YUAN GOANG-MING, Landscape of Energy, 2014, still from single-channel video: 7 min. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong. 


Yuan Goang-Ming

Hanart TZ Gallery
Hong Kong Taiwan

Walking into Taiwanese artist Yuan Goang-Ming’s solo exhibition “Dwelling,” at Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong’s Pedder Building, you’ll first notice a selection of large photo prints, along with a table set as if for a dinner party. Depending on the timing of your entrance, you might hear the table give out a shocking thump; but make no mistake—the real action is in the adjacent screening room. Yuan has worked with video since the late 1980s, and his craft is fully evident in the three short videos projected in this room on loop. In his notes for the show Yuan highlights the idea of the Freudian uncanny, and indeed each of the three videos is at once foreboding and familiar. Subtly engaging with the question of Taiwanese identity, while touching upon broader themes of pollution and the practice of daily life, in “Dwelling” Yuan balances an uncertain outlook of the future with the undeniable beauty of the images he crafts.

YUAN GOANG-MINGLandscape of Energy, 2014, still from single-channel video: 7 min. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong. 

YUAN GOANG-MING, The 561st Hour of Occupation, 2014, still from single-channel video: 6 min. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong. 

The titular video entitled Dwelling (2014) redirects Yuan’s focus from society to the privacy of home. Reading German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s 1951 essay “…Poetically Man Dwells…” Yuan found the title at odds with the present era. In Dwelling he depicts a superficially comfortable bourgeois living room, arranged with new furniture. Among the murmur of muffled street sounds there is a sudden explosion that sends knickknacks flying in every direction. Moving in slow motion, the debris eventually reverses its course, retreating until the effects of the explosion are undone. Though not immediately apparent, Dwelling was filmed underwater, suffusing the movement of objects with an unreal dreaminess. As the room returns to its original state, it is hard to know if anything actually happened. Yuan hints at the instability beneath the surface of daily life. A calamity might be on the horizon—or it may not.

In Landscape of Energy (2014), the camera floats over a Taiwanese coastal landscape, hovering over an alluringly bright, aquamarine sea. However the surroundings on shore are almost frightening, as a school field and beach are shown as being eerily empty. The absence of people gains new resonance as the domes of a nuclear power plant in the distance come into view, suggesting the looming possibility of ecological disaster. As the video draws to a close, the camera glides down a row of abandoned houses, already reclaimed by underbrush. Considering the subject matter, Yuan’s long takes and steady camerawork (accomplished with the help of cables and drones) recall the glacially-paced science fiction of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). Yet the scenes in Yuan’s video are particularly unsettling ,because they occur only a few degrees removed from reality, rather than in a pure dystopia. The use of drones also inevitably evokes anxiety over issues of surveillance.

Yuan reprises the floating effect in the six-minute video The 561st Hour of Occupation (2014), documenting the 2014 occupation of Taiwan’s legislative chamber by the Sunflower Student Movement. As a hanging portrait of Sun Yat-sen mutely watches over the chamber, the camera captures bags and posters left in the hall by protesters, who are edited out for much of the video. The soundtrack for the video is Taiwan’s national anthem, slowed down to half the speed. Over this murky elegy, the camera elegantly moves down to the empty chamber room from an upper balcony, seemingly applauding the students for their activism, but also asking if their actions will really have a lasting effect.

Back in the main room, the table piece, titled Prophecy (2014), continues to shake, keeping the viewer alert and observant. Curiously, printed stills from Landscape of Energy and Dwelling lack the urgency of their parent pieces. Yuan’s extended takes and patient observation might seem like a perfect fit for photography, but it is the slow, scanning movements in his videos that unearth the uncanny in environments not too far from the world around us.

YUAN GOANG-MINGDwelling-Moment II, 2014, digital photograph, 120 × 180 cm. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Yuan Goang-Ming: “Dwelling” is on view at Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, until October 17, 2015.