It’s not only practical but allegorically fitting that one enters Taiwan Academy’s current video art exhibition, “Atlas Portal,” through a heavy black curtain, into the soft glow of a cozy room, illuminated only by the warm, cool and shifting light of the video works installed around its perimeter. That’s because the theme of the show is the malleable sense of place that exists in the memories of those who live in between nations.
In this case, both Kio Griffith and Poyen Wang fit the bill. Wang is from Taiwan and currently splits his time between Taipei and New York City, as well as a current residency at 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica. Griffith was born in Japan but has long split his time between Japan and Los Angeles, where he is a well-known artist, curator and arts organizer.
Given their fascinating personal histories and ongoing status as global citizens, it is perhaps not surprising that in becoming artists, especially partial as they are to liminal narratives and video-based media, each would find a endlessly rich trove of material within their own biographies and unfolding experiences. But the truth is, their peripatetic, multifaceted identities are increasingly common in today’s globalized society. The result is that, in the case of the works exhibited by each artist, what begins as something personal for them soon expands to become emblematic of a much more universal set of truths.
As critic Peter Frank writes in the exhibition catalog, “These artists embody two ways the self and the other collapse in on one another in the American context.” How this is manifested in the works themselves is largely a function of physical and optical layering and doubling, so that each “image,” besides being in motion, is also always presented in the context of its alternative.
In Wang’s A Fabricated Personal Archive, a suspended screen receives projected images, vernacular childhood and archival photographs. At the same time, its translucent surface diffuses the projected images’ light to a wall behind it, where a fixed grid of the same images is displayed in this shifting clarity of projected shadows. In his Crossing, the video screens are both folded like a screen, in a double-hinged diptych that contains four panels. Installed on the floor, this is doubled again in the mediated high-gloss reflection of the screens on the sealed concrete.
These effects make Wang’s work powerfully articulate in their message of a multiplied identity, already within the structure of their forms. But their content is also an evocative melange of memory and poetic invention, both painterly and cinematic, analog and accessible, digital and physical.
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Griffith, who curated the exhibition, includes one of his own video pieces in the conversation. The hypnotic, documentary-style Proof of Person (Birth) both tells and dramatizes the events surrounding Griffith’s legal status as a citizen of between no and two nations. In this context, the use of bilingual speech and writing is not only a specific detail of his upbringing but a metaphor for the dualistic nature of his very existence. The image showing the writing hand up close, marking and erasing aspects of the artist’s own truth, is simply a true story. But like Wang, by making into an artistic act of symbolism, the story and the work come to signify much more.
Taiwan Academy, 1137 Westwood Blvd, Westwood; (213) 403-0168, facebook.com/taiwanacademyla; Tue.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; through Jan. 12.