The Return of Ghosts: The 4th Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition 2014

Chen Chieh-Jen, Realm of Reverberation, screened onsite at the former Losheng Asylum and Taipei Prison Courtesy of Hong-Gah Museum
Chen Chieh-Jen, Realm of Reverberation, screened onsite at the former Losheng Asylum and Taipei Prison Courtesy of Hong-Gah Museum

Hong-gah Museum, Taipei

Curated by scholars Gong Jow-Jiun and Nobuo Takamori, the 4th Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition, “The Return of Ghosts,” features the work of more than 30 artists and groups, making it the largest one yet. It also includes a novel line-up of activities, including a performance by Son Hyemin and John Reardon titled “Ghost Tour,” =and a sacrificial screening of Kidlat Tahimikʼs Turumba (1981). But the most remarkable event must be “A Conversation with a Shaman,” in which Tsai Jou Lung was invited to conduct arcane divinations in order to indulge public curiosity about the eventʼs unscientific theme.

Much of the exhibition forum addressed insufficient knowledge production, suggesting that our modern knowledge system fails to adequately explain how ghosts have become a key subject of contemporary film. This inevitably reminds one of the previous edition of the exhibition, “Melancholy in Progress,” in which curators Amy Cheng and Jau-lan Guo took a different approach to the pursuit of scientific conceptions of progress, going so far as to posit that “scientific progress is not necessarily equal to human progress.” “The Return of Ghosts” references non-rational structures excluded from historical perspectives of global modernization, an argument that draws strength from the interest in animism prevalent in western art while also tapping into the historical context of local film culture. By posing questions of hauntology and Taiwanʼs parsing of its own uncanny history, the curators direct the focus of the exhibition towards how the supernatural world—that is to say, historical myth and superstition that serves to obfuscate—might be represented in a “living cultural space of universal physical experience.”

Ethnographic works inevitably compromise with regard to this theme. Under the name of the supernatural, th exhibition includes a number of videos from southeast Asia and the third world. Three videos near the entrance—Les Maitres (1955), shot in Niger by the French documentarian Jean Rouch; Mvua Farasi (2013) by the Swedish artist group Crystal Beacon; and Po thi (2014), a film about Vietnamese burial rituals by Eisuke Yanagisawa and Vincenzo Della Ratta—are bridges to the supernatural world. Mark Freemanʼs Body without a Brain (2014) could also be included here; these anthropological documentaries contain mysterious and abstruse scenes of spiritual communication through divination or possession that viewers find spellbinding. Elsewhere, the feature film Bodo by director Huang Ming-chuan and the documentary Returning Souls by Hu Tai-Li respond to trends in cinema through the portrayal of Taiwanese superstitions unique and universal. Ideas originally separated into the cultural semantics of ghosts, spirits, and souls are combined under the umbrella category of filmic augury, leaving viewers in reveries overriding the carnival of advanced communications technology that characterizes contemporary perception. In the process, screens forgo their normal roles and cede attention to dispersion of impure discourses.

In their introduction, the curators look at discourses of modernity over preceding editions of the exhibition, seeking to cast the parsing of the modern as a background for the discussion of the supernatural. Regardless of whether the subject of conversation is the modern or the anti-modern, however, the audience has difficulty seeing how the video in the exhibition constitutes a form of aesthetic progress, or indeed what it might share with modernity. These issues seem secondary to the ghostly. Rather than embracing the supernatural world as contemporary practice, it is a strategy of resistance against organized viewing. When Chen Chieh-jen screens Realm of Reverberation, his film about the Losheng Sanatorium, on a moving trolley, he provides the wandering spirits in his film with a temporary way of returning to the human world, even though the dead lost their residence when the facility was demolished. As long as artists remain in communication with the collective subconscious, our premodern ghosts will continue to find opportunities to return in film and summon audiences to the screen.

Rikey Cheng (Translated by Daniel Nieh)