Interview with Wu Chuan-Lun for Off - Site Project 3 Micro-Historical in Peru
by Sylvie LIN
Q: Your artistic practice treats arbitrary and/or artificial relations between nature (natural materials, animals, landscape) and civilization (man’s domestication of animals, industrialization and the latest technologies), with a certain interest in metamorphosis in general. Do such concern and inclination relate to certain biographical background or do they derive from certain points of view you hold toward problematics around Anthropocene?
Wu: I used to be somewhat sensitive and not very cheerful when I was little. Since I could remember, I had been used to keeping some distance from people around me, with the constant feeling of alienation from things involved deeply with people. My hometown was in the suburbs of Tainan City. I often played in unexploited lots nearby. Often barefoot, I played with soil, flowers and grass, and sometimes held funerals for carps my family kept. Then houses were built on those areas and I began to play with landscaping in the garden of my house. Nature and History, rather than Fine Arts, were my favorite subjects in school. In my childhood, my parents liked to take us to camp on the mountains or at the beach. But I became more and more introverted when I was in elementary and junior high schools; the channels through which I approached the world turned to be TV, books or toys and, certainly and later, the internet. For instance, my artwork You Are My Nature (2011-2015) actually embodies my experience of playing animal models; another piece, Domestication (2011-2013), reflects the influence of the internet.
In Museum of Taxidermy (2010-2013), the first work I made during the master program, the specimen room derived from a place I frequented before going to after-class school when I was young. And before that, I had been scared by real animals in the zoo because they greatly differed from what I knew from the media, with their stimulating smells, rough shapes and uncontrollable movements. So I felt rather comfortable in watching animals in the specimen room, maybe because the specimens were like what I saw in the media: no smell, always represented from the best angles, and quietly let themselves being stared.
Regarding Anthropocene, an important aspect of my work, or ecological problems in general, I think they are already well-known affairs. My works actually don’t imply passionate and eager appeals or attempts to propose solutions, because I am a person who doesn’t trust the human world but believes in the present. Eventually, I think my concern is perhaps to find aesthetic responses to situations where such problems already became reality, and to correspond to the contradictions between the internal (personal) and the external (social) that lie in the imbalance between nature and civilization. I don't particularly expect the audience to see certain things, yet I would appreciate if some viewers perceive profound issues that are involved.
Q: By consciously combining or juxtaposing certain artistic techniques, computer technologies and other procedures invented through the process of civilization, you seem to orchestrate a kind of archaeology of technologies spanning from the ancient times to the contemporary era. For example, in Museum of Taxidermy, you regard taxidermy as the earliest 3D technology, whereas in “Digital Weathering” series (Coast Mining, 2014-2015) and “Polygons” series (Debris, 2011-2016), computer graphic technology and natural processes become intertwined.
Wu: I was born in 1985 and grew up in an era where frequent shifts from analogy to the digital took place. I am lucky to know a little about technology of the past while being able to get acquainted with new technologies. Perhaps such experience has made me particularly interested in technologies with functional similarities yet belonging to different times. Implying relations between 3D modeling and taxidermy, Museum of Taxidermy is based on comparisons of the two three-dimensional techniques that can both be called “modeling”. By extension, Debris is simply focused on the 3D software by removing the element of taxidermy. The digital world of 3D software attracts me because it actually achieves the purpose of convincing human senses by constantly incorporating and summarizing diverse physical phenomena of the real world. This process is both a transformation and a domestication. But just as domestication between human and animals, plants has never been one-way, I imagine there to be a mutual incorporation between the digital and analogy; Domestication later also slightly deals with this.
Although digital tools have become dominant by improving efficiency to a level that was difficult to achieve in the analogy era, they actually inherit genes of the analogy while seeming to replacing the later. Such gene might be a concept, a style or a sign. For example, Apple computers abundantly applied designs of simulating real objects such as skeuomorphic design, or photography retrospectively refers to chromatic senses from the age of film. In addition, computers today sometimes contain graphic icons relating to elements of film. But in reality, films are scarcely played through such medium. For the next generation, they probably will regard such icons as merely incomprehensible symbols.
I went on to make contrasts between internet images and sketch (Domestication), between plastic and marble (You Are My Nature), etc. Although these also involve chronological differences, the main contrast is no longer technical but unfolds in terms of behavior and material. And coming to Digital Weathering, the comparison between the in-built modules and the scanned models derives from imagination about ecological/geological aspects. I consider the homogeneous models generated within software as original products and the trash-rock models with irregular wireframe, resulting from transformation from real to digital by means of scanning, as digital sub-products. From there, I further developed “α” and “β” series; the former is inspired by mutual attaching and intertwining of natural things and artifacts in nature whereas the latter is simply bred with models that are sub-products.
Q：Museology is another major aspect of your artistic investigation. The plays of diverse forms of exhibition presentations, framing methods, etc. are essential to works like Museum of Taxidermy, The Shepherd Dogs Part II - Grafrath: A Schäferhund Story (2017-2018), the presentations of the latter and other works somehow evoke those of the cabinets of curiosities (Wunderkammer). Please talk about such museological deployments in your oeuvre and your view toward museum and presentation of exhibits as artificial constructs.
Wunderkammer is generally regarded as the origin of Western museums. I often appropriate museological deployments; this has much to do with my hobby of “collecting”. I had a passion for collecting as early as in my childhood. I like the sense of achievement through gradual perfection and the excitement of discovery. The motivation behind this hobby is mostly curiosity. With some collections, investigations triggered by curiosity become sources of art-making. But more often, collection is just a part of my life. The items I collect are mostly artifacts. I like to look at my collections and try to figure out the ideas of their makers. So I think maybe my attachment to “objects” actually results from a kind of obliged empathy: in wanting to be distanced from “human affairs”, I also cannot totally detach myself from them.
The items that became elements of my creation are often presented in the most respectful and intact manners. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why my exhibitions evoke museology. I often feel the stories and meanings of these objects themselves surpass my art derived from them. So it seems to be a disrespectful act to alter them (permanently). For example, the frames drawn with 3D software in Museum of Taxidermy are actually transformed from my imagination and interpretation of taxidermies in the photos. Yet since I don't want to intervene in those pictures, I made frames around them.
Another example is the rubbish stones in Coast Mining. Their texture already carries abundant messages. Their seemingly natural shapes are crafted pieces by nature and time. So I chose to keep these stones intact in displaying them. But from them, I also developed another group of works by 3D scanning, a non-destructive technique. Besides, I like the rather rational and orderly ways of induction represented by museum. Perhaps this is due to my sense of uncertainty toward the outside world, and the museum's seemingly organized system provides me some sense of steadiness.
Museum of Taxidermy still falls into a typical imagination of art museum presentation. Later, in National Freeway 1 National Park (2012-2014), I tried a presentation that was closer to that of a natural science museum. The presentation of The Shepherd Dogs series afterwards was probably closer to that of a museum of crafts. In the future, my works will probably take yet different forms of presentation along with the increase of historical elements.
Q: In terms of residency, you live in Tainan (your city of birth) and Berlin. Please talk about the impact or influence such a transition brings to you as an individual and an artist. How do you perceive the differences or continuities of life experiences and creative inspirations between the two cities?
Wu: Although Berlin is more raw and chaotic than other European cities, it is still more orderly than Taiwan. For me, the biggest difference between Tainan and Berlin is maybe we find fewer interesting things in life in Berlin. In Tainan, you can always encounter lots of chaotic situations. For example, the JTC (2012-2017) series begins with my street experience there (or in Taiwan in general). Berlin’s cityscape always feels quite monotonous. Although many interesting things happen in interesting spaces, most of them are somehow hidden whereas in Taiwan, the information is often excessive to the point of obscenity since it is exposed in such an omnipresent way. The advantage in Berlin is less interference. With the circle of living diminished, the time of being alone is increased. So I seem to concentrate better on thinking. In terms of the transformation of my art-making, most of my works made in Taiwan are relatively straightforward with stronger sensual tension. Yet coming to Berlin, I began to let go of strong forms and turned to project-oriented creation driven by objects of investigation.
Q: Please talk about your upcoming residency project in Peru. Which aspects of the place will you explore? What are the main concepts and in which concrete ways will you realize the project?
Wu: “Domestication” remains an important keyword of my art-making. For me, domestication is a two-way movement between nature and civilization, or a model of compromise between the natural world and the human world. Potato is one of the world’s most important domesticated crops. In Peru, its place of origin, the most diverse species of the crop are kept. Besides, such variety of species allows for discussion about several distinct aspects related to aboriginal culture, ecological diversity, etc. Due to the short period of residency in Peru this time (two weeks), I would like to focus on a local market and a potato park near Cusco as the bases of my project investigation.