Modified, shifted or transferred elements amounting to new relationships between status and object: herein lies the pulse of Chou Yu-Cheng’s (b. 1976) practice that builds, across multiple mediums, a subtle critique of mass media, institutions and the mechanisms that produce them. A graduate of l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris and its research programme La Seine, Chou has gained international recognition for his dialectical interplay between the source and results of his creations. Through curated conversations, Chou shapes a minimal yet deliberate set of intellectual and aesthetic tricks, which ultimately play on the properties of art, object and space. In the 2020s, Chou takes the global pandemic as a watershed by starting a number of new series of artworks that deal openly and comprehensively with the expressive and the affect, mapping a remarkable artistic trajectory that stems from calm scrutiny, and develops into active emotional engagements.
Often appropriating objects from companies, museums or factories, Chou sets to render the mechanism of art production and organisation visible. For example, TOA Lighting (2010), a site-specific installation for the Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei, presents itself as a delicate quadrangular ceiling-hung set of neon lights. As the title suggests, these are sponsored by TOA Lighting Company. Chou thus constructs a deliberate exchange between support for the ‘contemporary plastic arts’ and private enterprise, reflecting upon an economy of art that pertain directly to the infrastructural of life. Another example is A Working History – Lu Chieh Te (2012), for which Chou engaged with Lu – a temp worker in his sixties – is a key example. In a two-stage process, Chou first conducted interviews with him, posing questions on his personal and professional histories over the last 45 years, an exchange that was eventually made into a publication. Then, as a final part of the project, Chou hired Lu as a security guard in the exhibition at Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Chou thus placed Lu in charge of his own history, whilst adding an element of contradiction as the booklet’s ‘star’ stood, on a daily basis, surrounded by his sudden fame. Molyneux (2014) is another example of exchange: Chou interpreted works by British artist Geoff Molyneux (b. 1951), presenting the history of a Western artist’s formal development from an Asian perspective. Re-contextualising — and effectively re-textualising — an oeuvre, Chou touched on significant subjects such as originality, power balance, copyright, and the definition of art.
Chemical Gilding, Keep Calm, Galvanise, Pray, Gradient, Ashes, Manifestation, Unequal, Dissatisfaction, Capitalise, Incense Burner, Survival, Agitation, Hit, Day Light (2015) is a further series that exemplifies critical collaborative production. A recurring element is a bold slab of galvanised steel – a common metonym for department stores and consumerism that simultaneously connotes characteristic elements of cheap housing – dotted by highly physical indentations. Chou started the project when he was the artist-in-residence at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin in 2015; the audience and members of the public were invited to throw rocks at the steel plate. As such, it evolved from a reflective surface to an interactive sculpture interrogating the convention of protest.
The ensuing project Refresh, Sacrifice, New Hygiene, Infection, Clean, Robot, Air, Housekeeping, www.ayibang.com, Cigarette, Dyson, Modern People (2017-18) addresses the multifaceted topic of hygiene before the outburst of the global pandemic, considering the Taiwanese slang phrase “without knowledge and without hygiene” that brings intelligence and hygiene together. Hygiene is an abstract and relatively vague idea in our everyday life – it is often employed however as a yardstick by which modernisation is gauged. Through sculptures, performances and recitals, this comprehensive series conceptually and formally explored the modern evolution of hygiene, offering the audience different interpretations of the idea, while creating in situ a theatre of daily life. In 2019, Chou Yu-Cheng made for the 15th edition of the Lyon Contemporary Art Biennale Goods, Acceleration, Package, Express, Convenience, Borrow, Digestion, Regeneration, PAPREC Group (2019) by working with the waste recycling company PAPREC Group to present approximately 250 tons of recycled cardboard. Once again, the work reveals the public and private financing strategies behind the production modes of contemporary art exhibitions just as TOA Lighting did less than ten years ago, dealing also with the artist’s long-term interest in waste as a powerful metaphor.
The latest Moody series of abstract paintings emerges directly from the global pandemic situation. Chou thinks of the flawlessly rendered works as anthropomorphic entities, simulating facial expressions or moods at critical moments of collapse, speaking of rupturing and suspended experiences in everyday reality. Working on the individual paintings, the artist has to take full control of flow in relation to gravity: the remarkably fine gradient patterns on paper mounted on canvas are all results of meticulous handling, as Chou balances torrents of contrasting colours, and ensures that the mineral-based and inorganic pigment particles are strictly ordered and arranged. After the precise colouring process, Chou then plays with various compositions before collaging, mounting and inlaying the shaped papers on canvas.
Chou also draws an analogy between the singular painterly process and the notions of sedimentation and pollution: just as natural and human forces create riverbeds, layered geological formations, vast sites of waste, and even visible air pollution in particularly the age of Anthropocene, Chou’s latest painterly practice demonstrates the ways in which irreducible material components insidiously take shape in a painting. Moody and the ensuing Bibliotheque, Water, Color & Paper and Origami series are organic developments from Chou’s highly conceptual oeuvre, emphasising the relationship between personal emotions and the history of abstract art, depicting contemporary experiences in expressive and candid ways.
Chou Yu-Cheng is a highly acclaimed artist who lives and works in Taipei. Recent solo exhibitions include: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2015); Kaohsiung Fine Art Museum, Kaohsiung (2015); Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taipei (2014); Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei (2011); Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Colorado (2008). Group exhibitions include Performa 19 Biennial, New York (2019); Biennale de Lyon (2019) ; Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool (2018); Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), Manila (2018); New Museum, New York (2015); Asian Art Biennial, Taichung (2015); Queens Museum, New York (2013); Taipei Biennial, Taipei (2012). Chou was the artist-in-residence at the Chinese Centre For Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester in 2013. He received the Taipei Art Award, Taiwan in 2012 as well as the Taishin Annual Visual Art Award, Taiwan in 2011. Chou’s works are available in multiple museum collections including the University of Salford; CFCCA, UK; Taipei Fine Art Museum; Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Art.