SHIU SHENG-HUNGCamp 1945, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 130 × 130 cm. Courtesey Nou Gallery, Taipei. 

TSAI YU-TING, Swim Swim Eat, 2013, video, white glue, documents, 1 min 10 sec. Courtesey Nou Gallery, Taipei. 

That – Has – Been

Shiu Sheng-hung and Tsai Yu-ting

Nou Gallery

The pristine, white space of Nou Gallery became a shade whiter during its last show, “That – Has – Been.” In a world that struggles between forgetting and retrospection, two emerging Taiwan artists, Shiu Sheng-hung and Tsai Yu-ting, noted poignant absences with their colorless paintings, videos and sculptures.

Five huge QR codes (geometric barcodes that can be scanned by smart phones) executed in pearly-white oil paint by Shiu were only visible faintly at certain angles. By stripping away the function of the patterns, the works appeared as formal abstractions. However, the codes, as the titles suggest (for example, Camp 1945­–2013 and Black Caterpillars, both 2013), are more than mere ornament. Next to each painting was a readable version of the QR code that brought a savvy smart-phone user to archival photographs of demolished buildings or images of artworks not on display. With this deflection, the artist observes the disappearance of physical objects into the seemingly infinite depth of the internet, allowing the viewer to consider larger issues of loss and tangibility in the digital age.  

Tsai also mourns the loss of memories. Her stop-motion animations feature white casts of her girlhood toys, which the artist calls “ghosts.”  In Run Run Spots (2012), the semi-transparent skin of an insect egg unfolds into a scuttling beetle that, by the end of the video, has flattened into a lifeless form. The metamorphoses demonstrate the inevitable cycle of life, and perhaps also the cycle of memory. In an adjoining room, the molds and actual toys are exhibited in glass cases. After “being alive” in the videos, they look sad and abandoned in their motionless state. Tsai’s videos made inert objects of memory into living presences. The artifacts mean nothing without the animations, and, in the same way, the act of recollection is futile without imagination.

The pairing of these two young artists perpetuates one historical function of art, to represent absent things or people, a project that seems all the more urgent in contemporary times. Shiu and Tsai suggest absences with elegance and subtlety, bringing focus to lost local histories and personal memories.   

Katherine Tong is a researcher at ArtAsiaPacific.