Taiwanese artist Yu-Cheng Chou’s exhibition, Because 64 Crayons Made in the USA, offers us a virtual compendium for looking into contemporary artistic practice. There are many issues to consider: the globalization of cultures, the creative vocabularies of new media, and the continued assimilation of all things Pop. This survey of the artist’s work offers a collection of responses to contemporary ideas that entwine with historical realities.
Chou draws from his varied Taiwanese viewpoints. Grounded in an island culture that dates back fifteen thousand years, to the Paleolithic age, yet informed by the restrictive ideological and political colonization that began in the 1650s, modern Taiwanese artists embrace diversity. Vulnerable, yet proud, it’s a history that has influenced Chou’s perspective and is in the memory tissue of his art.
Chou’s artistic practice is located in the nomadic pursuits of the Digital Generation. Working with new media, digital photography and video, he creates a world of grand illusion. In the video projection Gallery #2 (2010), the text on the wall states, “This gallery space definitely has no commercial behavior.” The video is the performer, yet the gallery is the space that acts. This staged seduction between artist, gallery, and viewer becomes a reminder of Minimalism’s continued power to ignite places and people. While the art of the past is present—further connoted in the use of white text on black background—the art of the future is clearly autonomously owned. With the words has no commercial behavior the artist pronounces his refusal to be engaged with the economic conditions of presentation. He entices us to desire what we can’t obtain. His statement also seems to reject the value system of ownership synonymous with contemporary art.
New media can depersonalize artworks, and conceptualism has a naughty ability to eradicate the personality of things. This is not a position that Chou seeks. In his videos the human retains a presence, it’s just cloaked in a tween-aged disguise. He uses the computer as the tool that it is— generator, transformer, and another voice. Throughout his process he remains connected to the emotional content of the work and to its storied associations. To create Jamerendu (2005) Chou first created a sculptural diorama with found material. The completed video mimics the missing language of touch with crumpled paper figures to give the work a hand-made appeal. Jamerendu represents a craft aesthetic, a mysterious landscape of paper-dolls haunted by drifting morphs. The disembodied elements play well within the composition, a nod to ancient Chinese painting.
Chou enjoys displacing objects to make them hyper accentuated. In viewing the blanket (a childhood memento) in Sketch (prototype)(2009), we sense its former animated warmth. Chou removes that condition by photographing it, then digitizing into potent isolation. Taking that same step he reassigns the status of a beloved box of rainbow colors in 64 Crayons Made in USA (2009), from plaything to display-thing. In both of these works the images no longer represent childhood or loss of innocence. Chou gives them new life as portraits, the designer’s brilliance.
Apparent is Yu-Cheng Chou’s masterful use of a photographic sensibility. Many of the works are estranged from their original intent or purpose. The creation of an essence is something that a photo can easily do: make alien the ordinary or ordinary the alien. For Chou that esprit de corps is encapsulated in a star. He makes them analogous to longing. They become nationalistic in a wall graphic in Star-Power #2 (2008-09), a tribute to the late artist Felix Gonzales Torres’ in Represent (2008-09), or motif for a glorious yellow arrangement in Co-Prosperity (2009). As in a dream, Chou plays many roles within his practice, mainly the global artist living with ancient and modern percepts. That spectrum, in Because 64 Crayons Made in the USA, is his quiver.
Born in Taiwan in 1976, Yu-Cheng Chou currently lives and works in Taipei. Chou holds a BA from Taiwan National University of the Arts, Taipei and an MA from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France. In 2005, he received the Taipei Award for Excellence. This was his first exhibition at SUPRFROG, and in San Francisco, California. His inaugural U.S. exhibition was at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in 2008. He has exhibited internationally including Open Art Contemporary Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan; Galerie ColletPark, Paris, France; and Bruselles Expositions, Belgium.
The curator wishes thank Seiji Horbuchi, NEW PEOPLE Founder and Director, and Mika Anami, SUPERFROG Gallery Manager, for the opportunity to present this exhibition. A special thanks is also extended to the artist for his cooperation and support, and to the Mary Hsu, Director, and Philip Jong-Geng Lui, Senior Cultural Officer, Taipei Cultural Center (TECO) in New York, New York for their support of contemporary visual Taiwanese artists in the U.S.