen’s looped animation flare-s (2013) is screened. The film depicts men on boats sending rescue signals into the sky. As more and more signals are ignited, desperate calls for help are transformed into celebratory fireworks. The image’s capacity to contain dual and paradoxical meanings speaks to the nature of storytelling as a continual process of negotiation. Myths are continually reinterpreted to reflect collective dreams, traditions, and emotions. Similarly, Chen’s artistic practice is an ongoing confession of his own subjectivity in the context of Taiwan’s political dilemma.

“(flare-s)” is on view at TKG+ through January 26, 2014. 

Sheryl Cheung  is a writer based between Hong Kong and Taipei.