Chinese installation artist Felicia Chen examines the experience of space
Felicia Chen is a young, up-and coming artist practicing in Taipei. Her works encompass a range of media and are typified by an intense spatial and bodily consciousness. Her translation of a “dwelling” thematic into artistic form gives her work its particular edge, and it is this successful intersection between the corporal, the spiritual and the aesthetic that makes her work so refreshing and evocative.
My first impression of your work was its spatiality and its intense phenomenological quality. How do you approach ideas of “space” within your work? The notion, the experience of space is one of the fundamental areas of interest in my work. I view space as something entitative, the ether that surrounds us. An old Ch’an saying goes “a cup must be empty before it is filled” such that the emptiness of the cup is more than nothingness or absence of matter, but a fertile void. I am interested in the possibility of such spaces and the friction that occurs between these external spaces (architectural or environmental) and internal spaces (psychological or spiritual).
While I explore the notions of space in all mediums, my work naturally lends itself to installation. I immerse the viewer in this environment, a hyper sculpture, where the space has an immense and distinctive nature that leaves a certain residue within the visitor that somehow emerges and projects forward in their daily lives. This sort of folding and unfolding of notions of containment or entity-ness, memory and body, proves to be something unstable and blurry, but also rich and challenging.
You create the most fantastic tempo within your works. Saying that they suspend time would be too extreme but there is a rhythm and pace to them that seems very different, somehow more gradual, to the everyday experience of time and space? Absolutely. While this is actually not very intentional, I have noticed a rhythm, a sense of choreography that is pervasive throughout my work, both static and kinetic. I think this is tied to the meditative nature to my artistic practice. I want to draw the viewer in or, in stranger terms, to almost re-calibrate the viewers’ pulse and brainwaves to match the piece, to slow it down, to achieve this state of simultaneous losing of oneself but also awareness of a more basic self. The repetition of actions or the buildup of repeated elements creates a volume in and of itself, such that it renders the nature of phenomena as light, insubstantial. Fleeting.
Related to both my first questions is the presence (abstract and literal) of the body in your work. How do you use it as a medium and what is its fascination to you? The body, for me, is this semi-permeable membrane that lies between the internal and the external. It is the givens of our existence. All we know of the world is what we experience of it through our perceptive faculties. It is the only thing we’ll ever truly come to know. We can think and love and feel with such arresting emotion, and not to discount the reality of those passions, but the pain of physical discomfort or illness has the power to undercut all of those things. A simple growth in the brain has the power to change even one’s own personality. And yet, especially in today’s society, we value the mind over matter, and we often lose the intimate connection we have to our physical being. We become displaced in our own bodies. Thus my work with the body is an attempt to re-establish that connection, the link between the spiritual and the physical.
You live and work in Taiwan now, but you studied in America. Where do you see your work within these two frameworks and differing historiographical canons? For whatever reason, the notion of identity has always been a topic I wish to avoid, but avoidance seems unavoidable. Eastern systems of thought, art history, and customs such as acupuncture are quite central to my work as well as my personal way of thinking. Naturally my upbringing by very traditional Chinese parents has had a huge impact on my thought processes and value systems such that the influence Chinese culture has on my work simply cannot be ignored. On the other hand, I went through a typical western educational system as well, so I suppose I can say my artistic practice comes from a western lineage. In truth, these two spheres are not always that clearly delineated, but I’ve observed that they do come together in interesting ways.
Whether you are the West looking to the East, or the East looking to the West, foreign cultures have the propensity to become mysticised and exoticised. A person of my kind of demographic, a so-called ABC (American-born Chinese), resides within the margins of both cultures such that our sense of cultural and geographical displacement in some ways makes us outsiders. But I always believed that the outlook of the outsider provides a rather valuable perspective. I suppose this demographic is relatively new and rather than claiming allegiance to either side of the world, I would rather uncomfortably remain neither here nor there. by Freya Wigzell