Finish year

On Site–Multitute : Chen Chieh-jen on “Realm of Reverberations"

“I am so amateur, and I can’t even narrate a clear story. When I shoot in color, it looks like black and white; when I shoot in black and white, it is still black and white, in short there are non-interesting films”. This is CHEN Chieh-jen’s favorite joke. However, there is meticulous consensus lying behind. Be it the materiality of images, black image, inserts and repeated image of moving images seen from human’s eye, all explained the existing but un-noticeable ruptures and gaps, and even filming as a self-organized action, and screening as a kind of calling and re-gather. CHEN Chieh-jen cares about re-imagination and re-narration through gaps of history and material, as well as to produce various kinds of non-material sensation, and furthermore to highlight dynamics of each individuals. This is a place where any forms of control or biopolitics could not completely conceal or penetrate. It will be given a voice again, continuing and crashing in forms of reverberation, waiting for that particular moment.

"Reverberations" signify echo of diverse sound and random clashes of the material or the non-material. They then continue to spread as new sound that has neither begun nor ended. The term “realm” originally came from Buddhist Sutra. Within great chiliocosm are the incessant conflicts and merging of numerous small chiliocosms. Hence he sees human bodies and conscious as this kind of intermediate condition. It is a dynamic process CHEN Chieh-jen regards as “realm of reverberations”.

CHEN Chieh-jen once cited Chiang Wei-shui: Taiwanese Public Funeral Ritual, a documentary filmed by Risaburo in 1931, as an example to explain dynamics of the multitude. CHIANG Wei-shui passed away due to typhoid in 1931. A large-scale funeral with participation of more than 5,000 people was recorded and saved through photography, technology of the colonizer. The 5,000 participants (survivors of the “Security Police Incident”, a Japanese repression in 1923) and people who watched the film, could be identify as “pluralistic double”, associating the CHIANG Wei-shui’s spirit, the anti-colonial national self-determination movement. They revealed themselves collectively in forms of the haunted.

CHIANG Wei-shui established the Taiwanese Cultural Association in 1921. Among it was the screening movement called “Bitai Thoan”, in which the Taiwanese narrators distort and translate films that carry colonialism ideology. From here developed a non-material re-imagination and re-narration, which eventually became an anti-colonization micro overturn movement. It was a re-gather movement of the survivors and the re-born, a demonstration of people’s power. Though the multitudes shown inside the film were constantly moving, blur and unrecognizable, the impact expanded from reverberations of memory could develop into thousands kinds of “non-material film”. This example is CHEN Chieh-jen’s reference point to develop his resisting movement, when facing neo-liberalism within contemporary society, as well as penetrating into bio-political control of the inner desire. Often times, CHEN Chieh-jen cited LU Bing-ding, one of the narrators from “Bitai Thoan”. LU Bing-ding always wore a sunglass. It is said that he was suffering from Hansen’s disease and detained in the Losheng Sanatorium. However, his name doesn’t exist in the patient’s inventory or the death list. Provided by descendants of LU Bing-ding, probably the only survived photograph of “Bitai Thoan”, showed the image where the narrator was advancing anti-colonial sentiment to the public in a film screening. This photograph left behind all sorts of imagination and inspiration. Did LU Bing-ding wear sunglass because the light shone from the sun on the imperial flag was too hot? Didn’t his detention in Losheng Sanatorium explain his infectious identity, also being forbidden and being excluded from voicing out and writing? (note 1)

CHEN Chieh-jen confronts similar absence in his own personal experience, be it on-site or in memory. He used to tell stories of his absence during some of the most important events in his life, such as birth and death of family members. “I often say that I used to be in pain. I hadn’t create any work for 8 years (1987-1996). I didn’t know what contemporary art is doing. Then I felt an urge to start speaking about my family”. He put his experience together through a map which consisted of military court and prison (now the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial), illegal buildings of Xindian creek, Yuandong Industrial Export Processing Zone, military factory of the American army, military dependents’ village where he lived as a child (lots of men and fathers in the military dependents’ village were sent to mainland China for anti-communist undercover task), anti-communist national salvation army’s sanatorium. It takes only about ten minutes to walk around the above six places where together connect CHEN Chieh-jen’s growth experience, spanking also weighty hidden memories in regard of the cold war and fluctuation.

Images of memories are sometimes strange and could not be re-interpreted. How does these heterogeneous “images” expand through filming and screening? From Lingchi – Echoes of a Historical Photograph (2002), Factory (2006), Military Court and Prison (2008), Empire’s Border series (2009, 2010), Happiness Building I (2012), CHEN Chieh-jen switched from 16mm and 35mm film to Red Epic camera. However, can we call him a film director? Though Military Court and Prison, which ran over an hour, was screened in a cinema (2008 P.O.P Cinema’s Body Song Film Festival), I am afraid that audiences had a hard time to accept the work as a “film”. While in the exhibition hall, people intrude the work without knowing the beginning or the end. Could people watch the entire film in the exhibition hall? His works are hard to categorized, for either art or film. These categorizations are probably not important for him. His intention is to initiate dynamics and post-movement continuation. His progressive thinking has already put categorizations, transformation of material and aesthetic forms behind.

After going through deportation and demolition in 2008, it has been over ten years since the Losheng Preservation Movement started in 2004. The residents gradually withered, ruptures on the land continually enlarge, and threats of landslide never stop. What sound did the movement leave after reaching its peak?

Consisted of four independent single channel videos (note 2), Realm of Reverberations fictionalized the journey of a ghost from the Taipei prison to Losheng, freeze the inner landscape of the residents and the one who accompanied them, as well as displayed the width and depth of time and space, allowing us to witness modernity control between another movement (cultural revolution) and the colonized. Let us listen to CHEN Chieh-jen, sharing his thoughts on image, movement and people within.

Q: Reverberation implies continual echoes and expansions. It also refers to the re-narration of daily lives. The four videos, Keeping Company, Tree Planters, The Suspended Room and Tracing Forward have chosen respectively CHANG Fang-chi, resident, Chinese bride and political prisoner as entry points. How do you consider the relations between these lines and the site?

CHEN Chieh-jen:
Site carries various meanings. The site of a movement is a node to gather, also an explosion of energy at that very moment. Site is also complicated. Not only the main narration, there are also people on the side. There are a lot of minor questions beyond the urgency of the movement. The meaning of site is constantly changing. The year 1927 marks a historic moment in particular. When Japanese drew the architecture plan and decided to build this sanatorium, incidents after were destined to happen. This includes the high suicidal rate among residents due to DDS drug during American relief era (note 3). Everything is connected. Site is not only multilayered but is constantly changing. Then, where is site? When there are bottlenecks and depression in the movement, what are the possibilities? If art is still useful, it has to be done through imagination and creative works.

Development of modernity is not absolute negative. Of course sanatorium and prison represent the negative side. But besides preserving Losheng and anti-developmentalism, could the movement opens up other imagination beyond binary or dialectical logic (I called them “heterogeneous perception”) as reference for the future? Losheng Preservation Movement naturally moved towards anti-developmentalism. However, there is nothing wrong with developmentalism or the residents’ desire, they were only used. We tie together Rapid Transit and head of Department of Rapid Transit Systems, which is what politicians will do. It can easily drain the movement into a simple logic, that is, in order to preserve Losheng, we have to be against the development. After all these years, what did the Losheng Preservation Movement bring us? If it is not against development, then how many modules or possibilities are there for the development?

When I was making Happiness Building I, I asked Fang-chi one night when we were in Losheng (note 4) - where was she when the forced deportation happened? She said, she was in the striking site, watching television live broadcast with the residents. She never came out, and the forced deportation happened in front of them, divided only by a wall. That building was not demolished, facing fences around the rapid transit construction site, while way up front is a hollow slope. We stood by the slope, and the main demonstration has already vanished, turning into a gigantic hole, but the house where she stayed was still standing. If you stand there during the night, you will see construction workers, night-lights, and workers’ dormitory. You will realize that is a temporary condition, which will disappear after the construction accomplished. It was as if painting and erasing constantly on a canvas that landscape keep changed and cannot be identified. Many people have participated in Losheng, but now almost every trace has gone.

Fang-chi participated in the Losheng Preservation Movement since she was 18. It has been 8 years now. She always said she is making “records”. The records she meant are big piles of strange unwanted papers, newspapers, and scribbles of her feelings when keeping the residents’ company. She has made lots of sketches, but not according to linear time. There are also some writings behind those sketch papers, sometimes citations of a philosopher. People decreased gradually after the forced demolishment in 2008, there are only few of the Losheng youth remain. Fang-chi has been there for 6 years. The others always laughed at her, saying she produces nothing. However, I’m thinking of the meanings of that huge pile of records.

It is also interesting that Fang-chi is not the core member of the movement. She is not one of those who could participate in the major discussions. She kept the residents’ company, those who were not from the self-help organization. She kept them company for over half year, so many trivial things were written on the records. However, she didn’t make any record when the resident passed away, and only started to write those weird records long after. If it could be published, it would be a kind of encouragement since we are too scared to talk about various perspectives beside the core narrative.

Core narrative of the social movement, oral history of the residents, thesis and documented images were basically in the same compound. People who are not able to enter the oral history could never be narrated. The movement was enlightening many of the “Losheng youth” when they were in university or graduate school. I’m wondering when they first encountered the complexities within the movement, how did they articulate their interwoven personal experience? I would consider CHANG Fang-chi’s inner monologue and memory puzzle as “sentimental records”. They could reflect various kinds of imaginations of one generation towards the movement. I chose Fang-chi because that is the most politically incorrect. She never joined the group of “Losheng youth”, but this incident definitely influence her life. She accompanied an old man from external province. However, his accent was too strong, so the two of them could not really communicate. Many discussions will quickly become politically correct during the movement. In fact, Fang-chi would like to connect her records to something, but she did not know how to, so something heterogeneous grows.

Trees planted by residents of the sanatorium were also significant. It has progressive meaning that 800 trees guarded the sanatorium and the residents for 80 years. It also means another kind of development, different from notions of residents nearby. It is the battle between two kinds of imagination. The meaning of planting trees is actually very complicated as they were restricted in the sanatorium. They were probably bored, or it was just an order from the officer. They planted 800 trees, regardless if it was intentional or unintentional, something blossomed and each trees grew into big trees. Trees can maintain soils of the land, which is another form of life development.

We invited Fu-tzu to sing on the mountain and tell her story. As she saw the construction site and car park, she thought of her home, which was once there. After the first recording, I thought it was good and intended to film another take. However the second recording was totally different. I couldn’t understand the lyrics and she forgot what she sang. The singing was just improvised. It only had sound, but without “words”. In fact, I think it’s good as language was stiff, and was not enough to convey what we truly want to say. Only at that moment, I realized this is the right thing and Fu-tzu made a contemporary artwork.

The reason why I chose the Chinese bride as one of the characters is that I originally wanted to shoot those foreign hospice nurses, but at the end, I couldn't film them due to privacy concern. When I was making Empire’s Border, I got to know many hospice nurses from Mainland China working in palliative care, who lived through the Cultural Revolution. They were singing “The White Hair Girl” (note 5) in the film, telling the story of peasants being oppressed by landlords. The childhood lover of the girl joined the liberation army. The girl then hide into a cave and appeared again until the liberation army returned, but her hairs had turned white. This song encouraged many people in the liberation army. Peasants were also excited when hearing it. One of the Chinese bride lives near Losheng, but she never knows about the Losheng movement. On the other hand, we also didn’t know the movement she has been through. She was in the 6th grade in primary school when Cultural Revolution happened. Her father was captured and she was chosen as leader of the propaganda team, singing and dancing every day. Hence there was another movement inside her heart. Passerby is also a kind of site. If you understand the song, you can connect the significance of the two revolutions. We shot from morning to night for this scene, without any rehearsals. We painted the rented apartment black. The Chinese bride worked overnight in the hospital a day before the filming. However, they said they were not tired since they felt young again when singing this song.

Many Chinese brides came to Taiwan to marry old veterans. Some had married before in Mainland China, and being laid off after privatization of governmental enterprises. Later, they got married in Taiwan with chance encounter. During the period of martial law, Taiwanese military officers were forbidden to marry. The restriction was later lifted, and most of them married divorced brides from China. Nowadays, many Chinese brides gather in the Veteran’s Home. They are used to self-organization, without support from other activist group due to experience in the Cultural Revolution. They have developed various organizations. There are various kinds of Chinese brides. Their identities are complicated, just like patients of Hansen’s disease. There are too many stories beyond the main narration. It is impossible to tell all of these through a film. Maybe it’s more interesting to write a novel.

The 2008 Taipei Biennale invited me to create a work regarding Losheng. I didn’t accept the suggestion then. Making a work during the social movement is very strange to me and it can’t help anything. I had the thought to make this film a long time after the movement, and partly because of CHANG Fang-chi. I always refer to the term “reverberations”- if you record sound with a microphone while standing at the hole in front of Losheng, you will hear echoes as if you’re in a valley. The feel is strange, a bit like science fiction.

In chapter Tracing Forward, we walked from the Taipei prison to Losheng. The process was all about modernity of colonization. But regardless of horizontal or vertical history, there are huge amount of empty spaces. We could never clarify everything. History is always larger than human or art. What we can do is to open up spaces on the side.

Q: This work return to the original site, screening beside the columbarium. How do you think this action could open up spaces, establishing connections with real people at the very moment?

CHEN Chieh-jen:
That is to gather people who participated in the movement or strangers and continue to ferment. Ideally, I would like to put the four screens around the construction site, but it could not fulfill.

Speaking about image and current moment, we did found some broken slides in the trash. They are slides of preventing Leprosy during the 1970s. The slides were dirty, and some emulsions were peeled off. Was it not another kind of virus? There was a slide showing a very beautiful girl in her early twenties who was newly infected. There are scars on her hand. A bunch of people surrounded and watched her and she looked unhappy. Hansen’s disease will cause nerve pain which we could not imagine psychologically or physically. I felt very sad when looking at the slide. You can imagine how her body kept breaking down after the photographs were taken. Would you imagine how Fu-tzu looked like when she was young and healthy? It couldn’t be seen anymore. Initially, I wanted to show this slide in the exhibition, but finally I decided not to as I felt I am not qualified to use it.

I think we all have responsibilities to re-narrate after being disengaged from the movement, the continuity of the movement in daily lives. Jacque RANCIERE collected worker’s records for ten years to resolve issues in the France 68 Student Movement. The theories shared with sentiments also derived from these news records. It was like digging gold from the sand. The most progressive meaning was its influence to the participants. Many youngsters walked into Losheng carrying ideas on humanity. However, there are crude competition, unbearable sickness and complicated conflicts within the movement. What are the complication in the movement that influence them? We need to create our own story, whether it is real or fiction. When these feelings were written down with words and other forms, more possibilities would remain, creating more opportunities for people behind, to reflect other accidental imagination.

If Losheng turn into a museum or all the records are given to the government, the Losheng movement is still being mainstreamed. The scholars may argue on the right or wrong of this policy, but it doesn’t matter. The most significant thing is its influence on participants. The purpose of records is to control. There are many things hidden in people’s record and off site knowledge. We wouldn’t know what they would reflect. The emotion in Fang-chi’s sentimental records is very real. When she entered the site of Losheng, she had so many doubts in life, but was she able to solve these problems? It was only through conversations, thoughts on life that a sudden sentence could spark your imagination. There are many coincidences in life which would bump into each other. If you can find even a meaningful sentence, it is good enough. This is the real significance and contribution of art. I think Fang-chi is so-called a real contemporary artist.

For me, image is dynamics. I am so amateur, narrating ambiguously, telling awful story, so what am I filming? Nevertheless I work until now, isn’t this the best explanation of dynamics? Hence I do not care about issues such as authorship, mainstream or non-mainstream. If you ask me why I choose images, I think that is because I often “see” images. For example, two abandoned doors lying on the bush, while walking through I saw a pillar, from there we can see the columbarium. For every scene I film, I would stay there for a while or walk several times. Each time I walked, I felt there is something, and suddenly one day I saw an image. When I started to film, I took the two doors and fixed it on the ground. I don’t have super natural power. My only ability is to see something without any reason, and then I would film it. I won’t do anything before seeing something. We do not need to do anything on the already known. I want to film only anonymous objects. The function of history is to recall every kind of imagination. Sometimes you have no clue. Even if you do, you would only re-organize it after. Aesthetics is originally the foundation for expressing sentiments. While the real implication of anti-aesthetics is that narrative is always not enough; there are other dynamics within.

Returning to the question of on-site screening, site is beautiful not because of morality or anthropological reasoning, screening the film in its original site for filming subjects. My initial plan was how to screen on site. Audience could only see clips. Every one of them tells a different content, everyone has his or her own sentiments. Ideally, they can just hang around, walking freely from here to there, forming their very own montage.

I am always filming the transitions ,and there are no conflicts, contradiction or resolution as in a three-act play. It was just simply from one transition to another. Pasolini once argue, “Life is a long shot”. In fact, life is a complicated montage. We wouldn’t know who we will meet next, what we will be talking about or what will happen downstairs. Aren’t we in transition? Most of the time I remembered only clips from films. Even the ten-minute inspiration is enough. When language is exhausted, there is where art will exist.

Author’s Note:

1. Regarding the documentary Chiang Wei-shui – Taiwanese Public Funeral Ritual and the narrator LU Bing-ding, I would like to thank CHEN Chieh-jen for providing written speech references. All photos provided by CHEN Chieh-jen, additional on-site screening photographed by CHEN You-wei. The “Public Funeral” of CHIANG Wei-shui was his personal large-scale funeral in the commoners system. It was unprecedented. The funeral started from Yongle theatre on 23rd August, 1931. In the middle was a picture of Mr. CHIANG Wei-shui, on both sides were slogan such as “spirit never dies”, “teachings remain”, “Gancheng of the Public” and “fighter for liberation”. Armed polices heightened their security. The public funeral gathered energy large enough to “threaten the living governor”. (source: Wikipedia)

2. Realm of Reverberations consisted of four videos, Tracing Forward, Keeping Company, Tree Planters and The Suspended Room.

3. DDS is the English abbreviation for “Dapsone”. It was brought into Taiwan through the Rural Reconstruction Committee during 1950s. The sanatorium’s residents were treated as experiment subject due to lack of knowledge in the issue of dosage. Overdose could cause severe leprosy reaction and anemia. Its side effects include destruction of red blood cells, rupture of blood vessel and intensify nerve pain, etc. It tortured the residents and caused large number of suicides.

4. CHANG Fang-chi is the protagonist in Keeping Company. She also played the character as someone who organized the list of Hansen’s disease patients in Happiness Building I.

5. In The Suspended Room, the song sang by the Chinese brides is entitled “Blowing North Wind” from White Hair Girl, a film made by the China Communist Party in liberation area during 1940s, towards the end of anti-Japanese war.

For more information about Realm of Reverberations:

(Translated by AU Sow-yee)

For a better experience using this site, please upgrade to a modern web browser.