Shih-Yung Ku

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Shih-Yung Ku
Shih-Yung Ku

Article

Unbearable lightness of being in the digital age

Shi-Yung Ku creates animation and video installations that revolve around his concept of ‘cold detachment’, a sense of disconnection from reality that pervades societies in the age of digital communication. His work is poetic in nature and has evolved from a focus on the unsettling experience of simulacra to a more expansive vision of the tension between illusions and reality.
Shi-Yung Ku predominantly engages in installation art, recently concentrating on video installation and animation. His artistic vocabulary, however, is vast, as he has always enjoyed experimenting with several different mediums. Teaching as Associate Professor at both Furen Catholic University and at the National Art University in Taipei, his innovative approaches have been hugely influential to the new generation of artists in Taiwan.

Despite his wide-ranging practice and its significant evolution, almost all of all Ku’s works share a common, and distinctive, characteristic, which he calls a ‘cold feeling of detachment’. In his works, he constructs a world that is at once based on and removed from reality, and it is within the lacunae between the pleasure of illusion and the harshness of reality that the power of his work resides.

The exhilarating possibility of flying, symbolic of the attainment of so many elusive dreams, for example, is fleetingly realised but ultimately deflated in ‘Lightness, The Way to Make You Lighter’ (2000). This three and a half minute film installation was first exhibited at the Taipei County Art and Technology Exhibition in 2000 and later displayed at the show ‘Promenade in Asia-Cute’at the Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito in Japan and at ‘Dream 02’at the.gallery@oxo and the Bargehouse in London, UK, which was organised by The Red Mansion and partly funded by Visiting Arts, UK.

The installation makes use of the refracting power of mirrors to create a huge globe made up of several screens, each showing the same video piece. A man dressed in white (the artist himself) stands on a stretch of grass. He takes a piece of bubble gum from his pocket and pops it into his mouth. After chewing a while, he slowly begins to blow a bubble, which gets larger and larger. A thunderous soundtrack of blowing accompanies the bubble’s inflation, until it becomes so large that it lifts the artist off the ground and floats him off into outer space. On reaching the edge of the universe, however, the bubble-gum balloon explodes. Debris cascades down onto the grassy plain where the artist was standing.

In the catalogue accompanying ‘Dream 02’, the artist, critic and curator Yao Jui Chung associates Ku’s ‘cold detachment’ with the disturbing unreality of simulacra that pervades society in the age of global media communications. As many have done before, he points out that ‘as soon as we come up against any misfortune it is close to us but our imprisoned consciousness, our souls, still cannot access it’.

For Yao, this is intimately bound up with technological development. He writes: ‘It appears that we are our own biggest blind spot; the more we look at our selves, the less clearly we see things … In the past people interacted directly with each other through “warm connections”, but in the digital age, we face “cold connections”. It seems that people are making themselves ‘immaterial’ through ‘speed’.

Yao argues that in ‘Lightness, The Way to Make You Lighter’, light is related to ‘a temporary, illusionary satisfaction …which takes the place of our real world and turns it into “potential reality”.’ He continues, ‘The “cold light” that Ku Shih Yung puts forward essentially hides behind the digital world – the absolute certainty of “0” and “1” and the cold feeling of detachment that accompanies this.’

This work displays a black humour that is largely absent from Shih-Yung Ku’s early works. The poetic nature of his work, however, remains ever present. Indeed, Wang Man-Ping, Assistant Curator of the Dimension Endowment of Art has suggested that with ‘a return to “zero degree meaning”’ in his later works, Ku’s ‘artistic language becomes a purer form of poetry’.

Wang explains, ‘the artist´s individual inner self has also been transformed from a feeling of unease at disassociation in his early period, to bright, free space in the middle period, followed by spiritual romance, pure poetry and self-conscious spirit in more recent work.’

He further suggests that Ku’s works ‘display a never-ending construction and deconstruction, with segments of text constantly extending the diverse meaning of imaginary space and meaning ... The installation arena then becomes a gateway back to “archetypal experience” and energy from other civilizations.’ For Wang, then, Ku is ‘an artist with an infinite number of faces who displays the existence of inner truth; Ku Shih-Yung is richly creative, changeable, profound …’


Sources include: ‘An Illusion Reality/True Visionary: An overview of contemporary Taiwanese art’, Yao Jui Chung, in ‘Dream 02’ Red Mansion Foundation, 2002, and text written by Wang Man-Ping, Assistant Curator Dimension Endowment of Art and translated by Andrew Wilson
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts

Bio

Shih-Yung Ku was born in 1960 in Taiwan, where he currently lives and works. He was educated in France and in 1996 gained a PhD in Visual Art at the University of Paris I, Pantheon Sorbonne. He has twice been awarded the first prize at the Taipei Biennial Art Exhibition and has been highly commended at the Republic of China New Exhibition of Modern Painting. He participated in the 2002 Kwanju Biennial Exhibition, South Korea, in 2001 ASIA, Sanpo Art Tower Mito, Japan, and has exhibited extensively in Taiwan and abroad. He is a member of the famous Taiwanese art group ‘IT Park’. At present he teaches as an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Arts at Furen Catholic University and also as an Associate Professor in the Department of Fine Art at the National Art University in Taipei.

Works

EXHIBITION CATALOGUES

Published Written
2002 ‘An Illusion Reality/True Visionary: An overview of contemporary Taiwanese art’, Yao Jui Chung, ‘Dream 02’ Red Mansion Foundation 2000 ‘A Sparkling City 2000’. Taipei County Art and Technology Exhibition, Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taipei County 1999 ‘A Rainbow into the Next Century: An Exhibition of Chinese Folk Art’, Teda Contemporary Art Museum 1999 ‘Ku Shih-Yung’, Dimension Endowment of Art 1999 ‘The Heart of History: Exhibition of Installation Art’, Department of Culture, Taiwan Provincial Government 1997 ‘River: New Asian Art: A Dialogue in Taipei’, County Cultural Center 1994 ‘Taipei County Biennial Fine Arts Exhibition Catalogue’, published by Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1993 ‘History of Poetry in Taiwan’, Crown Art Center 1993 ‘Taiwan’s New Appearance 1949-1993’, published by Taipei Fine Art Museum 1992 ‘Taipei County Biennial Fine Arts Exhibition’, published by Taipei Fine Arts Museum

ARTICLES

Published Written
2000 ‘Ecstasy Unleashed- Runaway Octopus and Jellyfish’, Wang Man-Ping, Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taipei County 1999 ‘Flying Incident above a Small Town: 2001 on the Road Home ‘, Wang Man-Ping, Taiwan Provincial Government 1999 ‘Boundless Nomadic Wandering in a Moment: The Internal Spiritual Journey of an Artist’, Wang Man-Ping, Dimension Endowment of Art 1999 ‘Completely Changed states and inter-connected creation-a discussion on KU Shih-Yung Solo Exhibition The New Taiwanese Wolfman’, Huang Hai-Ming, ‘The Artist’, No 290 1999 ‘Confusion and Revelation: The Meaning of Ku Shih-Yung’s Spatial Installation Art’, Shih Chao-Ying, ‘The Artist’, No 288 1998 ‘In Search of the Truth: Ku Shih-Yung’s Creative Path’, Huang Chien-fang, ‘Art Collection’, No 71 1998 ‘Dialogue in the Womb and in Dreams: A Dual Exhibition by Ku Shih-Yung and Chen Hui-Chiao’, Huang Hai-Ming, ‘The Artist’, No 280 1997 ‘After Murder: Ku Shih-Yung’s Villain and Hypocrite’, Hsu Wen-Jui, ‘Mountain Art’, No 89 1996 ‘Distance: Nomadic Spirit in Space’, Chen Yih-Chun, ‘The Artist’, June 1994 ‘Dark Bearing’, Chen Yih-Chun, ‘History of Poetry in Taiwan Exhibition Catalogue’ 1993 ‘Towards the Dark Bank’, Huang Hai-Ming, ‘The Artist’, No 19

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS

Exhibition / Installation
2000 ‘Fin-de-Siecle Clock: Morning’, Kaoshyong Fine Arts Museum 1999 ‘January 1st, 2001, The Road Home’, Dimension Endowment of Art ‘Fluttering Wings Day and Night’, Dimension Endowment of Art 1998 ‘Home and a Foreign Land’, Taipei Fine Arts Museum ‘Black Whirlwind’, Taiwan Fine Arts Museum 1994 ‘Melancholy Utopia’, Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1993 ‘Dark Bearing’ series once, Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1992 ‘Blue Pupils’, Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1988 ‘Blue Wing’, Taipei Fine Arts Museum

GROUP EXHIBITIONS 1995–2002

Exhibition / Installation
2002 ‘Dream 02’, the.gallery@oxo and the Bargehouse in London, UK, organised by The Red Mansion Foundation 2002 ‘Gwangju Biennale’, Gwangju Modern Art Museum, South Korea 2001 ‘Promenade in Asia-Cute’, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, Japan 2001 ‘Age of Multiplicity: Contemporary Art in Taiwan’, Beijing, China 2001 ‘KaoHsiung International Container Arts Festival’, KaoHsiung, Taiwan 2000 ‘A Sparkling City 2000’ Taipei County Art and Technology Exhibition, Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taipei County 2000 ‘Age of Multiplicity: Contemporary Art in Taiwan’, Beijing, China 2000 ‘Punch, Connect, Produce-Exploring and Reading the Metropolitan Sedimentary Layers’, Hwa Shan Art Space, Taipei 1999 Invited by Li Xianting and Liao Wen to curate ‘A Rainbow into the Next Century-An Exhibition of Chinese Folk Art’, Teda Contemporary Art Museum, Tianjin, China 1999 ‘The Heart of History-Exhibition of Installation Art’, Lukang, Taiwan, Department of Culture, Taiwan Provincial Government 1998 ‘Taiwan-Installation Art Exhibition’, Nanliao Fishing Port, Hsinchu, Taiwan 1998 ‘I am making Sunny-Side-up-Ku Shih-Yung’/ ‘A Silent Vision-Chen Hui-Chiao’, Dual Exhibition, IT Park Gallery, Taipei 1997 ‘River: New Asian Art-A Dialogue in Taipei’, Dimension Endowment of Art, Taipei 1997 ‘IT Park Gallery/Taipei Fine Arts Museum Group Exhibition’, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei 1995 ‘The Contemporary Art of Taiwan’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia

SOLO EXHIIBITIONS

Exhibition / Installation
2003, ‘0°Landscape’, IT Park, Gallery and Photo Studio, Taipei 1999 ‘The New Taiwanese “Wolfman”’, Dimension Endowment of Art, Taipei 1997 ‘Villain and Hypocrite’, IT Park Gallery, Taipei 1994 ‘Travelling Solo Art Exhibition’, East Gallery, Taipei 1993 ‘Dark Bearing’, UP Art Gallery, Kaohsiung ‘Black Whirlwind’, Yellow River Arts Center, Taichung 1992 ‘Paris, Gap’, Solo Exhibition, Taiwan Museum of Art, Taichung ‘In the Clouds Causing Trouble’, IT Park Gallery, Taipei

Merits

AWARDS

1998 Award in public art, Taipei City Government, Taiwan
1997 Award of ‘River: New Asian Art – A Dialogue in Taipei’, Taipei County Government, Taiwan
1994 Major award at the Taipei City Biennial Fine Arts Exhibition, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan
1992 Major award at the Taipei City Biennial Fine Arts Exhibition, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan
1988 Prize for Excellence, “New Prospects for Modern Art in the Republic of China”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan
1986 Art Creativity Award, the Ministry of Education, Taiwan
1985 Art Creativity Award, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan
images
Shih-Yung Ku
Lightness, The Way to Make You Lighter
Shih-Yung Ku
Lightness, The Way to Make You Lighter’
Shih-Yung Ku
Lightness, The Way to Make You Lighter’