The issue of archive excavation and historical writing has become prominent in the contemporary art domain of East Asia and South East Asia. On the one hand, this reveals the collective change and reconfiguration of the power tectonic plates of Asia geography-politics since the post-Cold War to the present. We can see this through the establishment and rival relationships regarding the canon culture of Asia and rights to cultural discourse between several mega government art institutions. On the other hand, the inertia of the underlying current comes from the post-colonial Asia cultural climate, in which each region, through examining the issues of political and cultural subjectivity with a reinterpretation of the self and history, attempt to touch on those subjects common to the modern development of Asia, such as the voids of memory and spirit, the stitching of fractures in culture, and how individuals should be reinstated in history, politics, power structures. Thus, in the collective, sport-like movement of art, it must be examined through the multidirectional and multi-intentional dialogue, and the power relations and discourse context of competition.
In Chi Kai-Yuan Solo Exhibition, we can see artist New York Chi utilize the intersection of these two subjects in his self-documenting narrative and folk aesthetics. The artist intends to discover a direction for raising questions from one's life experience within the the scope of the two subjects described above. We can observe what methods of narrative, archival awareness, and the reuse of culture that the artist employs to open up the scope of the contemporary art issues described above and also how it can reflect onto the thinking that deals with the question of subjectivity of Taiwanese culture.
For nearly 30 years, Kai-Yuan Chi has continued to follow and record the Lunar New Year tradition of Qi-gui in Kaohsiung. Considering the length of this process, this exhibition almost becomes an autobiographical-archive (as the archive's content goes back as far as the paper clay turtles that the artist made when he was seven-years-old), although the compiled object isn't the narrative of the artist's life, but rather these essential objects that come into contact with Kai-Yuan Chi once a year and their relationship with the artist. These objects that inspired New York Chi far before he began artistic training in an academic structure precisely becomes the starting point for the exhibition to pose the question of the identity of the artist: Who was Kai-Yuan Chi before becoming a contemporary artist? How does one view this person's practice and archive? How does one evaluate the unavoidably subtle forms and inheritance of aesthetics? How does one measure and re-coordinate the distance between cultural nourishment and current identity?
Firstly, displayed in the white space of the exhibition hall in a festive-fashion, are a gathering of different varieties of Prosperity Turtles from turtle pastry chefs-an offering used in folk prayers for blessing common in the Minnan (Southern Min) coastal areas, Penghu, and other immigrant areas-rather than recreated objects or reenacted scenes created by the artist's absorption and regurgitation of folk aesthetics. Artist New York Chi purposefully chose a more low-profile role, mainly serving as the designer for the geometric, island-like tables that support the turtles and providing a public communication platform for the turtle pastry chefs, letting them create with their preferred and familiar materials, decoration, and craft technique (during the process of making the turtles, New York Chi assists with his labor). In the exhibition space, the turtles are organized through its different compositions, visualizing the evolution of materials from glutinous rice, glutinous rice dough, and misua noodle, decorated with traditional paper pattern cutouts, flags, or electronic lights. With this arrangement, the rice turtles voice their own cultural context and become a concrete testament to the zeitgeist and material collection of different eras, including: the presentation of folk symbolic meanings, the development of material and composition, and the continuation of the varieties and styles developed under the material supply conditions in previous times (the folk custom iconographies, flags of the world, Taiwan flags, and self-empowerment flags such as the Flag of China Youth Corps are picked personally by the turtle pastry chefs and bulk-ordered during the period it was popular and used until today).
The second part is a quasi-documentary consisting of dual channel video installation, using a perspective close to eye-level to illustrate the manufacturing process of two kinds of Prosperity Turtles (the Misua turtle of the Jiou Gu Yue Pastry Shop and the glutinous rice turtle of Shing He Pastry Shop). In the middle of the two screens sit Kai-Yuan Chi's personal archives, accumulated since childhood, documenting the Lunar New Year Qi-gui. Nestled in a turtle tail/geometric island/shell-like display table, they show the documentation of the Qi-gui culture since the artist's childhood, including crafts, sculptures, sketches, still photography, textual documentation, etc. Regardless of whether it's based on the emotional memories from a coming-of-age, what is presented here is a personal fetish that occurs on a yearly cycle.
As an artist, New York Chi purposefully reveals the perspective that can problematize the self in the practice of self-documentation-a form of topology from the inside out. The artist takes a step back and allots space to the Kai-Yuan Chi who was not yet an artist, the Qi-gui pastry chefs who aren't included in the cannon of fine art and contemporary art, and also the question of whether the relationship between the documents of Kai-Yuan Chi and Qi-gui can become one of mutual-carrying.
New York Chi, this artist persona, hovers on the folding point between personal memories and cultural crafts. Here, the act of self-archiving walks between the two sides documentation-as life or politics. In other words, one side is a view of its ideological, political, economical, and hegemonic context. It is a part of the shaping, design, regulation, and surveillance techniques of bio-politics, and also a kind of material, tool or evidence for constructing canonical history. The other side is an opposition to the violence of historicism in modernity, employing acts of fictional fabrication, reenactment, remembrance, and anti-symbol to enter into a removed realm that cannot be historicized. We can say the exhibition Chi Kai-Yuan is closer to presenting a possibility for an alternative archival method, exploring the gaps in the process of subjectivization through the act of self-documenting.
Looking back to New York Chi's past work, before the Exercise Trilogy, to the two works done during performance art work festival (2009), Emotion Chips (2009), ▅▃▂ ① ▂▃▅ (2009), and Liberty (2010), one can clearly see the use of the form of glutinous rice turtles, or an expansion of the shared-food concept in the Qi-gui ritual. The works during this period especially emphasize a "dematerialization," which is a kind of "alteration technique" on the attitude towards art (of its formalization of sensation and material), a kind of hypothesis that minutely dissects the idea of "possession." It is a test of the constituents of contemporary relational world-the "everyone" (how the "individuality" of contemporary democracy is born in meetings and chance encounters) and the "object and production" (the possibility that one can "have" but not "possess"). Production, disintegration, and distribution play an important part in these works, however, these works carry, fundamentally, an aesthetic that resists the measured, rationed, and accelerated material relations (that is, logistics); instead, they return to the shared, cyclic, and repeated characteristic at the heart of the Qi-gui ritual.
What's worth discussing is: in fact, the spiritual power of religion and mysticism are not emphasized in these works. One can say that the utilization of the form of ritual and spiritual transmission is more focused on using the common spiritual structure of sharing that is at the basis of religion. Through operating the minute conversions of this force from the self to the other, from the individual to the society, and revealing the gaps between these transferences and transformations is precisely what is worth repeated attention in New York Chi's past works. In the later work Howl Store (2014), New York Chi destabilizes the economic structure of the creator, space, community, and art through playing the role of a store planner. During the same year, his solo exhibition Free Yourself at FreeS Art Space transforms the space into a community sports center. We can see it as a further exploration of social dynamics; the artist's position transforms into a member of a system, sharing a created system and status in flux.
In this solo exhibition, New York Chi plays the role of an object and document organizer. Though greatly employing and borrowing folk religious culture, objects, and rituals, they gain a change in meaning due their positioning in personal space and the art museum (a modern sacred space). The deities were not shown or mentioned with the prosperity turtles' shift into the exhibition space of an art museum. A Qi-gui ritual without a deity, praying ritual, and food-sharing is lacking. Thus, we can't help but question: under this lack of traditional spiritual powers, what exactly does Chi want to introduce or deal with by congregating folk culture and summoning religious powers? What kind of spiritual field must be described? One could be constructing the possibility of conversation between folk aesthetics and contemporary aesthetics. We will ask whether a concrete relational space could be created, whether it is in danger of entering into the very capitalist flow and logistical structures that it intended to resist, such as the use, exploitation, control of spiritual life, vitality, spirit, and psychology by global capitalism? Evidently, the exchange of cultural capital and economic capital cannot satisfy as the cure for a loss of cultural identity and utilizing the appearance of subjective identity as another solution could strike us back into the system of effectiveness.
The second possibility isn't aesthetic form or cultural symbolism, but rather, utilizing Jacques Rancière's concepts, how aesthetics, as a distributive mechanism, can share the right to distribute with other fields (such as religion, economics, and labor) and whether it can mutually enable. Although superficially, one sees in the exhibition the act of bringing Qi-gui into the "cultural scene," which is a static type of display and result. However, if one views the process of the entire project, including: how to track the status of each pastry chef, how to redistribute the finished turtles, and comparing the social structures and labor relations that the Qi-gui culture involves, one will realize that this exhibition recreates a distributive space between spirit and labor. In fact, in contrast to other religious structures that have an inward-centralizing, divine object, the Qi-gui tradition has a sort of outward expansion. Like many Taiwanese folk rituals, it's something that generates a link between community labor, such as the allocation of the commission to many different pastry shops in fabricating the Prosperity Turtles.
Additionally, because the Lunar New Year tradition of Qi-gui occurs once a year, it isn't a specialized fabrication, but rather a "customized" fabrication. Because of that, its guiding aesthetic principles are external. On the other hand, New York Chi is almost a co-laborer and cooperator within the fabrication process, which implies a parallel labor relationship and a distributed kind of equality. What's more important is that the artist enters this already dwindling labor system. Thus, this project isn't an archiving and display of memory, but rather a return of the art of craft onto the artist-it's a bodily archival.
The exhibition name can be thought to represent the full extent of the questions raised. The artist points out his path by using New York, a Western place, as his name. Is the feeling of false translation that results in placing this name in the language of his place of origin ultimately important? By going back to the artist's self-exploration and self-tracing motives in this exhibition, one can almost sense an anxiety of self-identification that results from this false translation. Simultaneously, it is also an anxiety of self-display in a global stage, which coincides, to an extent, with the epitome of Taiwanese spiritual structure. But can we so boldly attempt to go along with such a falseness, using the otherworldly idea that defies the law of physics in Chinese martial arts novels "jumping higher by stepping on your own foot in midair" to examine New York Chi's concept of "mutual carrier?"
As the artist says: the glutinous rice turtles and their relationships forms the fundamental aesthetic form of the artist's work. Then we might say that this naked act which directly links the audience and artist's aesthetic is a form of the self's "aesthetic beginning," however, the effect of this act is decidedly different from those that jump on to an attempt to self-contextualize or connect to a larger structure-traditional culture becomes a basis that supports the value of the individual and, to an extent, cancels the mysteriousness required of an artist in accumulating symbolic value. This, however, puts the artist closer to an anthropologist, who begins a field study by learning a skill or craft of the targeted study group and crosses the obstacle of the objective-subjective hierarchy towards understanding. In fact, the artist New York Chi is exhibiting a future archive of how Kai Yuan Chi can become a turtle pastry chef. Although it inevitably is still a process of subjectivization, projecting oneself as a future laborer.