REVIEW: 'Parklife' Shows Contemporary Art in a Cosy Setting

Courtesy of the artist (Chien-Chi Chang), Magnum Photos and Chi-Wen Gallery
Why you need to know

This collection of mostly Taiwanese artists touches on subjects from food waste to psychedelics.

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“Parklife,” the housewarming exhibition at the newly-relocated Chi-Wen Gallery, is a diverse yet cozy collection of contemporary art with an emphasis on video and photography.

The exhibition is named for the relocation of the gallery from downtown Taipei to the a sleepy neighborhood in the suburb of Tianmu nestled between three city parks. As the effusive gallery founder Chi-Wen Huang (黃其玟) told The News Lens, “You have to step back and get away from the city if you want to really see it.”

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Chien-Chi Chang’s (張乾琦) two related pieces: “The War That Never Was” and “You and the Atomic Bomb.”

The former is a video installation focusing on the artist’s mother’s life in the Taiwanese countryside contrasted with the shifting, violent geopolitics of the outside world. The artist’s mother describes the hardships of life in the countryside and her decades of washing clothes as armies goose-step around town squares and G.I.s slog through swamps. Taiwanese kids in hoodies stare at their smartphones as the Middle East explodes and walls fall. The piece is compelling for it’s focus on the mundanity of life in rural Taiwan — we all get caught up in political drama and fail to see the much more relevant universe full of people scrubbing socks and frying food.

“You and the Atomic Bomb,” by the same artist, is a sound installation that shares its name with and is inspired by George Orwell’s prophetic 1945 article, which suggested that the complexity of the atom bomb would concentrate power in the hands of fewer states and result in an age of despotism. Chang is an established photographer who is now expanding into new media, and both of these pieces pass the sniff test of contemporary art: they show serious depth of thought and have a clear message.

Chi-Wen Gallery is a mellow setup framed by a converted two-bedroom home in an obscure side street with a stark museum-white ground floor and a carpeted upstairs library. Huang said she is working to get artists to do work specific to the space. The goal of the gallery since 2004 has been so support emerging artists, a sort of “feeder gallery” for larger institutions in Taiwan and around the world.

The main focus of the exhibition is video and photo installations, but there are some impressive paintings and sculptures as well.

Another piece on display is James T. Hong’s (洪⼦健) “Apologies,” a video collection of televised apologies from politicians around the world. According to the artist, “A national apology's task is to document and record a symbolic act as a prelude to possible reconciliation and forgiveness. To achieve these ends, one's sincerity is paramount, especially when reading from a script.”

Chi-Wen Gallery is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. “Parklife” has been casually extended until Dec. 16, but there will be more exhibitions to keep an eye on. Huang hopes to have a new show every two months.

The exhibition is open by appointment only, so call ahead. The gallery is open 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

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