The Submerged Beauty of Formosa: Shun-Fa Yang Solo Exhibition
Shun-Fa Yang has started taking photos since he entered the China Steel Corp. in 1985. Over the years, he has successively created a variety of photographic works and announced different thematic series. In course of his artistic creation, Yang often employs different props and arranges diverse characters in the background to create a variety of realistic and imaginary stages, such as his early series: Rebuilding the Kingdom and Rampant Beasts. Through the created scenes, he attempts to reveal and taunt the actual society beneath the seeming while to show “the present look of Taiwan” that he’s observed and experienced.
In 2016, Yang was invited to exhibit his Homeland and Rootless series in the “Mournful Morrow—Four Taiwanese Photographers”, an exhibition curated collaboratively by the internationally renowned curator Michel Frizot and the Taiwanese curator Ying-Long Su and which was held at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, France. His works were collected by the organizer after the exhibition came to a close. At that time, Yang was very happy and asked in mind “would it would be the climax of his creative career?” The answer is “No” as that was just the starting point for another phase of his life.
In 2017, Yang brought his latest series The Submerged Beauty of Formosa to partake in “The South: An Art of Asking and Listening” (Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts) curated by Manray Hsu, and also jointly exhibiting in The Future of Borders to of Autostrada Biennale. This series, which has been planned and created since 2015, immediately caught the eye of the audience and touched off the discussion in the art field. In addition, Beyond Gallery, as an exhibition for four successive years, presented The Submerged Beauty of Formosa at the Grand Palais in Paris for the 21st edition of Paris Photo. Unique theme, image developing technique and the form to mount made this series highly praised by foreign photographers and were collected by collectors from several countries including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. The exhibition in Paris Photo was brilliant and Yang was overjoyed; what’s amaing was, the works evoked resonances of collectors and audience from so many different countries, not the money can do.
The surprise has not come to an end. Yang did not think of but it happened that The Submerged Beauty of Formosa earned Yang 2018 Kaohsiung Awards. A succession of achievements made Yang forget the hardship and embarrassment of wearing rubber boots, carrying photography equipment and long ladder, stepping into muddy land and icy sea water when taking photos. For the theme of this series, the artist took the seaside landscapes of Yunlin, Chiayi and Nantou counties as the objects; the idea to produce this series was originated from his concern about our homeland, his reflection and weeping on the realistic society and the changes of geographical environment in Taiwan.
To shoot the scenes he wanted to reveal, Yang traveled to some places, such as Tainan where was the largest lagoon area as well as the coastline that changed most in Taiwan; Lo̍k-ní-mn̂g, the place that Zheng Chenggong took hard but successfully landed more than three hundred years ago, is now easy to get to by car. Natural evolution and mankind cultivation have created many stories for the coast of Tainan. Yang, who was born in Shanhau in Tainan, witnessed that the salt fields, general buildings, blockhouse facilities, salines and farmlands left in the period of Japanese rule have been gradually submerged in the sea water. The shouting of saline workers, the noise of machines and majestic and might answering of soldiers… all these childhood memories are no longer present today. The broken bricks and ruins, the bamboo rafts that can't be drawn along the shore... no one pays attention to and nobody cares. This is a terrible story of land, and Yang transforms them into somewhat clear but passing landscapes which are mounted in the elliptic shapes like those appearing in traditional Chinese fans. Even though the works look like classic literati paintings, they actually represent the tragic changes of the coastal environment in Taiwan.
When The Submerged Beauty of Formosa was exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris, one of French audience said with exclamation, "Yang transformed the scars and fissures of the Earth into epic, elegant and beautiful scenes, yet they brought about great sadness that could not be relieved!” These words cogently hit the characteristics of Yang’s works; like the review given by Horng-Yi Chen, the juror of Kaohsiung Awards, “Shun-Fa Yang’s works are good at turning the tragic scenes of the environment and history into poetically artistic visual texts. His ‘dramatic’ photography presenting the theme of Taiwan’s ukiyo-e is already very distinctive and powerful in his personal style."
The Submerged Beauty of Formosa is quite different to Hongmaogang, the beautiful and other previous series in terms of expression techniques and forms. Yang no longer uses the props and painstakingly arranged stories to evoke the imagination of the audience. Instead, he uses a special shooting perspective and producing techniques to faithfully present the original appearance of the scenes. This kind of reduction creates a romantic illusion that allows the viewers to experience a montage that lingers between reality and fantasy. Looking at the abandoned houses floating in the ocean, it seems to put ourselves in the ancient paradise, as if it were an insight into the future parables of human destruction.