What I think of “We” in the Practice of Painting — A Writing about the Solo Exhibition Prima Facie Exhibit: Park


Written by Chi Chien

The title of Prima Facie Exhibit: Park comes from the legal term “prima facie evidence,” which denotes the apparent evidence requiring no further examination to prove a particular proposition or fact. In the exhibition, the double meanings of “prima facie” are highlighted – “appearance” and “surface.” “Appearance” refers to what one looks like instead of the substance. For example, one might say that “he is happy, but his appearance shows no sign of it.” “Surface” means the exterior boundary of a thing where it reaches the exterior world as in “the surface of the table.” Meanwhile, the “exhibit” implies the objects as evidences for verification.

“What is a surface?” “Where is the surface?” It can be the surface of tables, clothes, mirrors, walls, or the floor. The “surface” may come from a microscopic perception of boundary, the transformation from flesh to skin, or the video interface between reality and virtuality. Generally speaking, “prima facie” exists in various forms, including painting, object, photography, animation, and etc., as the exhibits scatters around the three-floor exhibition space. All the different interpretations of “surface” gather in the space and are directed to my original artistic concept – the plain of painting. The question “where the surface of painting is” becomes the silent answer of “what a surface is.”

For me, “painting” inevitably becomes the subject matter of my artistic practice. Or, one may say that “painting” itself has already become a concept that takes place within the transformation between “tableau de chevalet” and “installation,” deconstructing painting itself and extending it into a physical space for physical participation. In other words, the boundary of painting is thus included into a complex network as it is assimilated into sculpture or architecture.   My basic belief is that “painting” exists everywhere. Both “paintings about painting” and “paintings not about painting” unavoidably become “painting.” As we stand in front of the canvas, we return to a giant and complicated feedback loop.

One night in 2011, I saw my shadow on the white wall in my studio. I made some casual poses, and the moving shadow on the wall greatly aroused my interest. The interest was not only about the discovery of a subject. I rushed to the canvas, making one pose after another. Right at that moment, an unknown form was given birth. The original materials of my works were elaborated with an unintentional beginning.  The logical relationship among light, hands, wall, and shadow (while the last one was created by the previous three) revealed a new path to interpret and to realize the two-dimensional essence of painting. I realized that it was a creative perspective in an alternative “minimum” which originated from the inner purification structure in my paintings. Through an idealized extraction, body, image, process, theatre, and many other concepts seemed to visit the canvas. I gazed into it, speculating on how to process the form to re-form “painting.”

Have you ever asked the question: why ink-wash painting is so different from oil painting in terms of form? Arthur C. Danto has once mentioned that “the frame of a painting… the installation in which a painting is set like a jewel have a common logic to which, as a philosopher, I am very sensitive: they define pictorial attitudes to be taken toward a painting, which does not, on its own, suffice for these purposes.”[1] If we try to imagine an ink-wash painting hung in a Louis XVI style salon, we will see the weirdness of it. The form of painting defines the relationship between paintings and the so-called users (rather than viewers), which is similar to how a sculpture exists among the furniture. When a painting is hung on the wall in one’s home, the painting is consequentially relevant to the residence. Meanwhile, the residence is inside a building, while the building is inside a city – which is the opposition to Nature. The linear extension from paintings to space is included in a series of speculative questions I have brought up:

Instead of thinking about “what to paint,” one should think about “how to paint.”

Instead of thinking about “how to paint,” one should think about “what painting is.”

Instead of thinking about “what painting is,” one should think about “what painting is not.”

Instead of “what painting is not,” one should think about “where the image comes from,” “where the painters are,” and “what happens to the audience.”

What is the thing between “what painting is” and “what painting can be?” Is it “painting for what” or “painting for whom?”

Through a series of self-questioning “what is what,” we can be open to all possibilities in the artistic practice. It is not an attempt to look for either reasonable answers or solutions from concepts. The “method” of searching means a division between purpose and motivation, while “past” is inevitably connected with it. For art practice, a real question has no answer. We bring up the questions to return to the experiences. Experiences mean creation – to perceive the questions being brought up. It is the only possibility of art-making. The perception may include various possible messages from the artwork or even beyond the artwork. What is “canvas?” what is “paint?” what is “tool?” what is “color?” what is “drawing?” In the work , I have pressed the military blanket with a heated iron for 40 minutes, creating a burn mark with layers of great variety. The burn mark reveals the ideas of canvas, paint, tool, color, and drawing.

What is “painting?” Painting is a self-enclosed window transforming into a physical space open to the external world. The teleology claiming “painting is the self-critique of painting” evokes the other side of the self. Painting is thus open to non-painting, as art is open to non-art – open to the possibilities of life.

Commuting between work and home is a repetitive part of my life. One day when I was waiting for the MRT train, I stared at the yellow warning sign on the floor without a reason. I stared and stared, until the yellow sign reminded me of the lines on the canvas. Therefore, I started to paint flat layers of yellow paint, one after another, on an 190-centimeter square sackcloth. I wrote “Do not cross the yellow line” in small font and put it in two lines at the center of the sackcloth, and then I fixed four wheels to the sackcloth. A mobile tool that could move freely was framed inside a structure built with bamboo.

is an “architecture” existing in the space. It intensifies and contorts the meaning of “line,” capturing a standing point between the past and the future. It is a “point,” a “line,” and a “plain” which extends toward the whole space. One end of the “yellow line” is painted on the sackcloth within the frame as if it were inside the ivory tower of intellectualism, individualism, and materialism.[2] The other end of the “yellow line” is painted in the space of public transportation as if it were inside the collective existence of “we.” “I” means “we,” and “we” has double meanings of the self and the others, and this double meanings are merely separated by “I.”

“I” is a person who stands alone in Nature, on the earth, open to the world. Take the work for example; the tiled floor can be seen as a “plain” subject overlapping with the various “plains” such as canvas, image, ground, or space – either on the image or underground, vertically or horizontally. A “plain” is the space of the “surface/appearance,” while the two terms are the synonym of each other. In the viewing of the work, “surface/appearance” is the boundary of the artwork, while the ultimate values is the self – “I” – the Subject of the artwork.

“Who am I?” When someone raises the question “who am I?” the person becomes a question itself. “I” becomes the boundary/limit. The line can be the division of signs, the skin of flesh, or the identity of certain ideology.   Inside the line is “I,” while outside the line is “Non I.” The “self” turns out to be a product of consciousness resulting from an imagined “misunderstanding” of all the “past” and the known (I/Non I). Artistic creation is the liberation from the justification of the “past.” Unless we find the answers from the apparent “surface/appearance,” we will not be able to escape the limitation caused by the lack of self-understanding. The condition behind the reason of “surface/appearance” only exists in humans’ collective consciousness, or – we can put it in this way – hides in a “park.”

A “park” is an existing situation of the Subject in artistic creation. The making of the reality, the reality of the work, and the reality to be viewed are mixed into a “body” which lives inside the “park.” A park is the place where the citizens can stay close to nature, while it is also the gathering place for the homeless and social activists. It is the center but is also the margin of a city. The practice from the center to the margin can be visualized through painting, sculpture, furniture, residence, architecture, and a city. A “park” is the nature inside a city, although it is not the real nature but the simulation of nature. Instead of living in a natural state, humans’ existence depends on the concepts of nature. Inside the park, we have the best place to think about “us.” Through “the occupation of painting” which takes place “here,” painting creates a conversation of “we” and reveals the possibility for “painting” and the “park” to overlap. It focuses on a main thinking about “residence” and its public quality. The “park” here thus renders a path of “painting.”

[1] Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, Trustees of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1997, p.xii.
[2]  Chen Kuang-Yi, Art into LifeIdeology and Strategy of Modernism (Taipei: Fine Arts Department at National Taiwan University of Art, 2009) p.140.