Let’s pause for a moment and recall what life was like before the pandemic, does feel like a lifetime go does it not. Thinking about it, the life we had before was somewhat like an alternative timeline, like one of those Marvel Multiverses, you could draw correlations but they are not quite the same. It was a time when every beautiful face of human beings is not hidden behind a tedious mask when, you didn’t have to constantly remind yourself of alcohol wipes and hand soap, when you could just sit down inside any restaurant and bar without having the slightest worry that you may possibly be exposed. Some life we had back then eh.
As I’m writing this, it has been 2 years since my previous trip to Taiwan (台灣), which was the last time that I boarded an aeroplane, also the last time that I went beyond the borders of the Japanese islands. I looked at the photos I took of Taipei (台北), I read the notes that I jotted down whilst in museums, trying to recollect and piece together the fragments of memories sprang from the trip. I remember the food I ate, the streets I strolled, the miles that I walked — it was a devastatingly tiring trip. I landed in Taipei after spending a week in Tokyo (東京) during the new year break, and straight off to the Biennale in Taichung (台中) I went, then several blockbuster exhibitions back in Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館). It’s always exciting to see and experience new works of art in a foreign city, though it can most certainly be exhausting at the same time, dealing with different cultures, customs and of course people. I remember approaching the end of my journey, I was physically worn out and mentally drained, reached a point where I just felt, that really was enough and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. “Let’s get this over with.” — I was so ready to just pack the camera away and forget about all of these artsy stuff, head out of the museum and indulge in a hearty local meal. It wasn’t until the minute I arrived at the ground floor of the museum, in front of an installation work of pine trees named Disembodied Posture (不存在的姿態) situated in a 20m² box, I remember it was close to a feeling of revelation.
Like a reboot, a moment of invigoration struck the second I entered the space and laid eyes on the work, like it’s demanding every attention from the viewers too, all my random thoughts were seemingly extracted by it, I was able to focus once again as I stood there emerged, gazing, trying to take it all in. The room felt serene and virtually reclusive, that it was being cut off and detached from everything else going on inside the museum. I took a breather and started to wander, from one installation to another, studying all the details. As if I was overhearing a conversation among the lights and the shadows, the objects and the reflections, like my presence was detected, slowly, all the pine trees responded, appeared to have come alive once more and began to thrive, the lives of these objects unravelled right in front of my bare eyes within this confined and limited space. Of course, occasionally there would be someone stepping in with a phone grabbing a selfie but that didn’t take anything away from the whole experience. Before I left the exhibition space I took a quick glance over the caption, ‘Yi-ting Wang’, a collaboration was already brewing and I knew one day I would have to work with this artist.
Past imperfect is a grammar tense that doesn’t exist in English but French, describing an unresolved state or action in the past being dragged on to the present and possibly further. Perhaps a culmination of her years spent in France too, Yi-ting’s work evoked a powerful sense of, not nostalgia nor reminder of history, but more of an unfinished process from the past continuing, stretching beyond to an unforeseeable future, it tells a story not about the natural objects alone, but also about time and life itself. There’s a line in Forest Gump, “Death is just a part of life. It’s something we’re all destined to do.” Haruki Murakami also wrote in Norwegian Wood: “Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of it. By living our lives, we nurture death.” Death, together with love and war, probably play the most significant roles in the history of literature. Yi-ting’s work paints a narrative surrounding the notion of death and encapsulates the essence of existence, her attempt to extend life after death, further opens up a dialogue on how death is perceived and valued differently in the East and the West, does death mean the ending, or is every ending another new beginning?
2022 is already here, yet the pandemic does not look like it’s going away any time soon, in fact, the situation is looking bleak more so than ever and perhaps one should not take for granted that tomorrow will always be a better day. Whether it’s a turn of natural selection, or purely the impotence of governments we do not know, all we know is that it’s still hitting everyone hard us included. Around October last year we were fortunate enough to participate in Unknown Asia amidst the uncertainty, collaborating with Yi-ting for the art fair in Osaka (大阪), we together had to locate a new system of pandemic curation, for an intensive and challenging couple of months building up to the day of the exhibition, we navigated our ways through and worked collaboratively from distance, conversing via computers and phone screens. On top of all thanks to the help from a few other individuals, we managed to pull through, and we couldn’t be thankful enough to Yi-ting who decided to join us onboard despite the short-time notice and crazy schedule.
Upon the conclusion of the project, my conversation with Yi-ting continued, in this first part of the interview I asked the artist about her past, the time she spent in France and her influences; for the second part we talked about life and death — which has been the centre of Yi-ting’s ethos and artistic practice, in this part of the interview she also shared with us some of her interests for works of sci-fi, as well as plans for the future. With the arrival of 2022, notwithstanding the written pessimism, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for a better year to come.
Axel Wang: 讓我們把時間往回撥一下, 您小時候是個怎樣的小孩呢? 有什麼家庭方面的影響, 或者是因為看到了某件藝術作品讓您有立志當一名藝術家的想法嗎?
Let’s go back to the very beginning Yi-Ting, what were you like as a child, did you always want to become an artist, any particular influence from family or friends?
Yi-ting Wang: 我出自一個普通的家庭，家人沒有特別培育我在藝術方面的教育。小時候接觸藝術的機會較少，大部分能憶起震撼到自己的藝術作品大多是在去歐洲留學後的事了。藝術的啟蒙回想起應該是在中學時偶然有機會參加了紙雕的競賽得獎，從此便對創造立體物件產生了興趣。在競賽準備期間，老師讓我自主的研究紙張的色彩和結構關係，我常常在美術社流連忘返地挑選紙張，研究材料工具的使用，發覺了其中材料實驗的有趣性，以及各種天馬行空的創造方法。
I come from an ordinary and humble family, my upbringing did not involve anything specifically related to art. There weren’t too many opportunities encountering art when I was young either, it was only after I began to study in Europe, that I got to interact and experience artworks on a more frequent basis, and I remember being genuinely shocked by them all. My interest in creating 3-dimensional objects was initially triggered back in junior high, when I won a paper crafting competition. During the preparation period of the competition, the tutor encouraged us to investigate the properties of paper by ourselves, to know more about structures and colours, I was experimenting with different materials and trying out different tools, discovering various ways of creating things and it was really fun.
“…I needed answers for myself…”
You went to Marseille to study art nearly 5 years after gradiated in 2008 from Tunghai University, that’s like a reset button in life. Why did you choose to go to France at that particular moment in time?
I actually spent some time working in Shanghai after graduation. The job had something to do with product planning and management, and the company was involved in Liuli (Chinese coloured glass) crafting, so it sat somewhere between art and design, and obviously I had to research and familiarise myself with oriental art, the aesthetics and the philosophies behind it, in order to help produce the corresponding product. It wasn’t always about coming up with something creative and new that differed from traditional craft, but also for me to get to understand the characteristics of the materials, as well as the technicality aspect of the production process. From proposal, planning to the actual realisation and manufacturing of the final product, minding every little detail along those steps, it was an extremely valuable period of time for me.
Eventually, after working there for a while I started to wonder and began to have my own ideas and thoughts surrounding the craft, and about art itself too. I asked myself questions, what was art and if there were other possibilities that lay beyond. Despite that I studied industrial design at university, looking back, I knew nothing about art. At that point I was simply dying to know more, I guess that was me being young, I was so determined to pursue it, I made my mind up and that was it, because I knew I may never have the same opportunity again, I needed to give it a try. I immediately started planning to go to France, a new country and a new language which I also knew absolutely nothing about, or the very simple fact of whether it would be possible for someone like me to actually study in an art college over there. Finance was something that I had to take into consideration but other than that, I would say it wasn’t too difficult a decision, I needed answers for myself, the rest I would just figure them out when I got there I thought.
AW: 在台灣與在法國⽣活與⼯作, 從各個層⾯上來看, 相⽐之下有什麼不同呢?
How different is it, when you compare living and working in Taiwan with France?
It’s too big a question in all honesty, that I can’t really give a specific answer to. For me the cultural difference is huge, I remembered experiencing a tremendous cultural shock in the first instance and it took me a long time to adapt. The situation improved after I began to learn the French language, like another door had opened. I think every language has its own nuance, at the beginning, I had to switch between French, English and Chinese constantly in my head in order to understand the context, but gradually I got more used to French, and was able to think in French or sometimes conversed with myself in French.
At first it was all about the differences for me, between the two cultures, but after spending 5, 6 years in France and returning to Taiwan afterwards, there were times that I felt a bit strange, whether it was due to any French influence or if it’s just the way I was I couldn’t really grasp, I felt like a foreigner in my homeland, like the way I said things or the ways I behaved were slightly off to the crowd.
AW: 在台灣出⽣長⼤, 加上在上海及法國學習⼯作, 各種經歷有給您的藝術創作帶來怎樣的影響嗎?
Being born in Taiwan, worked in Shanghai, studied in France, how do you think all these experiences influenced you as an artist?
YW: 法國算是供給了我對藝術一切認知的所有養分。在求學期間，我得以利用地利之便到歐洲各個地方看展覽，增廣見聞，也在巴黎看過幾場印象深刻的藝術家個展，例如2014年在巴黎大皇宮的Bill Viola, 2015年的Mona Hatoum, 以及Pierre Huyghe, Edward Hopper, 草間彌生等。而每兩年一度的維尼斯雙年展更是一次次的藝術身心洗禮，對於作品的熱情和想法每每都能自這些藝術家中感受到。 求學期間我曾在藝術家Michel Gouery的巴黎工作室實習，陶藝的技巧學習到的是其次，但真正影響我的是他持之以恆的創作動力，創作如日常，成為一種習慣，至今這樣的創作精神仍然影響著也提醒著我。我个人創作的影響大部分來自於生活，尤其是當長期身處於文化差異下，對於周遭的環境會有多一份警覺性，即使作品不會特別說明，但自然無形中會透露著那一份對於身處環境的感知。
I think artistically France has nurtured me in every possible way. Geographically it was convenient for me to travel and explore different exhibitions in surrounding countries at the time — Bill Viola at Grand Palais in 2014 and Mona Hatoum in 2015, also Pierre Huyghe, Edward Hopper, Yayoi Kusama, Venice Biennale and so on, I could relate to the artists’ ideas and their passion for creation, all these great names and art festivals all inspired me profoundly.
During my studies I interned at Michel Gouery’s studio in Paris, and for me the experience was less about the pottery crafting techniques that I got to learn, but what truly influenced me was Michel’s persistence in creating and how motivated he was every day, creation became a natural habit for him. I’m influenced by life itself and my surroundings, especially situated in a different environment emerged in a different culture, you are alert all the time, cautious about everything around you. Cultural differences and contrasts are not what my works are about per se, I don’t tend to talk about them so explicitly but they are important aspects, it’s like an undercurrent.
The original interview was conducted in Chinese by Axel Wang on 4 December 2021.
Introduction & Editor: Axel Wang
Design: Axel Wang
Photography: Courtesy of Yi-ting Wang
Chinese to English Translation: Axel Wang