Face to face: Essays on artists and their works (Chen Hui-Chiao)

By Sophie Mclntyre for Chen Hui-Chiao (陳慧嶠)

As a conceptual artist, Chen Hui-Chiao is interested in investigating the inter-relationship form, matter and meaning. Inspired by psychology, western astrology poetry and dreams, Chen selectively assembles found objects and materials which have symbolic and tactile qualities to explore and challenge the realm of human perception, sensation, and the unconscious.

In her works Chen characteristically combines materials which might be described as "soft" (yin), such as fur, feathers, cotton wool, or water, with "hard" (yang) materials including needles, glass, stone, or stainless steel. In her quest for eternal truth and harmony, Chen combines and contrasts these elements to explore internal and external realities, in which pleasure and pain co-exist.

From the early 1990s, Chen employed needle and thread, which are traditionally associated with female handicrafts and domesticity, to delve into the conscious and subconscious states of mind. In one of her earlier works entitled "Silent Picture" (1992), Chen ritualistically pierced the picture plane with 10,000 silver needles which she had painstakingly threaded with strands of fine, gold cotton. Within this chaotic disorder of needles and thread all tension of form is dissolved. There is no trace of beginning or end: an ethereal luminosity permeates. In more recent works, such as "Future is a Drop of Water in Your Eyes", "Raining, Chasing Rain, Falling Rain" and "Sound Falling" which were created in 1997, the artist mechanically embroiders the image of a needle as a raindrop descending from the heavens, or plunging to the ground. Like an acupuncturist, Chen uses laser technology to systematically pierce and probe the soft, white velvet surface with a laser-sharp, silver needle to create its mirror image. Encased in a stark, stainless steel frame, this series of minimalist works may appear cool and restrained, yet in their embodiment of visual purity and poetry, are deeply evocative.

In "Swirling Night and Shadow of the Wind I & II" (1997, 1999) Chen adopts the feather as a visual metaphor of flight and fantasy. In the first of this series of works, the feather represents the "weightlessness of consciousness", as the artist explores the sensation of falling, soaring, and sinking within this whirlpool of dreams. In her most recent work, "Swirling Night and Shadow of the Wind II", Chen draws inspiration from the American Indian "dream catcher", which allegedly captures and protects one's dreams and aspirations. In this installation, the feather is a symbol of freedom. While some feathers are arrested in flight, pierced by a needle on thread, others are strewn on the floor, motionless until they are made air-born by the breath of a passer-by. Like a spiral on a shell, the stones are symbolic of the continuity of time and the dream state: in Chen's words, they represent "a silent vision".