With the introduction of Kodachrome in 1935, photography changed forever. Sensuous bright colours became the go-to style for many photographers, who loved the saturation of hue now possible with
the new film. But there is no Kodachrome kick in the work of Chih-Chien Wang. The Taiwan-born photographer uses colour but in the most delicate
way possible, often choosing ordinary items whose very DNA is their subtle tint. In the tradition of still life photography he places objects, paring down his gaze to the subject itself. His formal rigour transforms the mundane into a meditation.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of sacred places. ‘‘At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.’’ Chih-Chien Wang’s work creates a sacred space from the quotidian. His photographs invite a longer, lingering look. The simple subtlety and the subtle simplicity of his approach breathes a different life into objects ranging from a delicate curl of cucumber
peel hanging from a hand to a pale cut cabbage encircled with string. His photographs have a measured silence, a balanced beauty. And then — in their stillness — they reveal a spirituality. They also suggest time passing; seemingly a casual record. Something happened once. There is a suggestion
of a story, either through the subject matter or the arrangement itself. Photography’s beginnings were to document, and Wang’s staged images are
a nuance of this principle. He manages to harness the latent narrative potential of certain items, both by his staging and his point of view.
Wang changes this path in his solo show The Act of Forgetting at Fonderie Darling, in which he investigates identity and interaction between humans. Returning to his original training, that of making documentaries in Taiwan, he uses a new format.
Two videos show ‘‘my great helpers; friends and students from Concordia,’’ retelling a tale told earlier by Chih-Chien. But they forget details. Facts change, ‘‘like story telling in the oral tradition. Unconsciously, we choose what to communicate. In that, we reveal our identity — what was important to us.’’ The slow movies wend a path between public and private space, showing the speakers, the listeners and the film crew, whose intense, unhurried focus influenced the viewers. Usually tethered to technology, those watching the video sat entranced. Four new photographs were included in The Act of Forgetting installation. Their modest subject, captured in muted tones as is Wang’s wont: fields of snow, delicate bits of grass and two far-away tiny figures walking together. In one, Wang’s son leads; in the other, his wife. ‘‘They are two versions of the same story; they link to the videos.’’ The strong lines – a far-away dark looming horizon – and the delicate diagonals of the walkers’ paths serve to highlight the diminutive human shapes. The foreground snow-covered branches act as a scrim, gently taking the viewers’ gaze to what is actually the main subject: the mother and her son. The other two photos, one shot ‘‘under moonlight and the other in daylight’’, are once again, ‘‘two sides of the tale.’’ They show tiny twigs, their silhouettes elegantly echoed in their shadows on the snow. In both, the light emanating from the snow flattens the foreground so that the works recall the two-dimensionality of Asian prints. Recalling his earlier work, the images communicated a quiet, special space. Their large format served to increase the sense of communion they created with viewers.
Wang’s show also had signs above four plinths placed around the room. ‘‘Leave an object, no matter how insignificant, and pick up one already left.’’ Items ranged from a tar-dipped piece of wood to a candy wrapper and hairpins. Random banal objects were thus exchanged by strangers. The discarded detritus, like the videos, implied a conversation — an interaction: an addendum to the exhibition theme. And what people left behind revealed different identities. While fun — and certainly taking conceptual art to a whole new level somehow a pile of bobby pins becoming ‘art’ was
a tad esoteric.
The Act of Forgetting, like Chih-Chien Wang’s early work, Wang, is an invitation to intimacy. That lure establishes quietude in a rushing world. His study of human interaction echoes the artist’s great gift of discovering the special in our day-to-day. The odd bits and pieces of rejected objects on the plinths, while seemingly incongruous within the theme of the exhibition, made one stop and look. In this, the idea reflects his singular talent. Whether showing us a ‘sacred space’ through his carefully chosen images or involving us vicariously via our discards, he quietly communicates a sense of wabi-sabi: the ability to appreciate the beauty in the banal. Perhaps we will never look at hairpins the same way again? Some art requires a sense of humour.
CHIH-CHIEN WANG THE ACT OF FORGETTING
Fonderie Darling, Montrea
April 15—May 15, 2015