Taipei Fine Arts Museum unveils the third edition of its Curatorial Project, Affect Machine: Self-healing in the Post-Capitalist Era. Curated by Yu-Chieh Li and Gladys Lin, the exhibition is set to run from September 18th to December 19th. Taking “affective art history” as a point of departure, the curatorial team imagines the exhibition as an ensemble of healing machines. The exhibition features seven artists and art collectives from Taiwan and overseas, including Rebecca Horn, Chen Hui-Chiao, Chen Chen Yu, Cam Xanh (Tran Thanh Ha), John Akomfrah, Olafur Eliasson, and Chu Hao Pei + Lee Chang Ming. Employing immersive installations, poetic language, and performative practices, the artists will create a domain of self-settling or emotional release in the post-pandemic era.
The Post-Capitalist Era: “Affective Art” and “Machine Art”
In the post-capitalist era, all disciplines encounter overproduction. Facing media spectacles and information explosion, we are gradually alienated from our own feelings and losing connections with the world. Uncertainties produce perceptual disruptions and even anxiety about impending crisis. In this exhibition, seemingly opposite states of “affect” and “machine” coexist and are mutually affirming through different mechanisms and codes, presenting a constantly fluctuating state of tension and relaxation between us and the environment.
According to co-curator Yu-Chieh Li, the works in this exhibition express “affect” at different levels. First, a variety of multimedia installations evoke emotions, creating a pathway that can trigger affective perceptions and further to train and repair sensory organs, and face one’s own fragility. Second, artists adopt a calmer, more distanced approach to depict trauma, pain, toil, loss, and relationships with nature, and thus produce a kind of “affective art history.” Through tactile experiences, sound, and alternative ways of viewing reality, their practices create affective registers that resonate with the mental activities of the audience.
The “machines” in this exhibition represent different mechanisms of affective flows, connections among disparate species—even between humans and artificial intelligence—and affective dialogues across different time and space. Early on in the transition from post-industrialization to post-modernism, machines came to be viewed as having the ability to generate and destroy humanity, while creating a host of reveries and spectacles. Present-day digital phenomena are gradually permeating our lives, blurring the boundaries between our bodies and machines, as they support and enhance our various sensorial and cognitive experiences.
A Look Back at Affective Art History
Centered on an exploration of feeling, this exhibition features eight sets of performance and digital art, two of which are new commissions. Looking back on the history of “affect” in art since the 1970s, from body art to multimedia installations, the exhibition attempts a variety of approaches to explore resonance between the body and the environment, as well as poetic or theatrical forms of expressions, inciting emotional reverberations in the audience to release anxiety and introduce a more cerebral, sedate state of contemplation, re-stimulating sensory balance.
Upon entering the exhibition, one encounters German artist Rebecca Horn’s Performances II, a series of film documentations of her early works which explore bodily sensations, pain and desire, transforming inner feelings into external movement. It includes her classic work Cockfeather Mask, now in the collection of Tate Modern in London. The cyclical violin bowing of her more recent kinetic installation Der Sonnenseufzer (“Sigh of Sun”) seemingly represents the two poetic notes of lamentation and loneliness. Taiwanese artist Chen Hui-Chiao’s A Room with a View blends together different kinds of narrative, crafting resplendent painterly surfaces on beds through needles and threads, to depict powerful emotional demarcations that encompass such subjects as dreamscapes, healing, and death. Behind a wall, Taiwanese artist Chen Chen Yu’s multimedia installation Here Each Vibration Long Away broadcasts news reports of the plague year. Ritualistic objects deliver a meditative sense of comfort and provide many avenues to experience feelings.
Entering the white cube in the adjacent gallery, visitors are enswathed in the minimalist concrete poetry of Vietnamese artist Cam Xanh, which compares engineering codes with biological genes. Silk cocoons symbolize mechanisms of self-defense or healing. Sound and music encompass The Airport by John Akomfrah, a British artist of Ghana descent. The three-channel video installation weaves a tapestry of different performance segments, inciting resonance with viewers’ bodily perceptions, challenging identity in the post-capitalist era, and awakening lingering memories of trauma. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson is known for his immersive works that stimulate the senses. His Compass family is a series of trembling mechanical sculptures that symbolize the mutually constraining relationship between human activities and nature. Connecting the museum’s interior and exterior spaces, they allow us to feel the “realities” present in different contexts. The exhibition concludes with the photographic installation Beneath the Bodhi & Banyan by Singaporean artists Chu Hao Pei and Lee Chang Ming. It documents the illegal, transient folk shrines set up under trees along Singapore’s Sembawang Beach. Being entrusted with humanity’s wishes for a beautiful life, the pantheon also reflects the locale’s broad social, cultural, religious and ethnic structure, as well as its geopolitical situation.
The theme of “Affect Machine” is divided into three viewing trajectories: The first is the communication that takes place between the body and the environment through various media before emotions are generated; the second is the anxiety of the post-capitalist society, transformed into poetic or theatrical languages; and the third is folk culture outside of capitalist time, such as dreams, divination, and religions. These trajectories are meant to release the feelings that resonate with the environment. An Online Symposium organized in conjunction with the exhibition will be held at 14:00 on September 25 (Sat.), centering on two themes: sensorial experiences surrounding affect theory and machine augmented experiences, and secondly the role of affect in post-colonial art and discourses. For details of the event, please refer to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum website (www.tfam.museum) or follow the museum’s official Facebook page (Taipei Fine Arts Museum).
Yu-Chieh Li / Co-curator.
Yu-Chieh Li is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Studies and a research fellow at the Centre for Film and Creative Industries, Lingnan University, Hong Kong. She has held research positions at UNSW Art and Design, Tate Research Centre: Asia, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and is co-founder of SCREEN, a media art platform established in 2015. Li’s research engages with aesthetics of performance art in Asia and postcolonial discourses. Currently she is working on a book project examining affect and the artistic autonomy of post-socialism.
Gladys Lin / Co-curator
Independent art consultant Gladys Lin specializes in international exhibition planning and art administration. She has served as Director, Asia at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York and Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, India. She has extensive experience in the contemporary art market, and since 2008 has focused on promoting the works of international artists in Asia.