Routes in the insomnia - Chen Hui-Chiao's Solo Exhibition
“Routes in the Insomnia” brings together 20 works from Chen Hui-Chiao’s Needles and Thread series of works, completed over the past decade. Using the needle as a brush, and yarn as paint, she deliberately calls attention to the “materiality” in her exploration of the assorted possibilities for a new vernacular for articulating two-dimensional works. These possibilities must consider the meshing, not the division, of form and materials. In her needle and thread works she employs canvas, suede, cotton, or nylon cloth as a base, on top of which embroidered lines retain rational geometric elements. Over these lines she sews such items as needles, metallic thread, white down feathers, gauze, and sequins, like launching a chase between “construction” and “destruction” of which she never tires. Chen’s new work, Shuttle (2017), bursts with even more energy. After first applying acrylic colors on canvas, she sewed on a layer of gauze, into which she directly embroidered needles. This confluence of disparate materials imparts the complexity of the artist’s everyday thoughts. The materiality of this series of works long superseded its pictorial qualities as the artist plays with materials following her subjective consciousness. The careful and deliberate application of materials allows us to draw certain conclusions, and the use of these materials allows her to constantly consider the possibilities of two-dimensional forms of expression.
For her, experimentation with materiality gives objects spiritual qualities. Taking the example of the Needles and Thread series, the refined composition characteristic of the works gives rise to the aesthetic exploration of the self-awareness, further mixed with plain or unfinished industrial objects. In addition to lending the works unadorned simplicity, this approach makes use of the true appearance of the materials to bring them from outside-in to become everyday objects. At the same time, the use of such materials as silver and gold metallic threads and white down feathers can be traced to Greek mythology, where the complex relationships between gods, and between gods and humans, comprise highly symbolic meaning. Chen found a methodology with mythology as the foundation, with detailed design to express richly lyrical symbols, indirectly referring to the realities of the natural world via the celestial world, while attempting to return to an authentic world. Whether in pursuit of an order built on precise rationality, or tirelessly appropriating the allegorical content of mythology, Chen Hui-Chiao practically single-mindedly combines materials in montage fashion. Each arrangement contains the artist’s imagination, using them to expand the appearance of the natural world. This is where she sets the tone for her works, which express a deep dialogue between reason and dreams.
The fusion of these two aspects effortlessly transforms the world into nothingness, as the internalization of things in the outside world maps the artist’s psyche, guiding her toward a world of dreams. Chen Hui-Chiao has never hidden her deep affinity for dreams, which like phantoms let her swing back and forth between unreal existence and the disappointments of reality; perhaps it could be said that she transforms the depths of her spirit into the form of dreams, to allow dreams to convey the various unusual fantasies of her subconscious - fantasies that repeatedly enter her mind as dreamscapes. In this way, like a powerful torque, “dreams” send her into a most heightened sensory state, from which thoughts are awakened, and through thoughts she can see the incredible working of her own thinking - the unconsciously manufactured dreams are so intensely expressed in her works, from inside to out, distilling their purity. In this way the dreams are elevated to a higher realm, forcing oneself to stare straight into the essence of life.
In other words, “dreams” are the interchange of the external and internal worlds, over the course of which the latter receives vast quantities of information pouring in from the outside world, so that this physical world becomes barren, as if hollowed out. At this time, the internal world is sizing up this receptor to probe directly into those things that have been wiped from reality. From this standpoint, each of Chen’s works is like a different dream implying so many things, attempting to convey through the materiality of the works a kind of realism. And this realism perhaps stems from the push and pull between the self-conscious and the real world, giving the artist spiritual equilibrium/balance through the form of artistic works.
However, the theme of this exhibition, Routes in the Insomnia, through subtley proposed antithesis, wraps dreams in a cloak of reality. This then turns the existential unreality murkier, severing the connection and making the disappointments in reality that much more prominent. The work Hyponos makes this opposite implication especially clear. In Greek mythology, Hyponos is the son of Nyx and Erebus, the goddess of the night and god of darkness, respectively, who resides in a dark cave in the underworld. Poppies and other hypnotic plants grow at the entrance of the cave, making him the god of sleep, and the island on which he lives, Lemnos, the island of dreams.
Another work, Umbilical of Dream (2016) happens to be displayed just in front of Hyponos (2015), and the two new works Shelter (2017) and Symposium (2017) are placed together. Although this arrangement appears to give each work its own space, the open exhibition space gives free rein to dialogue amongst the works and their varied meanings and connotations. Through opposites, Chen Hui-Chiao outlines a private space belonging to no one in particular, elaborated through myths, dreams, imagination and rational description. Seen from this meaning, the landscape of her mind comes back to reality through her works.
In the arrangement of works in the exhibition space Chen Hui-Chiao allows each work to stand independently, while at the same time opening up each space to imply relationships between works. This sort of arrangement facilitates dialogue among the works and permits them to influence one another. In this way, the artist endeavors to fashion an imagistic space with the works as the foundation for expressing her reflections on the real world: disparate outlooks on life, death and the universe seeking beauty and order, ugliness and chaos, light and dark. More precisely, the entire pure white exhibition space provides the works with a metaphysical spiritual layer that allows them to come into play in a richly contemplative space, thereby making the double images formed by the space and works to collide lyrically. Unguarded, we enter a quasi magic realm, transported into various euphoric and unsettled states. Ultimately, the experience, both painful and exciting, lets us reflect on the varying moods of our lives.
In conclusion, this is an exhibition that places the artist’s intention at its center, in which the works express purely individual consciousness and emotion. Interpreted based on the title, in Routes of Insomnia the artist leans on antitheses to comprise the main symbols producing meaning. From there, she projects her own hopes and desires into the works, making the works media through which to communicate with the world. Notably, here the interplay between the reality of materials and the abstraction of the contents - one open and one closed - refer to each other in spite of their mutual opposition. In such a way, this combination of divergent forces appears within the same picture, showing the world’s myriad faces. The exhibition penetrates the links between the spiritual and material worlds, stripping away their inner meaning; rather, they belong to the artist’s perceptual space. And like the ambiguous title of the exhibition, after the cloak of reality has been stripped away, we know nothing of Chen Hui-Chiao’s unease and fears between dreaming and awakening. Is she awake or sleeping? Or is she consciously or unconsciously dreaming?
By Jo Hsiao