Even though sometimes, roaming in nature, you get so inspired and feel no longer the need of art — When coming to an exhibition, you encounter inspiring works — And realize there is still a space for this condensation of human thoughts and skills.Chih-Chien
I’ve asked visual artist and teacher Chih-Chien Wang to share his thoughts about his work and life since the outbreak.
Where on Earth?
Where were you when this all started?
— I was in Montreal when the province shut down.
On March 13, Friday, I was supposed to go to Concordia, but everything got suspended.
Then the suspension lasted.
How has this challenging time affected your daily life?
- Change of habits
- Connectivity and relationships
- Freedom and mobility
— Looking at it now, in the end of August, I must say that I long for the forgotten past, when we kissed and hugged friends or shared food and drinks. But I almost get used to the current situation now: working remotely and reducing physical contact with others.
When it just started, it took a while to adapt to a new daily routine: grocery shopping became insane, and taking public transportation was intense.
My son couldn’t go to school like usual, and he couldn’t play with friends either.
It was almost ridiculous and saddened us.
We were of course trying to adapt and to be rational. Thinking of responsibility and trying to keep healthy physically and mentally.
Even when walking past neighbours, that tendency of getting closer to each other was pulling back. No one wanted to offend the other’s safe distance.
I had more than one month not going to downtown Montreal.
The way how we approach city and public space changed as you know.
Reduced physical interaction of course gave us more time or energy to deal with ourselves.
Perhaps it could be considered a kind of liberty if you want to see it positively.
Hopes & Fears
Tell us about the bright side, what are your silver linings?
— The bright side would be the opportunity that you have longed for since years: a good long sleep.
I slept and slept as if the world no longer existed, and I could fall into myself: inside my body and my thoughts.
It’s a little like a deep cleaning that you would do to your apartment once in a while.
You move things around, you dump something which has been long piled and buried under, and you gradually rediscover order.
What about the more painful side?
— The painful side would be the lack of physical contact.
We are social beings, and like many people, I need to sit with friends or have in person contact with people once a while.
Even if it’s a very basic interaction with a stranger, it can create a new balance to the rhythm of our daily life.
(Re) Shaping Behaviours
In the very beginning of the lockdown, interaction with strangers brought in tension — We forgot about its necessity — And almost each and every movement was closely examined and measured.
The uncertainty of social activities in a way stripped off the instinct of personal interaction, and raised debate on social responsibility and humanity.
It was not pleasant when the conflict happened frequently.
What are the impacts on your creative practice since the outbreak?
- Inspiration (lack or boost)
- Process & Materials
— The lockdown removed certain access to spaces, labs, exhibitions, events and activities. But it forced (or offered) the opportunity to contemplate and spend time dealing with very local subjects, which is something I like.
I had more time and attention to look at, and work in my garden.
Seeing plants grow and interacting with earth was a very grounding feeling, and it inspired my thoughts and creations.
The sense of essential needs and the slowness of work also provided good energy and opened up a new direction of research and routine.
Do you draw the line between art, beauty, aesthetics, all that jazz?
— This is not related to Covid, is it?
Visual art relies on seeing: what is in front of you, what is treated, manipulated, collected, organized or presented.
All these gestures can be seen in visual traces, and these traces demonstrate research, concepts and senses of beauty or certain types of aesthetic.
A Well-Balanced Combination
But without skills, or intent of working on visual elements — We as viewers are not able to see or recognize the enlightenment in thoughts, or visual experiences — Nor to connect with the content and its complexity.
I guess it’s less about drawing lines, and more about questioning how these different elements support each other.
A balanced and authentic realization of intent, pairing with confident visual decisions would make an art piece complete.
What do you wish to say or do with your art? Is your art practice weaved with some philosophy, message or meaning? (And do you think artists must do that?)
— I guess art for me has its own category in life.
Like walking is quite unique and beautiful for each one, but also has different effects in the body and in the mind — Art fulfills certain parts of the mind or spirit, if you want.
It’s a man made product.
Even though sometimes, roaming in nature, you get so inspired and feel no longer the need of art — When coming to an exhibition, you encounter inspiring works — And realize there is still a space for this condensation of human thoughts and skills.
It cannot be replaced, but its form is not fixed.
On the other hand, art is also not only existing in gallery spaces, and man made creations sometimes exist out of intention — And can still affect us like an intentionally produced art piece.
Absence of Author
This relates to our attention and openness as an art viewer, without the artist, in this case.
Some may argue the importance of the author. I wouldn’t dismiss it but rather indulge the pleasure of being an active viewer.
Any last words?
— I often question what the use of art is in current days:
- Does art give people better life?
- Does art give people in need the help they ask for?
- Does art increase equality or support other social responsibilities?
Falling & Rising
Art quite often fails or becomes simply a gesture or is operated as a tool for some other purpose.
I however am not giving up on art — Not because it succeeds in certain functions — But because when you are ready and when the art is there, you know you encounter something unique and worthy.
No matter what the art is dealing with, global important issues or personal insignificant subjects — Our life covers both and more eventually.
Chih-Chien Wang was born in Taiwan and has resided in Montreal since 2002, where he received MFA degree in the Department of Studio Arts, Concordia University, following studies in cinema and theatre at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan. His work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions at venues such as Plein sud (2019), Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (2017), Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin (2016), the Art Gallery of Mississauga (2015), the Darling Foundry in Montreal (2015), Expression in Saint-Hyacinthe (2014), the Musée régional de Rimouski (2013), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2012), and has been included in numerous group shows, including the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, The Quebec Triennial at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the National Gallery of Canada, Zenith Gallery in Beijing, Aperture in New York, Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne Switzerland. Wang was short-listed for le Prix Louis-Comtois in 2018 and awarded the Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography in 2017.
Wang’s work has been seen in collections including: Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, National Gallery of Canada, Hydro Quebec, National Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, Caisse Desjardins, Caisse de dépôt et placement, Musée de l’Elysée Lausanne, Collection Prêts d’œuvre – MNBAQ, BMO Financial Group, City of Montreal and Canada Council Art Bank.
- Chih-Chien Wang at Studio
- Animal in the Field
- Garden After Watering
- Young Clover at Dusk
- Chih-Chien Wang, Tree, 2018, from the series What You Found Only Exists in Another World, photography
- Chih-Chien Wang, Dry Flower Paper Roll, 2017, photography
- Chih-Chien Wang, Longan Structure, 2020, photography
- Chih-Chien Wang, Tree Ripple, 2020, photography
- Collected Flowers
- Chih-Chien Wang, Pear and Glass Water, 2017, photography
- Chih-Chien Wang, Rhubarb Front, 2020, photography
- Chih-Chien Wang, Iceberg, 2018, from the series What You Found Only Exists in Another World, photography
- A Map to Twenty-Three Mountains
Images courtesy of Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain
With this series, I wish to hear the voice of artists amidst the Covid storm. I’m curious about how the situation is affecting their practice and also them as people. It’s also a great excuse to see some art!
As so many people, I’ve had more time on my hands lately. At some point, I heard a calling, something like a need to be of service. A simple yet powerful question arose from my guts, like a prayer to the cosmos: How can I help?
The answer arrived a couple of days later: Write and Share — OK.
But what about? What inspires me and perhaps could inspire others?
Out of the blue (unknowing that I was pondering these questions), a friend living across the globe suggested that I write about artists, that I offer them a voice during this crisis.
And it made so much sense: I know I want to keep seeing art in the world — my soul demands it. Art nourishes and inspires me, it pushes me into action, into making things (however big or small) happen.
I think of artists as having this crazy freedom to actively become themselves, push forward “within” and continually bloom. That inner-life quality usually radiates from them. For me, artists are radioactive.
I sure hope this is feeding your soul as much as mine!