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Yeh Wei-Li Solo Exhibition: Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate, Selected Works: 2010 To Present

Exhibition details

Opening / Event Date:
22 January, 2016
Time:
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Closing / End Date:
5 March, 2016
Event Category:

Artist’s Reception
Friday, 22 January 2016, 6 to 8pm

Hanart TZ Gallery is pleased to present “Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate“, a solo exhibition by the internationally renowned Taiwanese contemporary artist Yeh Wei-Li. Known for his photographic and process-based projects, for this exhibition Yeh Wei-Li has created a special installation of his ongoing Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate, an ambitious project focused on and questioning the concept of “production”. Here Yeh creates numerous pieces of “art” via the collective labor of collecting “junk”, and challenges definitions of what is “junk” or “rubbish” and is “art.” Through his works, lifestyle and working spaces, the Yeh attempts to redefine the meaning of material “junk” within the context of contemporary society and to explore the aesthetic potentiality of the subject. This process-oriented work began in 2010, and it has since materialised in different temporary collaborations involving various forms of production, reflection, and media.

Curatorial Statement

Yeh Wei-Li The Entrepreneur: On The Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate

Chang Tsong-Zung

According to Yeh Wei-Li, the invention of the title “Antiquity-Like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate” was motivated by the need to explain his identity, when someone asked one of his assistants why Yeh was picking through rubbish dumps with his students. It is perhaps because social identity is usually explained by economic relationships, that his assistant described him as an “antique merchant”. As a result, the roles of rubbish, artwork and commodity got bound together: The three roles meet at the cross-section of the art system, because the art system generates value for things that have already been deemed to be without any assured use-value. Although it is not easy to define what type of production “making art” is, the art system certainly has the power to transform something that has lost practical usage into something that deserves attention and perhaps even research, thereby carrying with it innate value and identity. In this roundabout way Yeh Wei-Li’s social identity also transforms from being that of an undescribable someone who picks through rubbish dumps into that of an artist.

Since relocating back to Taiwan from the United States, where he had immigrated at the age of eleven, Yeh Wei-Li has in fact principally concerned himself with constructing his artistic identity. Over the past decade he has mainly focused on a couple of long-term research projects surrounding derelict buildings. To society at large, these architectural relics that have managed to survive past their “use by date” are simply due for the rubbish dump; their only hope of continued survival, or indeed of any form of resurrection, is through the attentions of a type of work called “art”. The way economic society usually deals with these embarrassing relics is “re-development”; in a case such as the shanty-town on Treasure Hill, its social value lies in the land the squatters stubbornly occupied, so re-development simply meant demolishment to clear the way for economic return. What “Art” tends to treasure, on the other hand, is the alternative space-time these derelict buildings hold within them, and the dormant life energy waiting to be awakened for today’s nourishment.

There is something quaint about Yeh Wei-Li as an “artist”. He spent almost three diligent years labouring amidst the ruins of a shanty-town, and at the end of the stay all he had to show for his troubles were a few dozen photographs. This mode of art production changed slightly in the recent Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate, which adds groups of assemblages created from rubbish objects to the photographic production. During school in the United States, Yeh’s passion was photographing rock musicians, and he realised he could discover greater narrative depth through the chaotic remnants after the concert. On returning to Taiwan, the two major projects he engaged in had to do with abandoned sites that evoke rich historical memories. At the sites of Treasure Hill and New Day Street, Yeh constructed various spaces for social engagement, including a photography studio, teahouse, archaeological display of found objects and so on; the one rule was that all materials used had to come from the site itself. Having done all this labour intensive work, why did Yeh decide to choose to keep so few images to represent his artwork?

The shift of identity from“rubbish”to “artwork” is triggered by the pivotal figure of the artist, and here his “work” needs examining. As architectural invigoration, Yeh’s building structures are in fact no more than basic constructions, even though they might be charged with robust architectural imagination. As social spaces his teahouse, photography studio and public garden could hardly compete with any normal commercial enterprise. Only the archaeological museum of rubbished relics hints at the secret of art; even so, its location on the site of Treasure Hill made it more a display of local interest for visitors’ attraction than a museum proper. The artistic transformation of the shanty-town was incomplete until the artist photographed his laborious engagements. After Yeh’s departure, the site sank back into oblivion, and all his constructions were either demolished or radically renovated, leaving the scores of photographic images as the only historical evidence of the space having been once upon a time the subject of a utopic endeavor.

The visual memory left behind by photography is not only the inspired moment caught by the camera shutter; it is not about the defining moment that separates it from the infinite moments that come before or after. The gravity of photography lies in its entry into the memory-laden past, to turn the experiential depth of history into an icon of veneration. What the photograph contains is not the completeness of experience, nor the richness of history or complexity of scholarship; what it delivers are regrets and yearnings recorded at that inspired moment, however incomplete it may be as information. Yeh’s photographs turn a site anonymous and past its “use by” date into a historical place; and yet, the physical geographical places of Treasure Hill and New Day Street Cinema will never become sites of pilgrimage. As places they can only hope to enter the history of art as memories tied to an artist’s artistic labour.

The enterprise of Yeh’s Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate, is in spirit a cohort of the enterprise of the anthropological museum. The museum of anthropology and ethnography takes a limited number of objects as samples for representing entire cultures, and in many cases these objects become the sole evidence of the existence of extinct civilisations. What moves the audience as aesthetically beautiful objects probably did not do the same for the peoples who used them as tools or ritual objects in the past: It is the detached visual experience of the museum that transforms them into art. In this way objects unrelated by culture, geography or hierarchy can be compared by ethnographers, or studied for related iconographic patterns. In a comparable way, the extraction of things from real-life contexts to generate new significance is also how installation art works in contemporary art. This is how Yeh’s “rubbish” may be “researched and developed”. His artwork is not about the way he makes or alters the installation objects, but in raising the query of identity change, and offering a solution about how identity gets transformed.

In Yeh’s case, his solution is to equate his personal identity with things discarded and sites abandoned. Through these presences the past can be evoked; but then what they evoke is the past of other people. Only by imaginative personal engagement, through long periods of labour and material involvement, would new utilitarian values and new life be found for himself. With this labour, the artist rewrites his own history and personal identity. From the identity of a returning overseas Taiwanese who, when abroad, was under pressure to be identified with his Chinese persona, and back in Taiwan is cut off from the discourse of the local art community, Yeh has, through the engagement of old objects and historical places, invented a personal history and identity for himself. He has adopted himself into certain strains of forgotten and abandoned histories to claim them for himself. For any person this would also be true, that personal histories are exclusive, and the past comes alive only with imaginative, laborious engagement.

As art, Yeh Wei-li’s enterprise is the creation of identities for the ghosts of out-dated things of the world, and through them finding an identity for himself as an artist of Taiwan.

 

Artist Biography

YEH Wei-Li (b.1971)

Yeh Wei-Li was born in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1971, and emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of eleven. As a teenager in Tampa, Florida, Yeh was fascinated by heavy metal music and aspired to be a rock-and-roll photographer. He consequently studied photography at the University of South Florida (BFA 1994) and later received a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design (1997). Graduate workshops at Brown University’s experimental Literary Arts Program and a three-month visit to Taiwan in 1996 (his first since emigrating), fueled his thesis work on themes of displacement, assimilation, cultural identity and racial politics. Relocating to New York City, Yeh exhibited work at Columbia University, New York University, Bronx Museum of Art and the International Center of Photography. Yeh presented his seminal photography work, Guest: On the Subject of Home, at his “Septemberly” Brooklyn studio in December 2001, shortly after 9/11. Since returning to live permanently in Taiwan in 2002, Yeh has been active as an artist, curator and instigator. Yeh’s work is shown and collected internationally, and his photographic and text-based projects continue to explore the dynamics of the individual within collective practices, centering on both the personal and the socio-political relationships between the self and the city in which he resides. His collective and collaborative-based practice is seen in major projects such as Treasure Hill Tea + Photo (THTP) and the ongoing Antiquity-like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate. Yeh lives and works in Yangmei, Taiwan and still holds hope of going on a world tour with a rock & roll band.

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