2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival:Innocent Eyes

Written & photographed by Wong Cheng-Hsiang
Translated by Ariel Lien

Innocent Eyes

“How can an exhibition about children be presented from a child’sperspectivewithout stereotypes created by adults? With camera, it is possible to view the world from a child’sperspective. As the eye of photography is similar to the eye of a child, photography might facilitate my method.”

The public art festival this year in Kaohsiung, “Electri City”, is jointly organized by Taipower and the Kaohsiung City Government, curated by Huang Yen-Ying, presenting art installations by Joyce Ho, Yu Cheng-Ta, Chiang Chung-lun, Chiu Chao-Tsai, Yeh Chen-Yu, Tsai Pou-Ching, Wu Tsung-Long, Liao Chien-Chung, Hsiao Sheng-Chien, Tseng Wei-Hao, Su Hui-yu, Yao Chung-Han and Wang Jun-Yuan. Before writing about “Electri City”, I set up a goal for myself that I would try to write from a child’s perspective; I would not apply long-winded art theories and explain artists’s respective contexts. I intended to do so not just because it’s an exhibition about children, and I believe art critiques alone cannot explain artworks. However, soon I found my method problematic: I was incapable of actually returning to a child’s perspective. This assumption of “a child’s perspective” still couldn’t  escape stereotype by adults. Luckily I found a solution. As a photographer who has photographed every installation and event of this festival, photography, with its view similar to a chid’s, might be helpful for me to apply my method.

The view of Taiwan Power Company (TPC) 2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival

Part 1 Camera as Critique

I will explain what my method works. In Reframing Photography, the author describes that when eye as an organ first appeared on the creature, it was merely a hole in the skin, with sensory cells enabling a strange deep sea fish to find food in the dark. As the creature evolved, the eye formed an eyeball inside the hole, and inside the eyeball crystalline lens. At this stage, the eye structure became more complicated. No longer simply a light receptor, it started to make connections to the brain. The world seen by the eye thus became different from the so-called real world. In the past humans did not realize there was a difference. They thought what they saw was real. For example philosopher René Descartesonce conducted an experiment: He dug out the eyes from a dead person, projecting light on it to form a reflection on the wall. This experiment manifests a belief that the eye was neutral and objective, and can remain its function even after the human brain dies. Later researchers on visuality have however argued otherwise that human eyes were not as naive as they were known to be. We can easily find examples to support this view, such as how the compensation system allows human eyes to see colours that do not actually exist on the object. Moreover, human eyes can also be affected by memories and experiences. People from different regions may have different focuses when they look at things. Sometimes, human eyes can even have a certain visual tunnel effect under particular circumstances. In this sense, humans are only capable of seeing the tiny area in front of them, not to mention recording the outside world. Photographer Stephen Shore believes that the camera is a like a baby’s eye, because the camera, like a baby, has no strong connection with the brain. Therefore, if I use the camera faithfully, it is possible that I can return to a child's view without my brain imposing any meaning on what I see. In the following paragraphs, I will describe both the artworks I saw through the lens, and the work I saw with my eyes.

Joyce Ho’s “Balancing Act

With Joyce Ho’s “Balancing Act” I chose two angles to shoot the artwork: One from afar with the exit of Central Park station as the background, and the other a close-up of water splashing through the railings. The former was similar to a panorama view of the artwork, while the latter occurred when I saw the railings were almost being pushed forward by water, which I found quite intriguing. Yet the photo I took did not convey what I saw. It showed quite the opposite. In the photo, the railings seem to be invincibly immovable, but with my eyes I saw the railings poorly shaken. This contrast was my favorite part of the work. A solemn and strict image could actually become gentle. This is something a viewer needs to experience in person.

Joyce Ho’s “Balancing Act

With Wang Jun-Yuan’s “Electri-fortress” I decided to shoot a close-up. Here a distance emerged between my eyes and my camera. I was intending to present a magnificent fortress on the top of the hill, but it turned out to be far less spectacular than I expected as I couldn’t show the proportion in a close-up (a fact I was hoping to utilise). I remembered when I was a child, I had all sorts of strange images in my head, like a huge moon or a 3-floor tall lion. They were not unusual experiences. I realised I only perceived the objects as giant because I was very small. No doubt a distortion of memory, I forgot that I was no longer the same height I used to be. This is, however, the key to every imagination: first we create a reference, and we secretly reduce the reference so the world becomes relatively big. In this sense, “Electri-fortress” is not only a scene from a monster movie, but a reference scale to the park or even to the world. The imagination derived from the installation can be bigger than the installation itself.

Wang Jun-Yuan’s “Electri-fortress

At the first glance Su Hui-yu’s “Electri-bus” was a nice photo on the bus. After I heard the staffs at the power company were in fact fascinated by how beautiful the artist made the coal plant look, I realized that the image was extremely moving for people working there. I assume it was because they saw it everyday, and have long translated the image into various productive functions under professional considerations. When the artist grabbed his camera, through lights, compositions and other terms of photography, these daily scenes were able to break from original productive roles and became something new. This contrast is later enhanced by the bus, as the bus itself, a carrier in daily life with practical purposes, has also been given room for further imagination.

Su Hui-yu’s “Electri-bus

While shooting Yeh Chen-Yu’s“Mist”I kept waiting for smog to appear. I also wanted to include a person on the viewing stand. I wanted the above for two purposes: to illustrate the cause-effect relationship in this work, and to present a certain visual tension brought by smog. However, I found my first goal hard to achieve. Without a proper description of the photograph, the person in it would merely look like a random viewer who had no idea where the smoke came from, and no clue about the connection among gravity, solar energy and the smoke. He just happened to be there, and there was this smoke on the water, and he would probably see it as a good sign and feel special. In my view I don’t think this is particularly a deviation from the artwork. Luck or gravity, it is a destined and mysterious force that generates this figurative yet undefined smoke.

Yeh Chen-Yu’s“Mist”

I also had similar experiences while photographing“Ride in the Rain”by Tseng Wei-Hao and “Electricmagic”by Tsai Pou-Ching and Wu Tsung-Long. With photography I attempted to explain the bubble, the swing and the swivel chair, or the relationship between the bicycle and the lights on the tree. The results were vague as well. There were indeed bubbles and lights in the photo, but it looked more like a photo of a fun day in the park with bubbles later photoshopped on by the photographer, or a scene where a group of children riding bicycles, passing by trees that happened to have decorative lights on them. Nevertheless, there is a major differentiation between “Mist”and the other two installations: In “Mist”the relation between smoke and gravity is not as immediate, whereas in “Ride in the Rain”and “Electricmagic”, without explaining to the audience, the mechanism and the direct relation between movements, bubbles and lights could be noticeable to viewers who pay more attention to details. I hope when parents take their children here, they won’t tell their children how the installations work and simply let them discover. It will be a precious experience for children to decipher the mysteries of the world, and hopefully they will believe in the subtle connections out there in the world.

“Electricmagic”by Tsai Pou-Ching and Wu Tsung-Long

On the other hand, Hsiao Sheng-Chien’s “Frog”is perfect for photography. As there is only one perspective to photograph from, once a photograph is taken, the image is settled. Therefore, if the photographer deliberately attempts different angles, he will be able to create illusions. For instance, American photographer John Pfahl once tried to put tapes on a stone, and he cunningly managed to make the piece of tape look like camera’s view. “Frog”has also created such illusion in photographs. From an arranged perspective, some frogs look as if they are hiding in the background. In fact the frogs were not always hiding when I saw them. Like showing an invisible man in sci-fi movies, the audience’s awareness relies on the object’s on-and-off appearances. However, unlike sci-fi movies, “Frog” is not made by special effects but purely by wind, wave and light refraction, creating a magical experience and a retro form of digital.

Hsiao Sheng-Chien’s “Frog”

While shooting “Clockwork Inc.” I kept trying to capture how kids played with it, especially the moments when they rolled the handle and the the light suddenly went on. They also had to keep on rolling to provide power or the light would go off. In the sense of transforming movement into a visual form, “Clockwork Inc.” is similar to other installations in the festival. What’s special about the work is how short the light lasts. When you roll once it blinks once, and you will have to roll again. This reminds me of the development of the camera. Before 1839, there were already machines similar to cameras that through a set of mechanism they projected images, like how “Clockwork Inc.” produces light via the installation. Artists and scientists, however, could not manage to preserve images until the invention of photography. Coincidentally or not, the rise of photography happened at the same time as the industrial age; we are able to connect the preservation of images with the preservation of electric power. This leads to a conclusion that after human intervention, it’s possible to “accumulate” a certain things, and gradually achieve something else that is beyond individual effort, for instance, civilization.

Chiu Chao-Tsai‘s“Clock work.inc”

“Sun Magic Cube” by Liao Chien-Chung, on the other hand, is a piece relatively difficult to capture. It looks like an everyday installation you see in the park—almost a bit like the sculptures in the 228 Park. Or if you are familiar with Transformer, it would perhaps remind you of the “All Sparks” in the movie. The solar panel surface makes viewers wonder if it can actually generate electricity. The meaning of this artwork is ambiguous: It can be a tangible pun, as well as a familiar homonym in contemporary art. Or maybe the photograph of it doesn’t matter at all. It’s only an image and a sign. Or maybe this is closer to the world a child sees. Before any imagination starts, things are where the finger points.

“Sun Magic Cube” by Liao Chien-Chung

Yu Cheng-Da’s installation is the most challenging one to the photographer, because there was just nothing to photograph. His work challenges also our concept of “connection”. After you scan the QR code, a tutorial video comes up. The form itself interests me more than the tutorial, as it can be seen as a return from the digital world. Children of the internet era are long used to entering a more fruitful world via connection/links. Just like in photography, with digital cameras, as soon as you press the shutter you see the image immediately, similar to scanning a QR code or clicking a website link. Back in the days of negatives, you would have to wait for a long period of time when you see the picture, and there were complicated theories and mechanisms behind this gap between action and presentation. These are the details that have lost during the process of evolution, and Yu’s work has managed to delay this outcome. 

if we divide the entire exhibition into two categories, one about the interface and the other about the transformation, Yao Chung-Han’s "AEM#7" is the hub connecting the two categories. On one hand it can activate lights, and on the other hand it can be connected to the weather program and change the lights. As a history major graduate, the installation reminds me of the ancient saying of “interaction between man and the universe”. Of course in this installation the sound is not directly connected to the actual weather, but they both were simulated into the same form, a set of codes composed of lights via which man and the universe communicate. I also wonder if it is possible for the sound of camera shutter to trigger the change of lights; When the environment is quieter, the act of taking photos will automatically affect the lights, which will then make it impossible for the photographer to have an objective photograph, like how the principle of uncertainty has taught us.

Ride in the Rain”by Tseng Wei-Hao

Part II. To Contemporary Society

In Part II I want to discuss the relationship between “Electri-City”and the contemporary society. This is also relevant to the previous section about perspectives. Our current world has already been overwhelmed by images, presumed positions and keywords, where the social filters make us see the world without actually seeing it. When artists provide another way of seeing, like the innocent eye of the camera and a child, they will also initiate an examination towards the society.

It’s natural for “Electri-City”, a public art event sponsored by Taiwan Power Company, to discuss topics such as energy. When artists tackle these topics with a “retro” tone, using forms such as kinetic installation, hand, water, or bicycles, the works may convey a rather environmental message to viewers; or viewers may see them as site specific projects reflecting the consumer society. While contemporary artists continue to create more “products” which only end up in the storage afterwards, installations in “Electri-City” are closer to daily life and can be utilised for a long period of time.

Chiu Chao-Tsai‘s“Clock work.inc”

However, in addition to the eco aspect, I think the artistic value of “Electri-City”is more worth noting, as it reflects on a familiar form of contemporary art. We now know too well about the concept of “readymade” in contemporary art. Some may complain art nowadays does not look like art anymore. Let us look at the definition of readymade art by Jeff Wall: In 《Mark of indifference》, he considers that conceptual art has established two principles in art which are then applied in contemporary/readymade art. The first principle is art has to resort to something outside art, and the second principle is the original function of something outside art will therefore be cancelled out.  (The general public often are puzzled by how rubbishes can be art, yet in fact, this new thinking, which comes from cancelling out the appearances and skills of art, may actually be closer to art itself.) The second principle usually propels artists to dismiss the daily functions of readymade objects. For example, as we can see in many early conceptual artworks, the artists attempted to create a setting which was mundane (unlike art), but at the same time secluded from everyday life, like an enclosed studio, or a random jump.

The major obstacle for readymade art is when there are more and more artworks made of something outside art, and a system has been established by artists, critics and curators, readymade art stops carrying artistic meanings. “Electri-City”is inspiring in this sense, as it is essentially a public art event related to children’s participation, it doesn’t need elaborated artistic forms. This does not mean the artists had less artistic judgements in the forms taken. Instead, this means that the forms do not require the audience to be equipped with much knowledge in art in order to appreciate the works. Therefore, when artists attempt to connect with everyday life, they focus on their existence in it instead of trying to transform everyday objects into artworks, so the connection between art and everyday life becomes natural and genuine. For example, in this exhibition, the benches in the park function also as labels, or in the case of “Frog”, it has joined an old installation to form a new set of works. Allow me to emphasise my point again: What’s important is neither form nor function, but how art can combine with the original functions of objects and transform into something new. Here I would like to mention Joyce Ho’s work: Strictly speaking it doesn’t have much practical function, such as providing a space for rest, and it is not an extremely sophisticated work in the sense of artistic form. It’s artistic value (if this is the term we have to use) lies in how it connects seemingly unrelated objects and turns them into something perceivable. Children may not think too much about it, however, to a person who is deeply alienated like me, seeing this installation is like discovering a whole new existence.

 The view of Taiwan Power Company (TPC) 2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival

Event at Taiwan Power Company (TPC) 2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival(Photographed by: Wong Cheng-Hsiang)

Another fascinating aspect of “Electri-City” is the dialogue it enables between generations. When every kid now has a mobile phone, “Electri-City” is a challenge posted by the previous generation. The curator and the artists are telling children that the real world can still be interesting and full of imagination. The concept also sounds retro, but it is a contemporary experience as well. Just asJean Baudrillardargues, a contemporary form of image, “simulation”, is no longer the imitation of the reality, but came from a certain model instead. We might have doubts: It is true that we are overwhelmed by all sorts of images from media, but can we go on and claim “the Gulf War did not take place”? For both Baudrillard  and the audience of “Electri-City”, it might be natural to have experiences of mixing authentic and simulated images. As Baudrillard explained in his article, if today someone just“pretended” to be a bank robber, customers would still freak out and the guards would still take actions. Because for many people, their perception of real bank robbery comes from the theatre’s simulation of real life. This is also how children’s world functions. Therefore when children attend events of “Electri-City”, the world is just as real as the perspectives designed by the curator, the actors in the theatre groups, and the artworks by the artists.

There is, however, a major difference between simulation and a child’s view. The model behind “simulation” is operated by all sorts of commercial, national and capitalistic logics. If we look at those characters in MVs, games and cosplays, the assembled, disintegrated, duplicated and replicated figures are problematic because of the suspicious intention of their initiators. Their cute innocent appearances are, in Guy Debord’s concept, the image of capital accumulation. In the end, there is no imagination at all. Audiences are simply directed from one reality to another. Nevertheless, the initiator of “Electri-City” is an artist, and the characters created by the artists require the participation of the audience. Therefore the imagination of “Electri-City” is not as simplified. The animation of a “barrier” in mobile games is far more complicated than Joyce Ho’s installation, but children can still easily fill in the blank and pass through the barrier.

The view of Taiwan Power Company (TPC) 2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival

So the real difference between the internet generation and the previous one may not be that the former is false and the latter is true, but the opposite. Before the digital era when the information was not so sufficient, children had to imagine the world on their own: We exchanged limited comic books with friends and watched poor-quality satellite TV, or we looked up to those next-door kids who were a little older than us, depending on their whims to transform messy bedrooms, department store escalators, or a bench in the park into game scenes, so the little kids can be taken into an imaginary world. After the digital era came, little kids do not need big brothers anymore. Instead, a ready and organised world awaits right in their ipads.

However, rather than a reminiscence of the past, “Electri-City” is a combination of old and new experiences, with both craft made card games and film/photo making activities. The curator has given these retro installations a contemporary game structure, just like how a big brother turns a sofa into a mountain to climb. Here the artworks become the sofa and combine artists’ creativity with children’s imagination. I like this arrangement not only for how these two closely resonate with each other, but also because they are two systems with parts waiting to be connected, like how art and daily life should go hand in hand as we discussed in previous paragraphs. The festival has disintegratedcritical attempts to resort to an old-fashioned, familiar interpretation, and instead requiresparticipants’ ability to connect and organise. At this moment, the audience’s eyes are cameras. So maybe after years passed, when their childhood fantasy gradually recedes and memories fade like old photographs, they will realise that those big brothers back in the days have left them something even more precious than fun and imagination.

Wang Jun-Yuan’s “Electri-fortress



Written & photographed by Wong Cheng-Hsiang
From Taipei. MA of the Department of History, National Taiwan University. Also attended School of The Museum of Fine Art for a Master degree of Art. Now living between Bitan and Taipei. Freelance. Photographer and photography critic. Can see and knows how to press the shutter.