Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 01:04

The Art of Huang Min-Chi

First Encounter

I first met Huang Min-Chi at a performance art festival held at a village near the old capital of Jogja (Yogyakarta), in Indonesia, in 2007. The theme of the festival was "Spiritual Renewal" as a special consideration to the setting, which was a village that had been badly hit by an earthquake a year earlier, and was still recovering from the structural damages, and the personal ones, as life had been lost. Artists were naturally suggested to make work relevant to the process of healing. To give a little context to this, I should say that typically, performance artists go to international festivals for reasons of both exposure and travel. We zip into a country, do a work that is often not directed at the environment we are in, and zip out, and plan for the next venue. This said, I did find that many artists presented work that dealt with local issues, as the village was small, and some artists even stayed in villager’s houses. Yet, we would all depart, and move on. Perhaps the spiritual aspect remained a theme for the festival, and did not go beyond that.

I saw Min-Chi in a health centre where some of us were staying, soon after I arrived. She did not command attention, as she was rather quiet and reserved, but one noticed her because of this subtle, undemanding nature, a contrast to exuberant personalities of many performers. She was tall and perhaps hard to place because of that, but I learned later she was an artist from Taiwan. She was quietly reading what I recognized as a bible. Again, this was a slight yet significant contrast to the setting of performance art. And, it placed her more authentically in my mind into the theme of that festival. In talking with her, I found she was a Christian, and not afraid to express this to a stranger.

As I said, many artists did do work relevant to the theme, though of course some had prepared pieces beforehand. Min-Chi presented a series of short pieces that as a whole, expressed friendliness to villagers, but also acknowledged the one-stop nature of attention to suffering and plight that visiting aid and, artists in this case offer. She simply performed a series of five minute "assistances" to villagers; she massaged a villager for five minutes, helped a farmer in the rice paddy for five minutes, and helped a woman cook in the kitchen for five minutes. While perhaps it may have seemed sharply critical of the passing through of artists to this village, it was rendered rather as a lesson and a reminder. I remembered her reading her bible. I thought of the patient teachings of Christ, who often used illustration and parallel examples to make a moral or spiritual point. I understood, then, and subsequently, that Min-Chi’s commitment was ongoing; she was committed to the spirit, and to God. I learned she had been to Indonesia before, and had a deep interest in Indonesian art. She would later complete graduate work with Indonesian art as its topic, doing first hand research in the field. At least in the west, such research is usually reserved for the doctorate thesis, but Min-Chi’s interest went beyond the completion of a paper; she strived for understanding, and sympathy.


Wood Carving, Prints, Life

Lewis_Mickey_wood_02_sNeedless to say, I kept in contact with her over time. I am from the U.S, and Taiwan was very far from me, but I grew to know her through letters and e mail. During that time, she began to develop a body of work in the medium of woodcarving and printmaking. While she had done both before, she decided to devote more attention now, and I saw a flowering of vision that incorporated her travels, her life, her love of nature, her spirituality, and of course, her artistic skill. Although there is a certain convention in woodcarving, her use of line was unique in each piece, as was her imagery. Some woodcuts she made prints from, while others, in growing number, remained woodcarvings. For me, it was a conceptual choice I saw; to show something, not dirtied by ink, suspended in a clean, pure state. As with a Mondrian painting, though not similar in image, her suspended process, between woodcut and printing, suggested the image itself was ongoing, as Mondrian’s images suggested they continued beyond the edges of the canvas. So, there was this subtle conceptual expression as an entry point. And then, there was the style and content.
As this work is presently ongoing, and a progressive body of work, I think it best to speak now in the present tense. I have moved to Taiwan, and am now able to see Min-Chi’s development close at hand, and even see her working. And of course knowing her has given me a deeper understanding and sympathy for what I am discovering is a singular and focused vision of the spiritual realm. While Min-Chi is a Christian, she has examined first hand other religions, and has appreciation for the diversity of cultures. Many elements are presented in her work, and she is concerned to unify them under a kind of spiritual umbrella.

Lewis_Mickey_wood_03_sThe first thing one notices of her work is the quality of line. She works for many many hours, cutting very small details as well as large deep spaces. The images vary from realist in parts to stylised in others, where plants, animals and herself often take on a dreamlike quality, or hints of spiritual darkness and light. She often depicts herself partly or completely nude. On many levels it is autobiographical. She is an artist’s model. So this is often how she and others see her. But while an artist may render her, and know her exterior form, she shows herself as a person, or spirit. And, as a spirit, her form can pass - and merge - with matter. One sees her, nude, with her body growing into the trunk of a tree, a sloth clinging to her as if to its mother. Her expression is one of tenderness, and sympathy. In the background are mountains, jungle, volcanoes. There is contrast even within nature. There are the gentle creatures she sees as her children, and her, their mother. And there is the earth, which can be violent, and impersonal to the individual. Indeed, on a subsequent visit to Indonesia in 2008, she climbed a volcano and almost perished in the effort. A more recent hike into the mountains in Taiwan for fifteen days left a fellow hiker injured, and again, she was reminded of her fragility at the hands of the earth. Yet, in her work she also embraces the earth. In one carving, her body in part turns to stone - she is in a tunnel, offering a flower to a mole. Looking for the point where fragility and strength of nature converge or are harmonized, which the mind naturally desires, I find I always settle on two things; her rendering of herself, and, the image of the cross. Her body and facial expressions vary. Sometimes she seems sad, imploring the viewer for something, or innocent, as the small creatures she places centrally and around the edges of her panels. But in my eyes, she always appears as a child. Her nudity is not sexual; it is pure, innocent, and natural. The crosses when they appear are roughly hewn, as if made from rough stone, or a tree has naturally grown into that form. It is here, between her body, and the rendering of the cross - where the bridge between a pagan world and the transcendental spirit of creation is given. It is a nature, and a connection to the world that this work strives for, a moral purity, and her physical form, as she renders it, aspires to a cleansing of spirit. Her own self challenges, as she puts herself often in harm’s way in travels and climbing in mountains, become a sort of tribulation, which, as so far she has survived, she shows to us the viewers, as this offering of herself to fate, and to the world, to be more completely made - a part of it.

Lewis_Mickey_wood_05Min-Chi’s art springs directly from her life. More than most art I have seen, she synthesizes her experiences slowly, and at some point, she will have an image that is a kind of vision, and she will draw it on a board. It will often change somewhat, but it seems to come to her complete, and all at once. And, the experience, whatever it is, will have been transformed into a language of her inner life. She works sometimes doing research in Taiwan National Park and Aboriginal areas, and her experiences there enter freely into her work. One image comes to mind. She was witness to the rather cruel killing of a goat in a village. I think, the image horrified her for some time, but she knew it would emerge as a carving beneath her hand. It is a small three panel piece, but the image is cut deep, and pushes beyond the edges of the boards, which seem too small to contain it. The first panel shows the butchering of the goat, and she has coloured the panel a sickening tone. The second panel depicts the suffering of the goat as it bleeds blood and white tears, which fall as a rain, and merge with the tears of her own eyes in the third panel. A "ritual" of a killing is hardly seen as anthropological - it is seen as cruelty to an innocent creature. I think she saw herself in this death, again, the offering, the tribulation. And of course, this is Christian iconography, the suffering of the cross, the violence of which is easily read in the three little panels. While man may be cruel, and even nature may be indifferent when it destroys human and creature life, there is an overall love and sympathy for all creatures, and, even destructive nature, the force that God represents as a power over all, a sympathy, and a forgiveness which I read in the childlike expression when Min-Chi renders her own face, the expressions of purity.

In an earlier carving, she rediscovered the "Pieta." But, instead of Mary holding the body of Christ her son, Min-Chi shows a kindly faced robed Christ, as if a risen Christ, holding Min-Chi’s own nude and starved body in much the same pose. He looks down at her with pity and love. Again, she has placed herself as the offering, for the viewer, for the world she so clearly loves and cares for, down to its smallest atom. I remember seeing the image for the first time, and being moved to tears, and not knowing precisely what it was I felt. I think over time, I gradually have come to understand why: it is because, I have found myself in the presence of a spiritual person, an artist who is honest, not a careerist, not an art maker as such, but a kind of healer, who envisions the world through a religious commitment and who does what she is compelled to do, by her belief, her faith, and by her gifts. Her art continues to grow. The works accumulate on a wall, like so many stained glass panels in a church, with stories that lead the eye from panel to panel, from confession to offering. I consider it an honour I can see this life unfold, and expect others will be honoured too, as the evolution of this art brings the world to it.
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 20:16

Mount Zion and Typhoon Morakot (Part II)

 

Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County is the home of the New Testament Church and, as the church believes, venue for the tribulation.
Mount Zion was damaged during Typhoon Morakot and seven church members lost their lives. While this was a great disaster for the family and friends of the deceased, the church sees them as saints who worked for the glory of God up until their death and have now ascended to heaven, thereby setting an example for their fellow church members.

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