The Real Words from a Confessor-A Talk of Huang Hua-Chen's "The Family Album"
Painting as a medium of communication always has an inherent distance. For me, this distance coincides with the corresponding relationship between the model and object. I removed the object's characteristics and polished the emotions to engage in a type of strange-oriented processing. Among them, the fragments of the image and memories were either collected from all sides, or they were borrowed from others. I hope to create a model of family relationships. This model is not a spectacle, neither is it completely flawless; it is plain and maybe even boring, but it possesses a thickness (Note 1)-Huang Hua-Chen.
Huang Hua-Chen's paintings are always focused on the subtle distance between the image and the depicted object, as well as all kinds of delicate emotions that are lightly covered by the distance. She created uncertain "identities" and the meaning of "around the track" in the vague image of correspondence and ambiguous spatial relationship. As they are indirect, many unsteady "fork offs" are generated while reading. This sense of distance artists find fascinating has made her characters seem shallow and flat with seemingly suppressed overflow of emotions. Like the strokes and outline she is accustomed to using in her paintings, there are not too many arbitrary color mixtures; instead, the paint is decently restricted on thick and solid "boundaries" that come one after the other. Although the paint surface has long been dried up, people still have the illusion of the underlying flow that is slow.
As a continuation of the painting characteristics mentioned above, at the solo exhibition "The Family Album-On the table is your favorite curry rice", Huang Hua-Chen introduced the day-to-day sense, which served as the basis for the narrative atmosphere of "In the absence of the father." She arranged the exhibition site and turned it into a private home space of wall display. At the first glance, people mistakenly view it as the direct display of the artists’ life experiences, but forget that it is actually constituted by the daily fragments gathered from all around. However, does this mean that Huang Hua-Chen simply built up the details through her paintings to present her indulgence and paranoia for the micro-level life? Perhaps that is not entirely the case, because the painting space she has created has enabled the viewer to have special dialogues with the private scenes. Let us put it this way: The dark but inattentive eyes in the paintings were actually a type of "seduction." They collapse inward into a temporary gap of the soul that retreats, which vaguely calls the viewer to fill the gap through self experience and emotions. These characters that lack specificity therefore drift along the emotional projection axis, which is the “halfway point” that becomes a crack. The viewer is either bounced off from the alienated image of the characters because of the viewer’s abundant experiences, or the viewer unknowingly falls into the fictitious scene the artist has ingeniously arranged. To those that are bounced off, the “Family Album” is obviously a memory chip that cannot be easily opened. However, everyone has a foggy corner that faintly diffuses and is difficult to clarify. Like thick fog, it is difficult to approach. To people immersed in the atmosphere of paintings, Huang Hua-Chen created a chance for them to be face to face with themselves in the intertwined scenes. Any form of sadness, condolence, or loss in the heart of the viewer was transformed into an object the viewer attempted to capture through the sticky images. Regardless of the circumstances, Huang Hua-Chien’s characters acquired a more profound image rendering power because of the characters’ lack of specificity. The fictitious story on the other hand elicited the implicit recognition of the network buried in the viewer’s heart. Paintings here have become objects of desires in the image of family. It has also become the viewer’s candid declaration. Although the artist candidly announced that she was not the owner of the memory box, the viewer was able to subtly perceive the reality beyond the narrative itself.
Works of this type seem to say, “At times, paintings are found only when you leave; and they arrive only when you take passes.” The best way to describe intimate relationships is not to present the sweetness on the surface, but to fable it into a gap that can never be filled. However, this gap is not simply moving toward a single-parent family structure of concealed fatherhood or how to achieve perfection despite the shortcomings, neither is it simply the comfort obtained through paintings that tells how the absentee’s soul returns as an outsider to the dark side of the memories. Rather, the gap is opened to the painter who undergoes transformation. In short, “Despite the father’s absence, life goes on” is the main melody behind Huang Hua-Chen’s narrative. As the exhibition subtitle says, “On the table is your favorite curry rice”, it is implied that life itself is a constantly shifting and irreversible trajectory. Despite the father’s disappearance and concealed past events, it is only a symbol of mystery and it cannot be traced. In addition to Huang Hua-Chen’s expression of a particular time and space, the work depicts the intrinsic strength that pushes life forward. The lightness and sorrow perceived from the painting are not the result of a sense of loss from gazing at the reversed, temporary, and suspended memories; instead, it is all about growth. As she herself said, “The accumulation of events has made us even more versatile, as we continue to walk along the road of increasing age.” (Note 2) This force that pushes forward makes people become more mature.
We must not simplify Huang Hua-Chen’s “The Family Album” into popular inspirational family drama too quickly. Painting plays a role far more complex than what it may seem on the surface. In other words, the reason Huang Hua-Chen’s creations make people feel warm and pleasant is not that she successfully extracted certain characters’ images, narrative plots, or the typical atmosphere of the images, neither is it that her paintings are simple confessions of the heart, through which she earnestly tells sincere emotions that even her peers, the creative painting authors, find it hard to measure up. Here, although paintings are expressed in a language similar to that of the confessor’s, they do not display to the listeners the candid emotion of “telling the truth” as if it is a confession. Rather, it is the repeated self-practice in one’s own terms, special words produced during the process. Further, on the surface, the artist had no intention of discussing matters pertaining to the artist herself through “The Family Album”; the “estranged” processing of the characters seems to be a type of declaration that “does not concern the self.” However, those who mistakenly associated the painting with the feelings of the painter were not having an illusion, because the problem does not lie in “whether or not the narrative behind the painting is real”, neither does it lie in whether or not the people, matters, and things were related to the painter’s own experiences. The key lies deep within individuals, and whether or not there is certain truth that has not yet been discovered. In other words, whether Huang Hua-Chen is purely engaging in self-healing, filling up her desires or regrets, picking up the daily debris that is dumped by others, or engaging in some kind of profound rumination of the life experiences, the implementations clearly etch how the artist developed ways to engage in self-concern through her paintings and how she got along with herself throughout life. Hence, we began to understand that painting as a form of “confession” is to reveal the unknown truth over the past. It revealed the self that had never been seen.
However, this is not purely the relationship between painting and the reality. The “self” is described as the “faint text” that has to be discovered or identified. The source of the truth involves not only inward probing, but also seeking from the outside. By borrowing the feelings and living, Huang Hua-Chen created not only an ideal model of family relationships, but also transformed the implicit confessions not directly put forth or hidden in the body language into a part of herself (paintings). From what she heard, saw, and felt, she extracted truth of various kinds from others and made them her own, which turned herself into someone who told the truth. This is in someway similar to the mastery of the “subjectivity of real words” by Michael Foucult. Through listening, writing, reading, and speaking where appropriate, she turned herself into a subject that narrated real words (Note 3). Huang Hua-Chen once heard a girl talk about her deceased father: “I feel as if he had never left me” (Note 4). This notation was both emotional and shocking. “He had never left me” came out of the girl’s mouth as if she had been declaring the truth. She measured the weights of her relationship with the father, her emotions, and how she missed her father. The strength of their ties greatly exceeded the fact that her father had passed away, thus the absentee went beyond the absence itself and became a real existence. She went further to say that the key lied not only in Wan-Ju’s “testimony” of the close bonding between her father and her, but in the belief that she was “stating the truth.” As this declaration is unquestionable, it can neither be invaded nor be eroded by any skepticism. Rather, “faith” is the only authority for verifying how much truth there is in her words.
Huang Hua-Chen also attempted to capture this belief through her paintings. Additionally, she believed that by picking up the memories or the special moments in life, her paintings can depict the words of a confessor and they can clearly reveal the deeper and more realistic personal relationships. Compared to philosophical meditation, paintings can be used to further inspect the moral relationships between oneself and others, or they can engage in simple self-governance of the past and memories, because while the depth of one’s relationship with others is being witnessed, the depth of the painter’s own existence is also being measured. What’s more, through paintings, one becomes the subject of real words, rather than simply placing one’s issues in the dispute over “whether or not art is an activity that reveals the truth.” E.Lévinas and Maurice Merleau-Ponty picked up the entangled issues of the relationship between art and the truth (Note 5). There, the focus lies not in the real words or truth, or whether or not paintings accurately reveal the words of the confessor, but in the tone and form of the real words as well as the deep obsession that is gradually revealed by the words. To us, Huang Hua-Chen’s paintings demonstrated the possibility of this faith. In other words, we can vaguely feel a precocious and steady temperament from her paintings. This temperament does not come from the artist because she has actually found something through her paintings. Instead, it is the self-concern that makes one feel at ease and assured that the painting itself is the purpose. The painting confesses in return by stating the facts: “The self is a piece of art work that we strive to create and watch over.” However, Huang Hua-Chen’s paintings manage to display a kind of calmness in a straightforward manner, thus making us believe that paintings will eventually keep its promise of “achieving maturity through self-concern.”
Note 1: Quoted from “The Family Album-On the table is your favorite curry rice” Descriptions by the Artist on the Exhibition Folding Readme
Note 2: Same as Note 1.
Note 3: Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France 1981-1982 , New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005, pp332-334. For Chinese translation see “Subject Hermeneutics” by Michel Foucault and translated by Yu Pi-Ping, Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2005, pages 346-348.
Note 4: Chang Ching-Wen, “Huang Hua-Chen: Intimacy is the Unreachable Distance”, “Artist”, 429th issue, 2011.2, page 236.
Note 5: Regarding this point, Kung Chuo-Chun has a valuable paper for reference. See: “Truth, Magic, and Expression: Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Levinas on the Ontology of Art and Visual”, “Physical Deployment: Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Phenomenology”, Taipei: PsyGarden Culture, 2006, pages 124-155.
Labels: Comments Outside Art, 18th Issue Comments Outside Art (March, 2011).