Art review of "Daughter of Time"By Huang Hei-Ming for Huang Li-Hui (黃立慧)
So far while so close—
The reading about “The Daughter of Time / Li Hui Huang Solo Exhibition” at Haiton Art Center
There are two protagonists in this exhibition, one is Ying-wu Huang, a leftwing political prisoner survivor of the period of White Terror, and the other is Li-hui Huang, an artist who is the daughter of Ying-wu Huang. Ying-wu Huang was sentenced for 12 years in 1968 and was imprisoned for about 8 and half years. In chronological order, the February 28 incident occurred in 1947, the Martial Law period began at 1949, Ying-wu Huang was released from the jail in 1976, and the lifting of Martial Law was proclaimed in 1987. Li-hui Huang was lucky enough to have her father’s company while she grew up, but she was not present during the most important stage of her father’s life which all occurred before she was born. Therefore, it’s impossible for her to experience the social and political context in which Ying-wu Huang became who he is. Meanwhile, she needs to withstand the influence from her father which has worked on her all of her life. It is not that her father tried to affect her purposely and constantly. His political beliefs have not changed a bit, but the way that he is recognized by the outside world has changed through the time.
In my opinion, this exhibition deals with the subtle interaction between the daughter of a particular White-terror survivor and her father, who is fully conscious of his situation as a former political prisoner. At first, the daughter was the one who passively withstood the impact created by a cause and effect that she had no clue about. As the political environment has varied from time to time, her father’s identity has been perceived by others differently as well. Does that mean that the identity of the daughter as it has been recognized by the outside world also changes through this process? Does her father have any opportunity to demonstrate the meaning of his life completely? Or is his identity still oversimplified and distorted in a complex political situation manipulated by all sorts of strategies? Can the artist develop a relationship with her father, in a relatively more direct and consistent way, by sharing his life experiences in order to establish a solid foundation for her own life, and proceed from that, as most “normal daughters” do? The artist participated in COSWAS (Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters) as a volunteer when she was younger, and was close to many activists in social movements. Therefore, she realizes the sorrow caused by a situation where one’s personal identity and his/her value can only be interpreted by the outside world.
What kind of perception of time forms in this speechless situation while living in this unclear condition enduringly, as an individual? This absence and the distortion of time are irreparable. After the time that the father was released, and after the president announced the end to martial law, things that were previously unmentionable started to become mentionable, with a variety of research articles being released one after another. Many people in the period of White Terror were mis-killed by persecution. Many previous “traitors” who were executed turned into martyrs afterward, and many surviving political prisoners are recognized as heroes. The families of political prisoners became those who need to be compensated and respected particularly.
When some people start to take advantage of this new condition/narrative as their personal prestige/resource, it may arise negative responses/attitude toward this new situation from others. The core issue of this exhibition lies in the process of how those whose identities have been constantly determined by the external, try to reverse this situation in an active way. Indeed, Ying-wu Huang, the artist’s father, was a political prisoner who had been jailed and persecuted, and now is supposed to be respected and honored in the political context/narration ruled by DPP (Democratic Progressive Party). But his ideology of leftwing, especially pro-reunification, is totally opposite from the DPP’s ideology of pro-Taiwan-independence. In fact, DPP is not totally equal to the leftwing power in Taiwan, Ying-wu is also not a fellow-traveler of DPP. The artist’s father’s political belief is oversimplified and misconnected with the political prisoner’s public image by others in general, and it makes the whole thing really ridiculous in the mentioned context. Along with that, people also make assumptions about his daughter’s political beliefs/identity based on the misreading of the father, which makes the whole situation even more ridiculous. As a volunteer of COSWAS since the artist was in school, and also connected to a lot of activists who fight for sex worker’s rights, she realizes how important it is to change the situation where people’s identity and values are constantly interpreted and determined by a simplified narrative adjusted to the changing context.
How to deal with this passive situation where the artist and her father have been repeatedly interpreted with certain identities by others, based on changing political dynamics? It's just like when the artist devoted herself to protecting sex worker’s identities and values, she needed to learn more about the complex relationship between public prostitutes and brothel clients, including the the possibility of intersubjectivity in this kind of scenario. How does she articulate for herself and deal with the external political situation that constantly defines her identity and even distorts it? Again, she needs to fully understand a variety of factors in this condition, and then try to represent it in her own way, based upon her understanding and feelings, in order to turn the condition into a life experience that the artist and her father can share with each other. Only by doing this can she re-establish the hard-achieved balance in her mind, and also take control of the balance back as a subject, instead of passively playing along.
Description and cross-reading of the works
1.The life history is written on tissue
In this very homey feeling gallery, Haiton Art Center, the strips of tissue papers filled with Chinese characters written with black markers, are hung upon on a wall in this exhibition.
The content that was written in black marker on these tissue papers by the artist herself is based upon the interview “Historical oral interview of Public Happiness Party from Yin-wu Hunag & Jin-ben Jian” made by Li-ben Chang.
There are two aspects to understanding this installation work. First of all, the hanging white tissue papers with black Chinese characters, immediately brings out the impression of a funeral-related scene, and the wild handwriting describing a miserable life experience on the tissue papers—a material used for wiping biological secretions —arise intense sorrow coming from losing a family member. The artist’s father is still alive, but for him the time after surviving through the hell is way harder than death itself. The funeral is a ceremony to memorialize the time when the father felt as if he was already dead, in order to go through the life transition fully?
The other reading aspect, is that by transcribing the interview of her father’s words on tissue papers, the artist transitioned the printed official texts into a more sensible and communicable format with black marker writing, and then gradually built up an imitate, thoughtful and reliable relationship with her father.
2. The transcription of father’s life history / The fusion of emotion and biological secretions
The Artist combined her father’s words and onions together after she knew that her father used to eat onions quite often in the jail. In the prison, the toilet was built inside of the cell, thus the entire cell was filled with the strong smell of onions, mixed with the odor from human urine and faeces. She adopted two ways to apply those elements: one is to put fresh sliced onions layer by layer on the toilet paper with black handwriting mentioned above, and the other is to use stacks of clean and soft tissue papers that look almost like pads to make a big, white, pure, non-smell and non-colored onion paper relief.
At first, she combines all of the extremely complicated elements together, such as the strong spicy smell from onions / the father’s oral history that is filled with sadness, uncompleted or distorted / the pad that refers to a substance used for soaking the secretions from period and the tissue papers that refer as a material used to wipe the residual of the digested foods/ peeling onion as a metaphor of incomprehensible philosophical language in the reality, etc.
Here, the father and the daughter’s lives have a deeper connection in a more diverse, more sensational, and more private level. According to the artist, this work also sustains an expectation, an expectation about the clarification of her father’s political identity after peeling away all the layers. The expectation of the work is more from her father than herself, but meanwhile she also admits that as an artist, she has a responsibility to keep his political identity away from mis-recognition. I agree with this interpretation as well.
The other Single-channel video work shows the image of the crying artist repeatedly pilling onions on the screen. It is uncertain to the audience for what reason the artist cries, she cries because of the chemical stimulation from the onions? Or she cries because the onions remind her of her father’s suffering in the prison?
We can assume that the artist uses the sliced onion, which was related to her father’s life in prison, to burst tears out both mentally and physically. When she wipes her face with the tissue that is still wet from the fresh calligraphy writing, making her face dirty and nasty, how intimate is her relationship with her father?
These are all methods to re-construct the vanishing past through applying the objects, actions, smells, vision, stimulation for nose, tears and snot. If the tears caused from onions’ stimulation don’t count as “real tears”, what is missing here? What is missing in a specific political-stand-interpreted interview? Does it twist anything?
Without witnessing what kind of suffering her father went through in jail, the artist can't really put herself in his shoes. How could she cry “sincerely” for him when she is totally absent in the process and did not go through the pain like him? Pretend crying from her heart? Maybe she has not yet found a point to really cry about it.
Playing Seesaw to show the interaction between the absence and the presence of Father and/or Daughter
The absence of the father and the generation gap between father and daughter were mentioned in the foreword. The art works mentioned above attempt to rebuild the intimate relationship with various kinds of expressions, rather than storytelling. The artist’s father had been in jail for 8 years. Besides mentioning his preference about certain foods, objects and symbols related to his experience as a political prisoner every once a while, he does not really want to talk about it.
When the artist was born, her father had been released from the jail and back home, but it seemed that there was still a generation gap between the political prisoner father and the young daughter. Even more, it was a generation gap caused by the fact that the father escaped from the death in prison and survived afterward. This extraordinary relationship has been represented in the art works mentioned previously, also in the two parts of the “seesaw series”.
There are 3 sections in the seesaw series. The first one is to create a conversation by the artist rolling a roll of tissue with the handwritten interview on it, back and forth on the seesaw’s two sides. The second is the artist walking on the top of seesaw and interacting with the onions set under the other side of seesaw. The third is a direct interaction happening between the artist and her chubbie old father on the seesaw.
1. The daughter stands at one side of the seesaw. If she and her father sat at both ends, she could go up and down on the seesaw because of his weight, to make the toilet roll run back and forth with the swing movement, and to create a direct conversation with her father through the movement. Instead, because of her father’s absence, she could only walk around from one side to the other of the seesaw like a monkey, and make the tissue roll by lifting up the each end of seesaw herself, but the effort is to fail overall. Without her father responding to this intentional conversation, all of her efforts end up with nothing. The transcription of the interview on the tissue becomes more and more difficult to read, due to the fact that the tissue roll only tangles with the seesaw when the artist tries to display the words on the seesaw.
2. If the daughter sits at one end of the seesaw, and her father sits at the other end with onions set under it, she will be able to connect her father’s present body with the onions and its odor that directly relate to his past. But her father is still absent, so what she can do is walk back and forth like a monkey on the seesaw again, in order to use the seesaw’s weight to crush the onions. At the end, she loses her patience, sits on the end with the onions underneath, and uses her weight to crush the onions. At this point, the onions are still onions that can not represent his past, the artist’s relationship with her father still stays in the imagination.
3.This time, the artist and her father sit on the each side of the seesaw, but the lengths of two sides are not equal. The father is far heavier than his daughter. Due to the father’s clumsy movements, they cannot play the seesaw up and down smoothly. At the beginning, the father sits at the one end and doesn’t make a lot of movement, and the daughter sits at the other end, trying to make the seesaw move with all kinds of weird postures.
It is difficult for the old father to play the seesaw with his flexible daughter. On the one side, the father tried hard to move but stayed still. On the other side, the daughter tried really hard to make two-way conversation. In this process, all of the efforts made by the father and the daughter were passed to each other through the movements of the seesaw, and creates a very close and lover-like resonance between two people.
At the end, they finally meet each other at the pivot by approaching closer to each other on the seesaw. It seems that only through the strong emotional / body interaction, could they bring the father’s presence back to the daughter’s memory to fulfill the absence of his past. The interaction and the exhibition are both happening in family-related / family-like spaces, it is almost like a late ceremony for the family, which I feel is quite intriguing.
During Li-hui Huang’s graduate school period, she created a performance/ installation called “Make me high and more” by using a vibrator. A big white wooden box was divided into two sections by a thin curtain, one was for the sex-worker-like role played by the artist, and the other was for the audience who participated in the performance. The connection between the two sides was a vibrator, which was set inside of the artists body, meanwhile the controller part was in audience’s hands. The interaction which happened in this work might not totally depict the complicated situations occurring between sex workers and customers, but it still provided an opportunity for the participants to experience the dynamics hidden among those complicated scenes. Also to sense the connections between the outside gaze and themselves as part of it. If she did not have a certain kind of understanding, how did she manage to work for COSWAS (Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters) as a long-term volunteer and fight for the sex worker’s rights? I found the same kind of dynamics/relations connected two sides in “The Daughter of Time” as well.
Li-hui Huang said that she needs to know all the kinds of conditions more thorough, and represent what she truly understands in her own way, in order to turn this representation into a shared life experience with her father, without letting it being distorted by the fixated narrative. Only through this path can she be able to rebuild the difficult balance in her mind, and regain the control of the balance as a subject. In most intimate relationships, like a father-daughter one, this compensation process is very difficult to proceed. Who can imagine how many gaps like this need to be fixed in the current society ?
在海桐藝術中心很有家庭溫暖感覺的展場中，垂掛了一條條寫滿了黑色簽字筆字的衛生紙捲，內容是藝術家女兒根據研究訪談者張立本所做的“大眾幸福黨相關口述歷史 / 黃英武先生、簡金本先生口述歷史紀錄”。以黑色簽字筆所親身製作的部分抄寫。這件裝置作品可以有兩種的理解的方式：一條條垂掛的寫著黑色簽字筆字的白色衛生紙條，立刻會給人喪禮的感覺。而用狂亂的黑色簽字筆書寫在一般用來承接身體上最生物性分泌衛生紙卷上的悲慘遭遇，更讓人感受到面對親人死亡時哭天喊地的悲慟。父親明明還活著，可是那個從死亡裡復活重生的人的那段時間是活著面對比死亡更為痛苦的日子，這些舉動正是為那段如死的日子所補辦的喪禮？以便真正的過渡？另一個閱讀是，透過親自抄寫父親在訪談中的口述歷史文字，藝術家多少將較為疏離的印刷體文字轉化成更為敏感、 能夠傳達悲慟情感的黑色簽字筆，而逐漸讓女兒和父親之間建立更為親近、設身處地，甚至交互共生的關係。
Source: ARTALKS / Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture