“Disappearing Traces” is Taiwanese new media artist Yuan Goang-Ming’s solo debut on the Mainland. The exhibition does not present any new works by the artist, but rather seems intended to introduce Mainland audiences to the well-established artist’s oeuvre. The works in the show range from Yuan’s early classics, like the video installation Fish on Dish, which uses a white plate as the screen for a video of a bright, billowy goldfish noodling around his bowl; to recent works like Disappearing Landscape—Passing II, an immersive three-channel video installation that guides a voyeuristic viewer through intimate scenes in the artist’s home.
The “disappearing traces” of the exhibition’s title can be understood literally or metaphorically: Yuan Goang-Ming excels at manipulations of digital forms, as exemplified in the “City Disqualified” series, editing every trace of human presence out of photographic portraits of Taipei’s bustling Ximen intersection with an arsenal of photographic source material. These traces are literally disappeared from the scene, and the effect is poignant; the artifice of Yuan’s production method highlights the surreal peculiarity of the urban artifice that we have come to take for granted.
Although the bulk of the show is centered in recent work from 2011, the exhibition also includes earlier works, like Fish on Dish (1992), The Cage (1995), and Floating (2000). These three pieces are comparatively stricter explorations of the video medium. The Cage and Floating, for example, seek to reveal perspectives that would otherwise be inaccessible: The Cage places a video camera at the bottom of a bird cage, a small songbird perched above. The bird and cage are then taken for a stroll in a sun-dappled German neighborhood, where the artist was living at the time, and the camera captures the bird’s frantic fluttering, as well as changes in the scenery outside and above. Floating makes a similar attempt to capture the unseen— a camera is transfixed to a small row boat, left to float and capsize in the turbulence of the open sea— but instead of a bird’s eye view, this camera records nobody’s eye view, offering instead an existential meditation on the relationship between recording and reality.
The bulk of the show’s works, however, were created last year, with an emphasis on atmospheric approaches to installation and slick manipulations with special effects. In Disappearing Portrait, dimly lit projections of the artist and his wife are posed with traditional Chinese furniture, only to fade away. Whereas portraits are intended to stand against the ephemerality of time, here their disappearance marks the transitive properties of memory. Disappearing Landscape—Passing II is a masterpiece of sentimentality, gliding between intimate, twilight scenes of the artist at home with his dog, wife, and young daughter, and the environment immediately surrounding his home in suburban Taipei. Filmed in long, sweeping takes, the work has a Russian Ark-esque quality to it, except this camera was not carried by any weary camera man, but rather on guiding cables and rails, expertly edited out of the final piece.
The show makes no attempt to account for the huge gap— in technique, medium, style, and perspective— between Yuan Goang-Ming’s earlier works and later works, but perhaps it cannot be reasonably expected for a modest commercial gallery show to account for it, either. In fact, while the individual works that make up the show are themselves strong, the reason for the show’s being is something of a puzzle, with no new works and no clear, coherent curatorial thrust. An event hosted by the gallery prior to the opening put both the artist and his works in dialogue with Song Dong, whose own body of work resonates with Yuan’s. A different show could have capitalized on this exchange, making a more profound attempt to locate Yuan within greater historical and artistic contexts, as opposed to this transparent bid at getting in the door with Mainland collectors. Angie Baecker