- Surmounting_ Hsu Yunghsu Solo Exhibition in 2020
Surmounting_ Hsu Yunghsu Solo Exhibition in 2020
- Surmounting: Hsu Yunghsu Solo Exhibition in 2020
Surmounting: Hsu Yunghsu Solo Exhibition in 2020
Texts by Hsu Hui-Hsuan
Mobilize One's Body
Now, one perceives Hsu Yunghsu's works—not just with one's sight for this time.
You prepare you own body, and so begins the process of reading Hsu's art. First of all, you see the gigantic works spread in this site—you have not decided whether to follow the exhibition flow or not, hence you decide to do a warmup. As you deeply breathes in, the center of consciousness runs through your body from the top of the nose, made its way to your chest via abdomen, and, like a flowing wave, softly messages your shoulders which was slightly tilting, having been rushing about.
The horizontal works on the wall may, like opening arms, attempt to take hold of you. With a force that conquers, this thick, broad mantle runs into you and expands beyond your sight. Simultaneously, your eyes may be looking for a way to feast on this visual abundance. As you eyes keep shifting their focus, your steps move forward, measuring the distance between the work and yourself. Both your sight and your consciousness are searching for a resting place. During this attempt, your eyelids and eyeballs gently sooth each other and hence they don't feel dry even when you stare hard. Then your feet step forward according to their unique flow and by doing so, have traced a model for this continuous reading progress on the ground.
On the other side of the room, a lofty, perpendicular work stands in front of you as your toes make a slight effort to grip the ground, though unaware. This lofty shape also draws one's chin up, which slowly stretches the thin skin on your neck upward, as the muscles on your cheeks feel a moving, increasing force. The concurrent effects of this series of continuous movement has brought forth some psychological pressure, and together, for a moment, cause you nervousness and excitement. Accordingly, the contour of your collarbone appears under your skin as you breathe, and the hollow between your diaphragm and heart also vibrates. Perhaps even the pores on your skin itch and tingle while your heels might be slightly off the ground at this moment.
You might have perceived it all—there are more twists and turns under the facade of this progress. You must slowly tilt your body and lean your neck at a comfortable angle, and feel the distinct sense of tension in both sides of your body—to an extent that your ear may almost touch your shoulder, to be able to detect more delicate inward details. Currently, your sight is participating in this inner play as it wanders between these hard-earned plot twists. The private quality of seeing is also forming an experience, that is, a series of visual images which you can replay again and again. For how many levels, has your mind been challenged and subverted as it travels with your sight all this time? It is only known to yourself, when your sight is fixed on the inner realm. Eventually, you are free to choose another, different path as your body moves towards the next work—as you are detaching from your original position with a different posture, and move away.
As the audience choose to read Hsu's art with their own body, these miniature movements which happen around one's body within the blink of an eye might be only a fraction of a prelude. The boundary between one's body and consciousness gradually disappears in this art site and in the exterior space of these works, and one's subtle movements are like a micro migration and crossover. Perhaps, in a certain moment in which body works in sync with consciousness, the audience may eventually experience a sense of mobility, repeatedly accumulated within Hsu's original creative state.
“As my body is on the move, I let go of the consciousness at the moment it appears, still it follows me, and still I am running forward.”—Hsu Yunghsu
Like a ritual, Hsu often jogs all the way to his studio, then he begins working intensively for about 8 hours. It sounded like a rural legend of Guantian, Tainan to me as I first heard this. Perhaps, the bodily experience via exercise in Hsu's statement sounds even more bizarre. While his body is in the state of a continuous movement, in his mind, he simultaneously attempts to achieve another kind of movement—to evoke, then discard, his subject of consciousness. I try to imagine: during a sweltering, early morning in southern Taiwan, this jogger unceasingly moves forward as his mind and body search for a balance, and sweats heavily during this movement. Perhaps, for a moment his work schedule comes to his mind and this thought from the consciousness effects the body's movement; perhaps his steps and breathing suddenly lose their rhythm.
Mobility is truly a common position in life—it does not merely mean exercises or physical movements. On a smaller scale, it can be a walk on the streets from home to one's workplace or a trip afar; on a larger scale it also includes long-distance migration, and emigration/immigration. The visible result of mobility is physical displacement, while the process is an ongoing flow, woven by a series of nodes—the subject, the medium of mobility, the motivation and the following effects of mobility. Hsu chooses his own body as the medium to his travel to work, which is an endeavor on the border area of a transportation system; simultaneously Hsu is master to his speed control. He seeks to hold his freedom of mobility to the maximum, and, with his body, imprints a moving trace of 16km on this earth. Hsu never seems to cease moving, he is a fast-paced flaneur.
On mobility—in 2020, a significant turning point appeared and has forced the mobility around the globe to cease temporarily. After the pandemic situation since early spring in 2020, the world which used to be closer due to convenience of ways to travel was never the same, and the entire concept of mobility seems to have taken a huge turn. It is as if the world must instantly download the latest version of mobility, as the convenience in life and the scale of mobility which we were used to was forced to be put off. Yet when our physical freedom to travel is restricted, our collective desire for mobility was hence evoked—even mobility on a very small scale, such as being able to have roadtrips and outings, has become a scarce and cherished thing. If we could represent the outline of mobility before 2020, due to our dependance upon the massive transportation system as the medium, and that numerous individuals constructed their overlapping traces—it would mostly be linear and multidimensional, with its shape similar to an expansive web with multiple nodes. At present, due to this temporary stagnation, the world which builds its transportation network by collective mobile behaviors and base its social observation upon group phenomena, has ceased to work. Thus, many more dots of small-scaled, internal expansion have appeared in the territory of mobility. Each of these surrounds a core of an individual per se and digs into the inner part of this individual, and hence create countless mini, cavelike, negative spaces in the outline of collective mobility. During this period of stagnation, the track of each individual's inner movements becomes manifest—and that is similar to the audience pacing slowly by an artwork, experiencing a sense of psychological mobility.
Studio as the Artist's Body
In a short documentary of Hsu's work at the studio, there's a video clip, made by the technique of remaking and collage, in which numerous figures of the artist at work show up, as if the results accumulated by time are suddenly unzipped. This clip evokes a fancy: if one could stay in Hsu's studio, observe his creative process of long hours, and, consider the artist's body as a dot, then day after day his physical movement would outline a multidimensional shape of body tracks. Hence his creative works are hidden within this outer shell model as if they're covered by layers of formwork and scaffolding.
An artist's studio is not a soft, pleasant place to be, for it's full of environmental variables and manmade commercial equipment. The user's flow, the overall division of areas, the installation of hardware facilities and some intricate track components are deployed within this actual space according to the artist's extensive work experience and the current moving patterns he has developed. Some of these are fixated installations—openings of the space and round shaped exhaust fans, which are both mounted upon the rooftop in a regularly spaced manner. The mechanic of these fan blades relies on exterior air flow, and thus at times they spin intensely, and at times almost cease; the egg-shaped, moving shadows ( see image 1) are the tracks of several fans, projected on the ground, as if they're making a rhythm of irregularity in this studio. The four gas fired kilns have occupied quite a lot of space, and one is able to imagine the scale of the works inside according to the size of these kilns, which is that of mini houses. There are several holes in each kiln, which allows the artist to watch the fires, as the changes observed from these holes are his basis for judgement. Next to the kilns is usually a wider open space; this area provides the works the necessary space to turn and move while a track into the kiln is settled in front of each door, and the floor is usually kept clean and tidy. The hanging roller chains, designed to carry the works horizontally, are set above the main working area, being in scale with stackers, various customized table saws, and shelves which are constructed by the artist. These manmade, industrial instruments are like various prostheses which are connected with the artist's flesh, in between the artist's body and his consciousness; they work out this massive yet delicate mobility along the artist's side.
Surrounded by such industrial equipment—the artist continues to press and form his clay, as his arms, shoulders, torso and footsteps are simultaneously at work. In his hands, the piece of clay is being shaped into a fraction of a larger piece, and the clay body in front of him gradually dries as the air humidity also drops. He ought to pay attention, not only to shaping his clay, but also to the degree of wetness of the clay and the water of his own body. Besides taking care of both the work and himself, what else is on the artist's mind during a creative process? He is also feeling a bodily experience of mobility, akin to his jogging routine, during a movement which is at the edge of one's physical limits, where the distinction between mobility and labor gradually becomes uncertain. When one's consciousness and bodily functions are entangled at this edge, strong forces that emerge from struggles can push the jogger forward; yet the artist pulls these forces out in a creative process, and so marks them onto clay by the weight of his body, and so leaves the traces of mobility as an artist in his life's journey.
Roads and Maps
Hsu's profound practice of mobility is confirmed, and not only for his routine of jogging. He has an extreme sensitivity when it comes to the traffic system—names of roads, navigation, and the shifting between the main road systems, such as sequences of cities on a highway, rest areas, exits, national highways, expressways and even navigation between industrial roads... It is as if there's an animated map structure inside his head. These systems are the medium by which individual drivers can speed on forward. We can calculate the accumulated driving distance from degree of tire wear; and by the animate, visual images of mobility, the sensational melody of mobility is well-composed. Even the routes of travelers with different destinations may somehow overlap; it could be passing each other by on the spiral structure of a highway exit, or simultaneously enjoying a temporary break at service area. The traffic system shapes the basic form for social, collective mobility, as people encounter each other and part within this process.
Hsu's works in 2020 may be deemed an assemblage of mobility of all kinds, as they are akin to constructing a grand travel. In English, “travel” is a process of moving from a place to another—a journey with some degree of distance. The root of “travel” is “travail”, which signifies “labor” and “toil”, expressing meaning of “trouble”, “torture” or “torment”. When “travail" is a noun, one of its meanings is “gestation”, and another is “labor”. Access to mobility has been a human need, perhaps for the sake of better living, or perhaps it is a motivation of life which pushes one forward, and will not stay in the same zone permanently. Today, due to encouragement by various consumer events, development of technology and the mass media, the meaning of travel has turned into a collective, touristy daydream, a reward for our daily toil and stress. At the same time, such a daydream is in fact only a restrained leisure. One may be free to wear a printed top, normally forbidden at workplace, or carry a natural material woven bag into which one cannot fit a laptop—but then when one enters the massive transportation system and the bell rings, everyone in the crowd is squeezed into a black, plastic tube, and it flings off like a high-speed transmission. Like X or Y, everyone is substituted into a formula and has a known, default route. The destination is like a floating image glowing afar from the other side of the tunnel. Presently, inside one's mind, this image is corresponding to the mediumized memories of images, as the hotel, drink bar and swimming pools one has seen countless times on social media shall soon eventually shine into the traveler's eyes. Whether it is a short trip or a long journey, it is exhausting for one's body to remain inside a shell with very limited space—driving, riding or flying in a postures that are different from our habits—not to mention in the past, the manner and time cost of travel would cause a greater burden to human body, and that is probably the reason of “labor” or “torture” in travel's original definition. Yet, as we closely observe Hsu's creative journey, we discover that a convenient, public transportation system does not exist in the world of his creation. For he is an absolute pioneer, who would rather build the link road from his inner world to the external, bit by bit.
In fact, each series of classic, diverse forms in Hsu's previous works all signify certain aspects of his deep concern in life. Hsu is a person of integrity—he has a sense of appropriateness in all he does and is generous to others. Together, his cautious attitude and his precise boundaries during work mode create an obvious distinction to his usual, passionate look. He is used to detaching the hardships, sweetness, and ups and downs in personal life from his works, as he concentrates only upon the pureness of art which he pursues. Only in some interviews and narratives of others, we catch a glimpse of Hsu's silhouette beside his creative life. Yet I, as a close family member to him, still find it extremely difficult to depict Hsu while I am responsible for this essay on Hsu's current solo exhibition. It is a challenge to be detached from my observations of him over the years, and I should not subjectively over-describe hsu as a person apart from his art.
Among his classic works, it is necessary to first discuss the prototype of his bowl shape. It was during his artist-in-residence project in the United States, under a state in which his body and mind both felt exhausted and chaotic—he kneaded this component from clay unintentionally, yet it was the significant turning point to his recent creation. I didn't see the small, bowl-shaped prototype from that time with my own eyes, yet according to his account by words, it was a moment of epiphany which only artists experience. When the artist suddenly has a strong gut feeling, any other evidence would be redundant, and he knew this object is like a treasure to him. He carefully put it on the shelf, he said, for he was sure he needed to keep it, though it looked plain. In a country far from home, here was an artist who discovered a gleam of light and was very excited; he had been wandering for so long, wasn't this what he had been waiting for? Yet this light of epiphany was also vague, words could not describe it nor could he share it with anyone else. While he was struck with excitement in his soul, the deep, down echo inside of him was a strong sense go loneliness. He looked at this weak object, measured the depth of this small bowl—could this bear the artist's intense thrust of self-discovery? This contrast must have felt obvious and forceful in Hsu's mind. Later, Hsu tried to construct works of gigantic volume with bowl-shaped components—constructed unit by unit, similar to collective housing, where every unit is a internal, independent space yet the privacy of each unit is well maintained besides the collective body of a community. Is this aggregate a kind of nest constructed by the scattered pieces of his soul to him, as he was so far from home?
Hsu's series of streamline, ribbon-shaped one-piece demonstrates strength and forcefulness, its light yet lofty aura is a result of the artist's progression in application media and his personal limits. Parts of works from this series are rooted in various places around the globe with fierce vitality, and they have survived wind, rain and snow at outdoor sites, like avatars of the artist's strong will. Perhaps it is also an embodiment of the artist's personality—there's almost a madness which drives him to pursue excellence in all he does, which others cannot understand. Back in his school days, Hsu was a member of the track and field team who would exhaust himself to win in a competition, To save money for English reference books, he would starve himself during lunchtime, and go to a tree in the campus just to avoid the smell of others' lunchboxes. Having graduated from school, as a daytime teacher in an elementary school he also invested a long period of time learning how to play guzheng. Being thus self-taught, in 1984 he held his own guzheng recital in Taipei and Kaohsiung. Today, he studies cooking recipes in the middle of the night when he reaches a low period in creative life, and resolves his stress by making laborious cuisine, and baking. Without knowing these previous tracks in his life, one may not fully grasp the ever-present competitiveness in Hsu's personal character.
As for the mysterious objects with the form like interwoven ivies and leaves from fantasies—personally, I consider this form a rather romantic, even fantastical, area in the artist's inner world. Hsu is singularly fond of walls covered by climbing plants. Passing by the road, he would stay and listen to the melody of the breeze and rustling leaves, and he has arranged an area for plants to grow in both his home and studio. He also has a love for things with fantastical spirits and a science fiction atmosphere. Once, at midnight, I was brought to a wide prairie in Kenting, just to gaze upon the Leonids—today I still clearly remember the sound of a fireball passing through the sky and the bright, glowing stroke it painted in the night air. Hsu is also keen on TV dramas about scientific discoveries, including Sci-fi dramas, such as MacGyver and Star Trek, broadcasted via the 3 channels every weekend in the early years in Taiwan, and I was familiar with these sci-fi plots ever since childhood.
These trivial, fragmentary things in Hsu's life mentioned above may appear irrelevant, yet each of them is an important node/spot on a bigger map. There is a wise sense of observation in Hsu's character—he recognizes that the seemingly identical yet different components are able to bring forth a qualitative change by layering each upon the others. He is a person who believes man's will can surpass existing limitations, and this quality has formed a down-to-earth, flexible yet diligent practitioner.
The View and the Secret Realm
A change of visual forms has been appearing in Hsu's art ever since late 2019. We can perceive this change, which speaks up in a clearer tone, from the works in the solo exhibition Surmounting. This is not merely a change of sculpture forms, for the works tell of the artist's ideological progression and advancement. Large, wide clay bands quietly appear on top of structures made with bowl-shaped bits (image 6), and boldly they cover, twist and intertwine with each other upon the mass of dense, repeatedly layered bowl-shapes. Those bands are like roads, built up by the kneaded texture of thumbs (image 7), and there is definitely not one smooth road. The structure with bowl-shapes supports the base of these roads, as if they are existence of gentleness, setting an aura of tranquility and peacefulness. The twisting, narrow trail and ditches which occasionally emerge beside main roads (image 8) create the hideaway in which one's visual and psychological momentum can hide into and find rest. There are also bridges and gateways at times, interconnecting to each other between the wide, main roads—where the audience can exchange a look with each other or shift their focus—like highway interchanges that interconnects the dots from various directions and so form a woven net.
At the beginning of this writing, I have invited the audience to perceive Hsu' latest works via their own bodily senses. These works are not created only for the sake of the artist's personal need for mobility; he has built layers and layers of uphill paths and constructed the bridge of communication. Together these endeavors have demonstrated, and preserved, an openness which allows the audience to take pleasure in the same scenery. All one has to do is to picture seeing artwork as a travel experience. Standing afar, it is like looking at a map of vast areas from a distant vantage point. Yet if one attempts to stay next to a piece, linger just a while longer, find a spot one wants to reach and follow the directions and zoom in, one will gradually find a unique path according to the body's guide. Then one will experience the journey designed by the artist during this traveling process of one's vision—and feel one's mind, which moves forward by imagination, being anxious yet thrilled, as if it is traveling to a foreign place for the first time.
This work series adopts the picture of an architecture, and it contains many belt-shapes that are akin to spiral staircases and detailed compartments. The hollow structure has brought flexibility into the process of seeing, as if the secret realm was just within one's reach. (image 10)
Hsu's Surmounting is not about hoping for the euphoria moment of reaching one's gaol. It is the artist's unceasing pursuit for a balance of movements, both internal and external, at every moment of mobility—every work out exercise and every eureka moment during his creative process. An agile state in which he precisely controls the margin of mobility as he lingers in between spirit, body and the external things that surrounds him. This requires profound conversations with oneself over years, especially as all sorts of imbalance of the external world can make life tough, in this process of self-training, the artist must find an approach via which he could be gracefully undisturbed.
From some certain perspectives, Hsu may seem to present a quality of affliction. As an artist, repeatedly, his bodily pains continue to pile up while his works become the incarnation of massive labor. Under certain circumstances, the artist's personal life experiences in my description might overrule the spiritual aspects which the works per se may demonstrate to the audience. Yet via the curatorial thinking process for this solo exhibition, I attempt to bring up viewpoints from another perspective. Currently, Hsu is very likely still working intensely in his studio—heaving sweating, hustling around… Most of the time he pours himself into his works in progress, yet he is also responsible for all sorts of trivial, mundane tasks which require massive information processing. But when it comes to his control over mind and body—he is seemingly in a continual process of self-freeing, self-surpassing and self-delight. It is, perhaps, due to his learned experience gained from the exercise of jogging over these years, or the contemplative understanding gifted by time. Regardless of the speed, as long as he continues to move forward, gradually sceneries will be emerging along his way. In a manner reminiscent of the process by which a piece of clay in one's hand is becoming artwork, Hsu is immersed in the scenery of each moment and in every minute that the clay is being formed into its shape. This is the secret development of the artist's creative state and the subtle feeling which moves the artist, and Surmounting is thus shaped with these unrevealed moments. We could call his diligent and down-to-earth endeavors as a labor of body. Yet the repeating movements of body is like each training of exercise, a cycle between destruction and construction akin to a kind of metabolism. And the chain reactions they bring will accompany Hsu as he constructs a moving route to his destination. As part of the audience, you may have already discovered: if you're not anxious looking for the side information of Hsu's art when you approach the display room, and if you let your body approach the works with their own intuition—you will gradually find the secret realm which you thought were in somewhere faraway, in fact, revealed in each moment when the audience encounters with these works.