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«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»

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M. Turner, © 2008 From My Fingers was shown in all exhibition rooms of the first floor of the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts with governmental support from the newly-established Bureau of Cultural Affairs in Kaohsiung City and the museum itself. 38 There are several gallery rooms on the first floor of the museum and visitors can walk from the first room to the last one or vice versa, as the entrance and the exit are connected with each other. The exhibited works were presented and displayed in various ways and some independent rooms have been specifically built for the use of video projection and multi-media works. Like most official galleries and museums in Taiwan, this exhibition is open to the general public free of charge.

To support the show, a series of educational programmes, workshops for art

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spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Taiwan, these programmes were cancelled and the intention of Chen and the Association to promote Taiwanese women’s arts to an international level did not receive the expected attention.39 In this chapter, I select some particular works that support my argument that Regarding the support stated in the text, the curator reported in a committee meeting that ‘due to the newly-established Bureau of Cultural Affairs, the show was highly supported by it and the museum.’ See the minutes of the committee meeting held on 21 February 2003 at Sinpink Art Space in Kaohsiung and published by the Association in April 2004.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), SARS first became a threat globally in mid March 2003 after its first known case in Guangdong province in China in November 2002.

More information can be found in:

http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/WHO_CDS_CSR_ARO_2004_1.pdf, consulted on 8 January 2007 and Hsieh Ying-Hen et al, ‘SARS Outbreak, Taiwan 2003’, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no2/03-0515.htm, updated on 31 March 2004, consulted on 8 January 2007.

M. Turner, © 2008 women’s art practice provides evidence of aspects of the theory outlined above.

The first artist’s work to be considered is Liu Shih’s Fen’s Gift (2003) [fig 85-88], a documentary film and installation. The piece was presented in a separate room specifically built for this work. Walking through an arch-shape gate, the visitors entered a dark room with two main walls at the front and the back.

Two screens were arranged, one on each wall. One of the films is a continual video of a woman’s eye which keeps blinking and looking at the other screen, while the other (main) film is about a baby which was born severely disabled (having no skull bones to protect her exposed brain) and who lived for just twenty-six hours. The main film was carefully produced, so that it resembles a kind of animation of a fairy story. At the end of the main film, a pigeon, hand drawn by the artist, appears from the baby’s exposed brain and flies away.

The artist asserts in her statements that the pigeon represents the life of the baby who died the next day.

Liu is a nurse working in an obstetrics and gynaecology department, and many of her works are created based on her professional experience and are made with technology related to medical science. In the exhibition catalogue, she

outlines her concepts for creating this work:

This infant uttered its first cries at 9:08 in the evening. It was missing its cranial bones and its cerebrum was poorly developed. The rose-red membrane covering its brain tissue was exposed in a gap in its forehead.

[…] Its intact brainstem was still able to maintain such signs of life as the child’s body temperature, pulse and breathing. Since such a child cannot live for very long, her parents decided to let her die a natural death. […] Her image will linger forever in my mind as a sorrowful yet poignant The documentary film of the baby was shown in frames like an eye, presenting a kind of hybridity between a living creature and technology. The way the work was presented relates to the artist’s professional background as a nurse and is typical of the trend that embraces technology. According to the artist’s statement, the baby lived for just over one day and the technology of producing the film captures the pleasure of the few moments of her life.41 The film was shown through a square-shaped window in an oval monitor housing hanging from the ceiling. The monitor resembled a person’s eye reflecting the image when looking at this child. The screen on the opposite side of the wall shows a film of a real eye and the context of the main film represented the images

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concern for this disabled child encouraged Liu to record and represent this short life through the means of technology, and the work is the combination of feminine consideration and technology.

The work creates a form of space-like atmosphere and the baby in the film resembles a cyborg creature (because of the unusual appearance of the baby and the special effects of beautifying the film). The artist has effectively transformed a baby into a cyborg, a mixture of technology and human.

Haraway asserts that ‘[t]he cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, op cit, p 90.

The baby was born at 9.08pm on 23 August 2002 when Liu participated in a caesarean operation, and she died at 11.15 on the evening of 24 August 2002. She was 2,188 grams in weight when she was born. For more information regarding this matter, see the artist’s statement in the catalogue. Ibid.

M. Turner, © 2008 historical transformation’.42 For Haraway, ‘cyborg’ resembles the combination of reality and imagination and a challenge between borders of organism and machines. Thus, this concept of cyborg appears similar to Donna Haraway’s definitions whereby the baby in the film is an image of the real and of the artist’s imagination.

The borders between machines and organisms have shifted and become blurred as Taiwan moves through the age of technology. Women’s attitudes to traditions (ie. being considerate, thoughtful, careful etc.) remain the same even though the concerns of the cyborg and cyberspace are influencing and changing their lives everyday. In my view, the characteristics of women-ness have not been changed but that they have been shown via another interface, technology, which reveals the fact that it is impossible to materialise the humans’ world by computer science. Ultimately, despite the fact that technology can provide people with various functions in their lives, it will not replace people’s emotions, such as, for example, love.

Another artist who also used ‘a baby’ as the theme for her work is Lin Debbie Tsai-Shuan, who exhibited Vacuum – Impressional Temperature (2003) [fig 89-91]. Vacuum is an arrangement of one hundred and one transparent glass dolls, connected by shining light leads in an independent dark room. The dolls (and the leads) are displayed randomly on a large stage, similar to one for performance in a theatre. The small doll-like sculptures form a repetition of a simple unit: a robot. Lin describes these dolls as ‘sexless, with no particular status, […] continuously absorbing nutrients from the matrix via umbilical Haraway, op cit, p 150.

M. Turner, © 2008 cords’.43 The shining, hot leads transport not only light but also heat from the physical properties of electricity. The dolls (robots) stand in the background where the light is continually turned on and off, as if they are soldiers or basic machine units. A sense of suffocation fills the space whilst the extreme visual and sensory experiences stimulate the viewers’ minds and senses. The artist’s intention is to simulate the form of a child (the glass doll), who absorbs nutrition (light) from its mother (the abstract concept of the origin). Lin

addresses this idea and describes this work in her artist’s statement:

The illumination is sometimes bright and sometimes dark, starting and stopping the energy of life. Like the slow breathing of an infant sleeping soundly, the steady rhythm radiates the temperature of breath. We face the mother, the point of origin, the mysterious attractor.44 In science fiction, invariably robots are imagined as being asexual; in Vacuum, non-sex cyborgs are produced to indicate the artist’s intention to reveal the ‘stream of consciousness’. In the flyer of the artist’s solo exhibition, Vacuum State, held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 25 October – 7 December 2003, Yang Chih-Fu, a Taiwanese art critic, describes Lin’s works in the following


More accurately […] the dolls can be seen as a single entity in motion whose image is arrested in time. It resembles ‘the rendering of consciousness’ or the rendering of ‘stream of consciousness’, [w]hich allows it to pass through objects without limitations of space or time.45 Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, op cit, p 80.


Details cited from the publicity flyer.

M. Turner, © 2008 Through the materials of technology, Lin fabricates fluid and feminine characteristics (i.e. softness, shifting and unstableness) from what is seen as cold and masculine science. Dolls can be seen as a symbol for femininity and childhood and the artist transforms them into cyborgs, which refer to herself as both a woman and a machine. Yang further argues that ‘[t]he exhibit of Vacuum is not about the physical heat of light, but is a network of [optical] light linked together, [which] draws the spirit’s warmth to the hub of the network’.46 Thus, the dolls (cyborgs), become the interface for the artist to trace her childhood and her roots; electricity becomes the fluid material through which she moves, as if a part of the stream of consciousness.

Vacuum’s complicated arrangement of leads implies a utopia where there are no limitations or obstacles for communication and travel. The light and heat coming from the leads and the reflection of the light from the dolls, makes the exhibition space full of tension and thrills, through which the state of a vacuum appeared, because for the artist, the state of being full and that of being void have the same sensory experience. The artist explains this concept by noting that ‘[a]lthough it strikes you initially as bright and boisterous, in fact it is abnormally quiet’.47 In other words, the state of vacuum is the result of all the busy and noisy interaction between electricity and objects. The rash and rapid transportation of power and electricity becomes absent and disappears when the speed and temperature reach a certain point. The philosophy to transform the ‘mass of materials’ into ‘spiritual emptiness’ comes from the thinking of a philosopher in the Song Dynasty, Ju Shi (1130-1200), and one of

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M. Turner, © 2008 his sayings is that ‘[w]hen things reach their limit, they are forced to bounce back’ (the original proverb is Wu Ji Bi Fan). This proverb is cited from Ju’s famous publication, Jin Sz Lu (translated as ‘a collection of thoughts’). 48 Although the form and method used to create works such as Vacuum are inspired by the West, I suggest that artists from the East still hold the influence of Eastern philosophy which cannot be replaced simply by science and its absolute ‘1 or 0’ relationship.

In my research, I have regularly addressed and employed the term, hybridity, the condition of trans-culture and in-betweenness in postcolonial studies. A good example of this concept can be found in this piece of work. Vacuum is created by means of Western materials, however, the artist intends to create a spiritual emptiness based on the philosophy of the East. To be specific, this work represents the combination of different cultures in the form of art and echoes Bhabha’s concepts of the ‘Third Space of enunciation’.49 For Bhabha, cultural knowledge is ambivalent and is open for expanding regularly.

Therefore, the combination between the East and the West is evidence of a contemporary cultural phenomenon. To take this argument further, I shall

consider Bhabha’s arguments regarding ‘Third Space of enunciation’:

The intervention of the Third Space of enunciation, which makes the structure of meaning and reference an ambivalent process, destroys this mirror of representation in which cultural knowledge is customarily revealed as an integrated, open, expanding code. […] It is only when we understand that all cultural statements and systems are constructed in this This information can be found in Tzeng, Rung-Fen (eds). ‘Wu Ji Bi Fan’, Dictionary of Chinese Idioms, an online resources established by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan, http://dict.moe.gov.tw/chengyu/pho/fsj/fsj34038.htm, consulted on 8 January 2007.

This term can be found in Bhabha (1994), op cit, p 54.

M. Turner, © 2008 contradictory and ambivalent space of enunciation, that we begin to understand why hierarchical claims to the inherent originality or ‘purity’ of cultures are untenable.50 For Bhabha, the purity of culture and the inherent originality do not exist and it is the Third Space and in-betweenness of differences that carry the meanings of culture and its representation. As an example, the ancient proverb originated from Chinese culture is adapted in Vacuum to create a visual form of hybridity. The main curatorial theme addresses Taiwan’s artistic and social environment, and thus I propose that the exhibition itself responds to Bhabha’s concepts of hybridity because the Western concept cyberfeminism is used.

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