Sleeping in Daytime: Sounds Emitted from “Experience”

Yanliao Fishing Port, Sleeping in Daytime, 2022 (screenshot)

As usual, Hsiao-hui Liu chooses to create her artwork not in those popular tourist attractions, but places that are easily passed by and ignored by people. Some even bear names that are too fragmented in their capacity for our mind to remember. Some cannot be determined as an environment that is in need to be protected or conserved. However, when being chosen to be the locales for creating artworks, what makes these places more accessible is their unremarkable traits which keep them from being too sublime. Also, a mere spot on the map is therefore transformed to an approachable and adjacent  environment.

In the very first shot of her video artwork at the Yanliao fishing port, the composition of the iron bed on the beach, the concrete tetrapods, and the ocean altogether is an “unexpected harmony.” As participants making beds and falling asleep with the artist getting involved by taking water out of the ocean and spraying it around the sleeping participants in the shape of a half circle which symbolizes the connection between the ocean and the land, a new relationship between the synthetic world and the natural world was therefore formed as they gradually converge from two opposing ends. These images make up the narrative of modernity and invite us to join its journey.

In the ancient world, people realized that there’s the approach in accord with the flow of Nature; that is, the highest attainment of man is the identity of man himself with the reality of things. Entering upon the machine age, Nature has been placed as the “Other” of humankind. Humans alienate themselves from Nature. Accelerated rates of human-led development show a clear picture of humans’ exploitation of Nature. The exploitation “dehumanizes” humans. This dehumanization, however, has also been an origin of the environmental movement or Anthropocene, in which humans alienate themselves from Nature and develop a paradoxical relation.

The North of Yayung Pratan, Sleeping in Daytime, 2022 (screenshot)

Therefore, the artist painted her face blue. This action gets herself into the conditions of Otherness. The actions we see in the artwork are not so much criticizing that modernity has put human-nature relation into a paradoxical situation as remedying the situation. The actions of spraying water, picking up seeds, or sprinkling flour represent the summoning power of nature to the presence. “Self-othering” signifies “metamorphosis,” which transforms humans who take their existence for granted into objects, putting subjects aside. However, the artist has no intention to reconstruct the subject. Reflecting the reality of the environment through emptying the “Self,” the artist chooses to remain in the state of objectivity. The background noises in location are therefore kept as ambient sound in the video to imply the existence of others. The ambient sounds consist of sounds of nature and human-made noises. The silence participants experience as they take part in sleeping, on the other hand, forms a contrast between the two images.

Sleep comes from the rhythm of our body. It’s a natural phenomenon. When the shelter is taken away from humans, sleeping under the sky and being exposed to nature, humans are shown as the most primitive state in the way of sleeping. This way, an empirical world is substantially brought into existence: all being is built upon an ontological concept.

Allow me to digress briefly on the note brought up by the Japanese architectural critic, Igarashi Taro: according to what Heidegger has said, “dwelling” and “building” derive from the same etymologies. “Dwelling” is also synonymous with “humans being on earth.” However, in modern society, there lies a clear cut between these two concepts. We rent or buy “home,” and “home” becomes an expensive commodity which has drifted apart from its original meaning. We must need modern appliances such as air conditioners and dehumidifiers to constantly adjust the incongruity and discomfort between human body and the building. As for the video artwork created by Hsiang-hui, the three groups of participants are: the daughter and the mother, the spouse, and an individual. These three groups separately represent three different family structures. However, their (modern) home is taken away from them. What they are facing directly is the primitive home: Earth.

Bridge No.11, Sleeping in Daytime, 2022 (screenshot)

Watching Hsiao-hui’s works from this perspective, you will feel an affection which “approaches to the state of nature.” I don’t know if there’s much involvement in her participation in the environmental movement; in the social advocacy field, I imagine, activists have to maintain a high and positive energy for their actions as well as their strategies for organizing people. However, the fatigue and powerlessness stemming from the actions might be the reason why she activates her “state of nature.” One can see it from those actions in the video that are repetitive, minimalism, but full of passion. Just as participants who “try hard to fall asleep,” they are preparing for falling “naturally.” It is not passively refusing to work, but a preparation for a possible reproduction. In other words, when we can transform the daily fatigue and powerlessness into art, a non-homogeneous path of connecting art and the daily is therefore paved.

Like the artist herself chose these three locales to shoot her video, those places are easy to get by for tourists as well as the local people. When reading the introduction of these three video works carefully, one finds the truth that these three locales are in fact places that have long been abandoned as the city develops, places that are forgotten by society. What her art is doing is creating flashbacks which rename those places with one’s own experience.

Art Critic

Wu Sih-fong

A regular reader, amateur writer, a worker in little theaters, and a long-term dweller in the East. The current identity is Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Art Critic of “Macau Theatre,” he mainly participates in theater with his writing work. In the past ten years, he has cooperated with Oz theatre, Step Out theatre(Macau), Approaching Theatre, Assignment Theatre, etc., and edited more than ten volumes of the programmes, hoping to separate the programmes from the function of purely being the explanatory tool for a single work in order to expand the writing space under limited conditions and and merge the dichotomy of creation and academic discussion.

In recent years, the planning and production work includes: “Everything to Be Said  Is Here – The Theatre of Malaysian Chinese Literature” (2015), “Critical Point Theater and Its Experience – Learning Lecture 03” (2017), “Common” Method—The Theatre and Society Symposium (2017), etc. Production works include: “The 2nd Shuitian Community Performance Art Festival” (2018.12), Blacklist Studio’s “Hamlet Machine Hermeneutics” Conceptual Theater – Video Project (Phase 1), “The 2nd Return to the South Island – “Asian Performance Art Festival” (2017), “South View” (2019), etc. Editor-in-chief (with Cheng Yin-chen) “Outsider: Selected Plays of KOH Choon Eiow” (2019), “Khí-lo̍h-thia̍p.Jī” : Special Issue on Folk Performances and Contemporary Theater (2022).

Diminishing and Representation / Being on the scene or not ? : The “Publicness” in Hsiao-hui’s Works

Hsiao-hui told me she wants to talk about the “publicness” in artwork. What the host and critics said earlier has already precisely interpreted and explained what the creator wants to convey to the public through her works. First of all, for us getting together here today to have a panel discussion and sharing is, to some extent, a form of publicness. Especially in the time of pandemic, we thrive on overcoming challenges and adapt to living alongside by making reconciliation about how to coexist. Human civilization is looking for a “new normal” and how it reflects on the “publicness.”

Most of Hsiang-hui’s works focus on environmental issues in the local area (East coast of Taiwan). Those topics of what creators in the local area have been doing are relatively marginalized when compared to the mainstream art in Taipei. This phenomenon stems from a structural inequality which leads to a long-term uneven distribution of resources; however, thanks to different digital dissemination methods, chances have been created for those creators to speak out on matters of their public concerns.

Today, the virtual exhibition and forum have become a public platform of gathering small voices—those environmental issues that have long been marginalized or neglected by the majority—and bringing them to light as a powerful contemporary civic movement. What you have contributed to today’s forum can create a strong impact of “publicness.” With its immersive and profound nature, art can stand the test of time better than political actions do. Though it’s hard to make a difference when one is submerged with the latest and popular trends and the uneven distribution under the current authority structure, I still can see a community of determined local artists who have engaged with a great zeal in creating artworks which question the existing problems and situation in the local area. The gradually emerging community carries on making a difference in a subtle but firm and persevere way, building their own spiritual kingdom to stand against the Western mainstream art located in the back of the mountain.

Obscure Dissociation and with Strong Contrast

What has to be explored next is the relationship between the role of the artist, her works, and how the artist’s self-awareness connects with the audience. Hsiao-hui’s artworks highly contain the characteristics of modernity and contemporary performance. However, unlike most provocative performance artists who involve the interference and meddling in the reality in their art, what sets Hsiao-hui’s art apart from them is her dialectical relationship between theater-based method and filming techniques that are interwoven with her metanarrtive elements. The way of diminishing time and space in reality by her  original  works is exchanged for extending the environmental issues sequentially she wants to approach in  the subsequent representation of her works. The moment of burning actions and art being created in the most minimalized way is the same moment that the meaning and  life in her video work come to rising from the ashes. An eternal truth creeps in, rendering the video works as traces of unremovable absurdity and sorrow and unspeakable facts and ambivalence when fighting against the real world.

The concepts artists and the mundane involve a binary opposition in our understanding. Artists are often seen as “Outliers”; their works often strongly reflect what they want to advocate and what issues they care about; and their works also often reflect their personalities. What an artist pursues is a uniqueness in the essence of works; that is, this pursuit of an artist and mundane matters diverge. However, as Hsiao-hui usually includes herself as a part of her works, it would be harder to reconcile the subject/object or internal/external paradox. In the pursuit of aesthetic uniqueness in works, she has to hide her identities and traits by depersonalizing herself in a way of wearing a mask, being speechless, and making the mundane the protagonist. The world in the video works seems normal and mundane; however, there’s a certain absurdity in it which is what the artist wants the viewers to put themselves into with undivided attention.

Face Painting and Cross-dressing

About my thoughts of face painting, this is about how the artist presents herself in her work as well as how the work itself is represented. It reminds me of the Guy Fawkes mask which represents the non-cooperation movement, the Blue Man Group, and where the Na’vi people dwell in the movie Avatar. If you pay close attention, you will notice that ever since the online meeting began, the face of Hsiao-hui has been in the shadows all the time. I don’t think she does it on purpose; however, that’s what I saw on my screen. Because all of Hsiao-hui’s shots are facing the blue sky and the broad ocean which put her subjects in the backlight, her face is therefore obscure and hiding away from the light. You can say it’s a coincidence as well as a definite result from a series of choices in order to create a certain ambience…

In short, painting her face light blue represents the artist’s desire for being neglected and control over her expression of emotions in a way of transforming, neutralizing, othering the creator role which generates “the anonymity.” This way, the artist subtly reconciles the paradox of the internal/external, subject/object paradox which is shown in the necessary character’s desire of not being on the scene. Therefore, the depersonalized “cross-dressing” becomes a strong contrasting picturesque ritual. The artist’s rituals such as makeup, masking, and cross-dressing change the artist’s perspective and way of viewing self and others, which can provide her with the powerful source of her hidden personality.

Like superheroes from Marvel depend on the change of their appearance or disguise in a mask or costume in order to gain a superpower, this kind of anonymity or change of identity resembles a ritual which allows the creators to gain the courage to find inspiration. I believe that this is where the art comes from. It originated from the Oracle which was heard as one was praying in ancient times. The disguise of true identity summons an alternative identity that has more power and confidence than the original one does. All the Marvel superheroes’ superpower are shown when they are to wear a mask or transform themselves before they fight the villains. It’s a mechanism of triggering another personality within one and then developing the empathy for the other identity—superhero—after transforming their appearance.

I guess the shy and low-key nature makes the artist have to use face painting to remove personal characteristics or wear a mask to re-show in front of the public. She reduces the anxiety and fear in his subconscious and gets rid of the sense of security in seeing herself in the eyes of others as well as the power to face the outside world through such an invisible and anonymous ritual inside. In fact, this approach does not completely lose the original face of the artist, the main focus is to provide a psychological sense of security through the cosmetic transformation ritual on the body, and overcome the anxiety of facing the external world and the public. A layer of painted face establishes a defensive shield, providing a layer of isolation and defense for the inner psychological level, allowing one to obtain the courage and strength to hide the original face and reveal another level of self in creative actions. The artist can obtain the power of invisibility and anonymity to appear in front of the public in the process of virtualization, detachment, and personality role transformation, on location and in a metacognitive situation of recreating images. She projects herself as a creator to the public and it is also a minimalized absence of her being presence. This kind of incarnation of oneself as an absent other is like a director playing a passerby in during the filming of their own work.

To Act or Not to Act, to Do or Not to Do

These are all interesting contrasts in Hsiao-hui’s works. The artist or participants are performing on location, but it is not the role of themselves. So do the artist or participants themselves have to be the protagonist? Can you hire other actors? Or do the people involved know that they are performing? Do you know if they are playing themselves or playing some kind of “role”? Or does the artist herself hope that she and the participants don’t know or have forgotten that they are performing and can “empathize” with the characters they are playing? The artist incarnates herself as a “the Other” who does not seem to be present on location. This unique way of being present but seeming to be detached creates a quiet mystery in the work, forcing the viewers to see. Viewers of the works must quietly follow the context of the situational experience laid out by the artist and fall into contemplation, slowly thinking about the profound meaning that the work wants to express, regardless of whether you understand the artist’s motives and background. At least the images have a lot of visual and spiritual dialogues that can be discovered. After the aesthetics and artistry of the work can be fully and purely expressed, the deeper thinking and reflection have to be developed by the viewers themselves. Hsiao-hui’s works have no ambition to talk about great truths in the current communication on the matter of “publicness.” But the meaning in her works is very profound. In the future, the highly contrasting relationship between personal aesthetics and public issues is worth looking forward to. Because I’m running out of time, I will talk about other parts some other time.

Introduction of Chih-kang Lee

Birth/ Pingtong, 1969

Roles/ the eldest son, a husband of someone, a father of two children, a lecturer in the department of architecture

Publication/ FACE TALK: The Past is a Mirror, June, 2012

Profession/ the spatial planning, architecture design,  「object」 design

Other/ a writer and an artistic creator, life adventurer and mind explorer