Transformation: Body ‧ Gaze ‧ Power

  • Event Date: 2023-10-25 Wed 09:30 ~ 2024-03-10 Sun 17:00
  • Past
  • Speaker:  /  Host:

People across time and geography often have this kind of wish: fulfill their inner desire on their mind through bodily changes.  The transformation discussed in this exhibition is not of religious meaning or fictional imagination, but developed with body as the theme. The five galleries, i.e. Dawn of Enlightenment, Struggle of Eroticism and Art, Power Discipline, Collective Gaze, and Body of Evolution, delve into the eastern view of body, the line between art and eroticism, power, viewing, and interdisciplinary body, respectively. Hence, the exhibition probes into the new artistic outlooks of “body” since the 20th century as well as the important topics and challenges across the processes of body presentation in the context of art development.

Biopouvoir (biopower) proposed by the modern French thinker, Michel Foucault, serves the source of our curatorial thinking, while in response to the #MeToo movement happening now in Taiwan. This biopower is different from the “right to life” as stated in the UN Declaration. The “biopower” described by Foucault comes with the integral meaning of system reflection, culture, philosophy, and psychology. He was convinced that humanity is constantly subject to the deployment or apparatus of, or discipline of, time, space, political system, social customs, culture, and anything visible or invisible. What lies underneath discipline is an epistémè (episteme), which is different from the truth beyond time and space claimed by Plato. In comparison, such episteme constitutes the discipline for people’s knowledge, judgement, and physical behaviors, placing people in the constraints of behavioral patterns, thinking patterns, and even physiological responses unconsciously. That is a horrific biopower of oppression, control, and being viewed without self-aware. We are disciplined, body and mind, without the knowledge thereof. The society as a whole is an existence that keeps individuals in check. Biopower intervenes and controls our bodies through specific powers. A state is one colossal apparatus for control. Only through exposing the power structure that has control over us can individuals living in the modern society be free.

The body portrayal in the art development of Taiwan went through several stages. The development of the western body of Venus in heaven has been intimately associated with divine power in the whole development context. The ancient Greco-Roman view of body adhered to the ideal beauty in quest of universal beauty. In the view of body during the era of Christianity, a body is a creation of God, demonstrating the pursuit of perpetual purification and immortality for body and mind. Classicalism after the Renaissance returned to the ancient Greco-Roman body aesthetics. The body in the view of classicalism is grounded on the universal, ideal beauty beyond individuals in reality. The awakening of modern body emerged from the post-romanticism discovery of personal beauty, where an existence’s conscious view of body laid the foundation of the modern body. The western art with a long history flowed to the East. The view of body in the East had been closely tied with etiquette and society, as the existence of body made the manifestation of social value. The western art spread to the East. Rangaku (the Dutch learning) in the Edo Period absorbed the western view of body bit by bit. After the Meiji Restoration, Italian painters were invited to serve as the teachers in the Technical Fine Arts School, and students were sent to Europe to learn art. The western notion of body became the body aesthetics in the fine art period of Taiwan through the Japanese fine art school education and exhibitions during the Japanese Rule. From the three-piece work, Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment, of the eminent Japanese oil painter KURODA Seiki, we can observe the incorporation of the western view of body into the aesthetics of Japan. The delicate lines are deeply carved onto the three nudes like a kind of discipline, which were born from the brush of the East with a long history. The portraits during the colonial period, instead of fixated with the beauty of human body, manifest the collective sense of human existence under social conditioning. As the entry for body viewing in the budding stage of art in Taiwan, the foundation of classical aesthetics of academy became the mean to viewing body beauty.

In the early days of nationalist government’s relocation to Taiwan, body was presented with sublime beauty in the modern monument style at the core. Figures or bodies in this period are individual existences, highly disciplined or conditioned. Such sentiment made up the basic quality of the time. The painters from Mainland China and the Taiwanese artists, although subject to discipline of varied political power, gradually and collectively developed the body aesthetics of the time, during which the view of human body’s beauty mainly evolved from portrait into the body viewing of beauty. The beauty of body naturally became a subject for portrayal in academies, yet still in the manners of memory, metaphor, and objectification among portraits and nudes, nevertheless. Art versus eroticism made a huge topic of the time.

The social and national systems constitute the control and intervention of each individual, internally and bodily, as the discipline of body. The largest post-war total control in Taiwan was the martial law system. The body aesthetics in Taiwan evolved towards new frontiers during the democratic movement in the 1980s. It was a confrontation between the system of traditional authoritarianism and the system of multivalence. The lifting of the martial law was a political agenda as much as an art subject. Along with the forms of collisions, confrontations, and violences in street movements, the historical tradition of gender was reflected upon towards feminism. What lied beneath was the burden of the time in oppression and male-female differences. Changes began to occur to the traditional value of men and women. While bodies were oppressed, the struggle with system was presented via body exposure or body behaviors. The perspective of male gaze was shifted to the self-viewing and deconstruction of female body. The martial law lifting added more diversity and complexity to body viewing. Betwixt discipline and disciplined, concealment and exposure, as well as power submission and oppression, female artists display the mystery and diversity of body on their own account.

Body is conditioned by means of education, system, and culture in terms of external behaviors and internal mind. Hence, to unshackle the conditioning, it is necessary for one to expose the system that controls body and to recount their body experience. The disturbance or oppression owing to repression or touch or even intrusion experienced by individuals come to be the vital means to self-redemption and liberation of all systems. The intervention of technology has driven body towards the anxiety with life and life cloning, as cloning and proliferation become the critical processes of body development in the 21st century. Body has grown into an existence disciplined by social system and institution on the basis of episteme. The free development of body gained from art is constantly evolving over the course of history. Exposing the controlling power structure or recounting one’s own body experience is precisely the greatest liberation movement for body and mind after the Millenium in Taiwan.

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