Pare away the folds of time, in search of warmth
(A review of Peihang Huang’s work “Past and Present”)
/ by Chang Li-Hao
“--and there follows the pain, which says of itself that it will never end. Yet with this pain there comes, surreptitiously, something else which approaches a joke but is not one, something which hallucinates, a little similar to the gesture of a conjuror's handkerchief after a trick, a kind of lightness, totally opposed to what one is feeling.”
-John Berger, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance
Despite our differences in material wealth, social, political, religious, and cultural backgrounds, people living in every corner of the world will at one point ask: “What kind of life are we living? What will happen in the future?” Yet in the global digital era, with more information than ever before, we do not have a strong understanding of our existence. In these contradictory conditions, events that have happened in the past continue to appear today in similar form. What does this mean, and how will it impact us? These questions, which include nostalgia, identity, and universal truths, may only be incited when you leave your familiar environment.
The most recent work of Peihang Huang draws on questions with no answers. Having lost her mother, left home and moved to England to join her husband, and lived the life of an “immigrant” in recent years. Huang contemplates her journey, the connections with her mother and her family history. In an attempt to process these feelings, Huang captured the essence of the human condition, which is one that none of us, including her mother, can escape. These experiences have changed Huang’s work to an unprecedented degree.
“Past and Present,” documents the change that has taken place in Huang’s life in dazzling colours that wash over the viewer. Huang’s style is reminiscent of Taiwan’s ever present, advertising signs draws on Taiwan’s characteristically open youth subculture by welcoming the familiar and foreign into these vivid, compositions. The faces present in Huang’s works are always indistinct, blurred and intentionally distant; they represent inarticulate cries, independent of time and space, that test our courage to face the unknown.
Facing Human Suffering and Misfortune
On the face of it, “The Boat and The Sea” recalls news of Italian coast guards rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean Sea; but it bears deeper significance of Huang, who uses it as a vehicle to express her feelings about her mother’s journey across the strait of Taiwan in the 1950’s. The imagery also conveys Huang’s debt to English painter Joseph Turner’s “The Wreck of a Transport Ship”. Three very different journeys, all with the sole motive of leaving a familiar environment to start a new life--to die at sea or to survive in a gamble of fate. “The Boat and The Sea” connects Huang’s family history to the new world she has entered her personal journey. It adds a personal perspective to tragic events and, in so doing, it offers comfort and a degree of salvation.
In the series “Past and Present,” smoke sheathes the warped, distorted buildings in the composition, to the point of bleakness. In these fragmented spaces, one space-time folds into another, appearing identical but drastically different. They are images sampled from the archive of history, but also disseminated by media, overlapping to become a mirage, illusory but real, the same tale of smoke and war, death quietly brimming over. Even so, a handful of survivors still walk upon broken rubble, looking up at the sky to appreciate moments of freedom. Images of the young Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh, at the innocent age of five years old, sitting in the ambulance, covered in blood and dust with a look of fear and helplessness became widespread across the globe through media. Inspired by these images, Boys excises his features, adding another boy’s stature, and suddenly, like magic clears the smell of blood, transforming the viewer’s sympathy and compassion into lightness. Cherish all that you have.
All these are declarations to the world, whether similar events or corresponding feelings, regardless of past, present and future, will continue to occur. But Peihang Huang does not impart a grim, severe gaze upon the term “eternal return” like Milan Kundera, refusing to allow distant disasters to become spectacles on a computer or phone screen, Huang still holds a trace of hope, aspiring to continue to pare the folds of time, finding infinite warmth and inclusion in humanity.
「接著，是苦痛，訴說自身永無止境的苦痛。然而偷偷伴隨著苦痛而來的，還有 另一種接近玩笑的東西，但不是玩笑。......一種讓人產生幻覺的東西，有點像是 魔術師耍了戲法之後捏著手帕的姿勢，一種輕盈，和你的感受截然相反的東西。」
生活在世界各個角落的人，儘管物質條件、政經宗教與文化背景有所區別，但 肯定都會在某一個特殊的時刻自問，我們正在經歷怎樣的生活?未來又將會發生 什麼樣的變化?然而弔詭的是，即使來到資訊已然較過往普及許多的全球性數位 時代，卻並不意味著人對於他自身的生存狀況，有更多一般性的了解。在如是充 滿矛盾的情境下，歷史上發生過的那些事情，來到我們今天所生存的年代，以類 似的面貌再度發生出現，代表了什麼樣的意義，又會帶來什麼樣的影響呢?這些 問題，或許只有在離開了熟悉的環境之後，才會觸動包括鄉愁、主體認同，乃至 於人類放諸四海皆準的共通情感的深刻思考。
黃沛涵近期的創作，所著眼的正是上述諸多始終未有確切解答的疑問。尤其在 過去短短幾年之間，從經歷母親的離世，到自己遠嫁英倫、被冠上「外來移民」 身份的異鄉生活，她開始思考個人至今的生命歷程與其母親，乃至於整個家族歷 史之間的連結，進而擴大到身體經驗與視覺資訊之間看似無涉，實則一如蝴蝶效 應般遙遙牽動的隱藏關係。這當中不見得有對錯褒貶，卻讓試圖消化、整理這段 時間種種感受的她訝然發現，自己其實正在經歷其他人，包括她母親早就經歷過 的事情，而在清楚意識到人類的命運自有一種不可抗拒的重複性之後，她的生命、 她的創作也因此獲得了前所未見的變化。
細數這次「過去與現在」一展中的作品，對觀者來說，迎面而來的首先是那極 其特殊的用色，帶點螢光亮麗的璀璨斑斕。這源自台灣隨處可見、紛雜多彩的廣 告招牌，以及年輕世代次文化的表徵，毫不設防地張開雙臂，像是要將所有熟悉 或者陌生的人都拉進明亮而充滿活力的畫面裡頭;與此同時，畫面上的人物面容 卻總是模糊不清、漫渙難辨，一副拒人於千里之外的模樣，也不肯清楚訴說究竟 所處的時空發生何事，彷彿一個自然生成的巨大迷團，考驗著人們如何奮勇揚帆 而去，前往全然未知的國度。
舉例來說，乍看到《船與海》一作時，或許有許多人第一眼義大利海巡隊拯救 來自地中海的非法移民船隻的情景。把時間再往前推，則會讓我們與英國畫家泰 納的《遇難的運輸船》(The wreck of a transport ship)一作輕易產生連結。除此 之外，其實還投射了 1950 年，其外婆帶著腹中的小孩───也就是她的母親，冒 險渡海抵台的經過。三者懷抱的目的各不相同，卻選擇了相同的方式離開熟悉的 環境，在命運的決定下或者葬身海底，或者僥倖存活下來，展開了另一個階段的 生命。透過如是的操作，此作與
在這些切割出來、相互之間又不見清晰區隔的空間裡頭，一個時 空折疊著另一個時空，彼此極度雷同，卻又截然有別。它們既來自歷史文獻的相 關影像取樣，也來自日常媒體不斷被重複傳播的畫面，相互疊合起來的景象就如 同海市蜃樓一般，雖然渺遠虛幻，卻又真實無比，所訴說的是本質完全一模一樣 的硝煙與戰火，死亡的氣息也從中悄然流洩而出。即使如此，少數倖存的人們仍 願行走在殘破的瓦礫堆上，享受抬頭仰望天空的片刻自由。另外，正值天真無邪， 應當玩樂與學習的年紀，敘利亞五歲小男童達尼希(Omran Daqneesh)卻被迫提 早認識戰爭的殘酷，他滿身沾滿血跡與灰塵、一臉驚恐無助地坐在救護車椅上的 模樣，透過媒體迅速傳播到全世界。黃沛涵的《男孩們》一作即以此為發想，透 過抹去他的面容、加入另一個男孩的身形，頓時猶如魔法一般削減了畫面的血腥 氣味，尤有甚之，更讓觀者的同情與憐憫能夠以別種輕盈的樣貌出現，去珍惜自 身所擁有的一切。
凡此種種，都像是在向世人宣告，無論是類似事件，或者相應而生的內在感受， 無論過去、現在，或者是未來仍會持續發生。但黃沛涵並不像米蘭‧昆德拉一般， 悲傷地將「永劫回歸」一詞賦予沉重的凝視，也不願將發生在遠方的各種災劫， 視為電腦或手機螢幕上的聲色奇觀，而是依舊抱持著一絲絲的期待，希望能持續 透過創作來剝開時間的皺摺，翻找人性的無限的溫暖與包容。
Reflection of Daily Reality
/By Tzu-Chin Kao
Renowned for her works on subversion of the Barbie norms to explore objectification of human body and to question feminine ideals, Peihang Huang’s recent project takes on a major leap.
Following the vine by contrasting perfection and cruel reality, Huang’s paint strokes are strong and expressionistic, mapping out the visual elements from current events. Part of her recent works take on inspiration from fairy tale narratives with dramatic turns and happy endings. In Frozen, the signature heavy, suppressed snow scene in the Disney blockbuster with the same title was set against the sickly sweet palette through saturated colors that distinguishes Huang’s style.
On the other hand, major disasters and crisis in recent years, such as South Asian earthquakes, crash of TransAsia Airways flight in downtown Taipei, and humanitarian crises caused by extremist groups have informed on her recent works.Unlike press photos that aim for vivid representation, neither tedious collages of pieces, nor digital alteration, Huang’s works excerpts and nips partials of images so that viewers are unable to map out a clear picture of the event. Sometimes from a microscopic invisible perspective; sometimes the image is too large to contain within the frame. Clues wait solitarily for demystification by viewers. However, the media images she referenced are no longer visible. Her works create a communication gap due to the barrier between the content and the viewer.Of course, we can still set out to interpret the news images taking on a moralistic or an empathetic point of view. However, by doing so, a series of processes of editing and organizing information enclosed in the images would be neglected. What she tries to reveal through her works would be over-simplified. Rather than the compilation of moments of disasters, violence and crime, Huang instead focuses on how we understand these “views from the past”, and how the era and the national context influence and shape our vision and perspective.
Before studying in UK, like most Taiwanese, Huang had been used to a media culture that international reports were often sacrificed for local news and entertainment biz. In cases of major events, local media usually bombard audiences with repeated broadcastings in a short span of time. The absence of follow-up reports and in-depth analysis often creates a distance between audiences and the event.
The life in UK opens up different channels for her to participate in this world, and strengthens her empathy and contextualized thinking. Exposure to people of diversified historical, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, Huang learned to consider and reconsider depending on different reference points of time and position.In a world porously exposed to international trends and multiple cultures, Huang is able to break from past stereotypes, re-examine herself, and try to participate in the world with new perspectives.
The stymied international relations and diplomatic isolation create a unique social environment that gives the shape of rootlessness, restlessness and indifference in Taiwanese culture. Living in UK and Taiwan sensitizes Huang’s awareness of such qualities, which are interpreted through an indifferent neutral tone underneath the media images blended in the paintings. For Huang, there exists a distance for thinking, for expressing powerlessness of an artist about the country’s political plight, for exploring images as simulation that bears no relation to any reality, or for seeking any fun remaining in the day-to-day reality.
After the creation of photography, observing disasters becomes a typical contemporary experience. Images of mishaps are continuously circulated by all kinds of media. With the safe distance created by mass communication, we are able to observe violence conveniently and comfortably.
Submerged in circulation of simulated experiences, we gradually lose our ability to judge political intentions or authenticate media reports. As pointed out by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the war is no longer won in the battlefield. The hostage replacing the warrior as the means of influence and information war without physical conflicts represent the modern forms of ‘non-war’ wars. Through contemporary media, the influences of simulation surpass that of traditional wars.
Huang’s works re-create the context where these media images are positioned with collages of narrative streams and points out the possibility of amending the viewer’s perception of the distant past in the process of production and cognition.The images taken from the internet are the living proof the events that people talk about but mostly have no chance to experience. They can be replicated and circulated in a short span of time and provides a condensed format to quickly comprehend and record the event. Mishaps hence reach a maximum globalization through communication.
Huang’s works to some degree ‘relay’ pains recorded by these images and stimulate us to reflect: Is the explanation of the powerful about the disaster reasonable? Who should be responsible for the pains? Are they inevitable? Do we have doubts regarding the accepted facts?
What can we respond to the knowledge of distant disasters and sufferings brought by media images? Huang’s works remind us not to indulge in innocence, ignorance or short memory. Would the distribution of the images of others’ sufferings diminish and distant violence, and further numb the feelings of the viewers? Or would there be the power for change? At the end, it depends on how we view and reflect on these images. As famous American critic Susan Sontag aptly commented, ‘photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no. Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph.’
 Susan Sontag, ‘In Plato’s Cave’, On Photography, 1977.
Artist Magazine Taiwan, March 2013