早在2014年，於圓山花卉博覽會舊館所舉辦的藝術博覽會，「名山藝術」推出鄭麗雲別開生面的花卉繪畫特展；「線」仍然是主角，不但勾勒出不同花卉的形體，也凸顯不同花瓣、花蕊的質感。更有甚者，每一朵花的外形，決定她不規則的畫布造形：也就是美國藝術家 史帖拉(Frank Stella 1936-) 從1960年代開始獨創的所謂「有形畫布」(shaped canvases )，這種畫布形狀不同於傳統的長方形或方形規格，而是依畫的主題形體外圍輪廓來決定。但史帖拉基本上是「最低限藝術」(Minimal Art)的畫家，他的繪畫主題是極簡、硬邊的幾何抽象的圖象，例如《Luis Miguel Dominguin》(1960, 238 x 182, coll. of artist) 其圖象是由對稱而往外延擴的折帶狀幾何形構成，因此他的畫布形狀像是一件T形的汗衫，相較於鄭麗雲花卉外形的九彎十八拐的花朵造形，的確是相對規則也相對簡單和相對容易處理。
為了解決不規則形狀花卉造形畫布裱褙撐張的美感化一，她找木工師傅來協助做好木板骨架，畫布直接裱褙於有花形的木板上，等層層色彩畫完，線條刮出形塑的花瓣和花蕊；一條帶狀的同質畫布隨著花形的曲折，緊緊地裹住「有形畫布」 的周邊，它不需要畫框讓作品鎖定在平面繪畫的侷限裡，它可以誘導觀賞者的視線與自由的想像力，隨著各種花形而無限地向四面八方開展與擴充，因此它也是一件實質具有三次元非傳統的立體雕塑。這也是 史帖拉當時開拓「有形畫布」預留的伏筆，說明了該藝術家後來也參與利用具有最低限元素的「現成物」(ready-made)，製作實質的立體雕塑的原因。
自古以來，花與女人，常常是被人認為理所當然的連結，甚至是視為「同義字」，在法文辭彙裡就出現“femme-fleur”(女人-花；如花似玉的女人)。法國大文豪雨果 (Victor Hugo) 說過：「如果上帝沒有創造女人，祂就不會創造花。」(“Si Dieu n’avait fait la femme, Il n’aurait pas fait la fleur.”)；甚至連印度梵文諺語有言：「三件事物可以清涼心境去除恐懼：水、花和女性美。」(Trois choses rafraîchissent le coeur et délivrent du chagrin : l’eau, les fleurs, la beauté féminine. – Proverbe Sanskrit)。中文的形容文句「人比花嬌」比喻的人當然指的是女人。
花對鄭麗雲而言，固然是女性愛美的天性，花卉從萌芽、成長，到含苞待放、盛開、凋謝、枯萎的過程，形同人的生、老、病、死傳宗接代的循環，所以對藝術家有特別深刻的生命體認。她的心思是複雜的：如同愛爾蘭詩人作家王爾德 (Oscar Wilde) 所言：「呵護愛情深植於你的心田。沒有愛情的人生如同一處花謝凋零的時候，見不到陽光的庭園。」( Gardez l’amour dans votre coeur. Une vie sans amour est comme un jardin sans soleil lorsque les fleurs sont mortes)由花聯想到愛情；或是像法國詩人克勞岱勒(Paul Claudel)珍惜生命的喜悅：「花開短暫，然而即便是一分鐘時間帶來的愉悅，絕非是何時開始與何時結束之類的瑣事。」(La fleur est courte, mais la joie qu’elle a donnée une minute n’est pas de ces choses qui ont commencement ou fin.)；再不然就是歐洲人經常掛在嘴邊的一句話：「女人在花樣年華，豔如今晨綻放的玫瑰。」(femme dans la fleur de l’âge, belle comme “la rose qui ce matin allait éclose) ，言下不禁想起唐代杜秋娘的詩句：「勸君莫惜金縷衣，勸君惜取少年時；花開堪折直須折，莫待無花空折枝。」要及時把握生命璀璨的時機，命運掌握在自己的手裡。
最終要強調的是「花的象徵意義」(Signification des fleurs)或稱「花語」(le langage des fleurs)。「花語」是某些國度或某些民族的特殊文化，從各類花卉的形狀、色彩、香氣、習性的特徵與傳說典故，賦予各類花種各自不同的象徵意義，經過時代的變遷與文化習俗的演化，對「花的象徵意義」或許有些不同，但「花語」在19世紀初由法國流行到英、美之後，也漸漸形成約定俗成的共同表意語言。鄭麗雲身為女性又接受歐、美「女性主義藝術」(Art Féministe)思潮的激勵，愛花惜花，於是透過自己的直覺參考「花語」或「花的象徵意義」，來表達她對女權運動發聲的女性英雄致敬之意：例如以鮮紅色的朱槿(Hibiscus) (又名扶桑，「花語」：熱情新鲜的戀情，微妙的美) 來象徵墨西哥女性藝術家卡蘿(Frida Kahlo)；跳舞蘭(Oncidium Dancing Ladies) (又名文心蘭，「花語」：美麗活潑、快樂、隱藏的愛)象徵義大利巴洛克時期女畫家，阿特米西亞‧珍蒂萊琪 (Artemisia Gentileschi 1593-c. 1656)；以柔美的三色堇(Viola tricolor)(「花語」：此花的法文稱為“pensée”，故有「思念、思想」之意義；黃色三色堇，有黃色花瓣，其「花語」為「憂喜參半」；紫色三色堇，有紫色花瓣，其「花語」是「沉默」。)來比喻美國感性的畫家歐基芙(Georgia O’Keeffe)；以杜鵑(Rhododendronu)(「花語」：愛的欣喜、節制、節制欲望 )代表柯蕊絲訥(Lee Krasner)；以蜘蛛造型的君子蘭(Amaryllis)(「花語」：高貴、寶貴、豐盛、有君子之風)象徵這位曾在世界各地製作大型蜘蛛公共藝術的法國女性主義藝術家，布爾喬亞(Louise Bourgeois)；而以仙履蘭(Paphiopedilum : Lady slipper)(「花語」：性情中人、多慮的個性美人、永不變的愛) 為鄭麗雲自身的象徵表述，此花外形具有仙女鞋形狀的大肚袋，指涉象徵女性的包容力。
此次將展出更多的花種，諸如象徵「優美」的《愛麗絲》(Iris germanica 155 x167 cm, 2015)；具有「美麗的心」之象徵的《鐵線蘭》(Clematis 155 X 153 cm, 2015)；有紫色鳶尾別名的《西伯利亞愛麗絲》(Siberian Iris 126 X 165 cm, 2015 )象徵著「愛的信息」；尚有三種不同的台灣《喜普鞋蘭 1、2、3，2015》指涉著「任性的美」。
水的元素對鄭麗雲來說，本來就是她的看家本領。諸如《遠航，120M，2015》線與波浪共起伏，色彩遠近有分，如詩如夢的天際一樣一線不給。然而筆者在此要談的水是她所畫的《冰川，110 x 211cm，2015》，此畫的水域大約占整幅畫作面積的三分之一多一點，其他部分為山；但與其說是山不如準確地說是覆蓋著正在溶解中的冰塊的「冰山」。海水不能斗量，其容乃大，此川必不窄，明明冰山在溶解，甚至冰裂、冰崩，川水照樣處變不驚照它的速度流動，只有沿岸邊的地方，一條白線隨著地形和溶冰狀況的不同，有粗細和清楚與模糊的變化，我說妙極了！藝術家使用最簡單最精確的語言瀟灑帶過。筆者判斷冰山正在溶解、冰裂的觀察點是在鄭麗雲刮線的方式，因為穩定的地形，藝術家通常會使用秩序性、結構性和節奏性的刻線去處理，山的結構性輪廓是清楚明晰的；然而她在此畫，除了左邊一部份的結構比較清晰，刻線也相對有秩序、有節奏、有組織結構之外，其他的部份，鄭麗雲揣摩溶解的碎冰因重力而滑落，造成山本身結構肌理稜線的不明顯，甚至朦朧霧化的現象，她的線條刻意製造糾葛、放任、飄飛的狀態。對照那一條我說妙極了的白線變化點，是吻合的，「溶解中」的現象是成立的，也因為現象成立，證明她的改變是務實的。
生長在陶藝之鄉鶯歌的鄭麗雲，從事陶瓷藝術的創作已經不是「新鮮聞」，她和「瓷揚窯」的負責人林振龍先生曾經一起合作創作過。在造訪她陽明山工作室的時候，鄭麗雲搬出一個大紙箱，小心翼翼地拿出一個藍色陶瓷碗形水缸給筆者看，釉彩的色調類似明代的「青花瓷」，內外一貫都刻著她的刮線，這是她所作的大型陶瓷容器，造形具有簡約素樸的美感，尤其在圓弧碗形水缸表面裡外刻線的難度，若無禪修定靜之心是絕對做不到。她將平面繪畫的線性概念延伸到立體塑形，但是在她的思維裡，無意讓碗形水缸，只停留在陶瓷藝術的認知範疇，她要讓其成為「傳遞訊息」的「媒介」，以「裝置藝術」(Installation art )的展示手法，利用聲音和照明光效甚至鏡子，營造展示空間的特殊化，連結過去、現在、未來的時間元素，醞釀一種藝術家自白的「情境場域」。
鄭麗雲此件裝置藝術，像是在進行一種自我心靈 的「告誡」與「告解」的「環境藝術」(Environment Art)和「表演藝術」(Performance Art)的演出。
回溯1952年，在美國「黑山學院」（Black Mountain College）有卡吉和杜多（John Cage and David Tudor）兩位音樂家及羅森伯格（Robert Rauschenberg）一位畫家，以及康寧漢（Merce Cunningham）編舞專家，共同籌辦了一次藝術演出，算得上是一種「偶發藝術」（happening）的先舉，試圖融合各種不同的表現形式於一爐，以實驗性精神來從事一種「整合藝術」（total Art）的探索。基本上，這個理念是來自「達達主義」，特別是杜象（Marcel Duchamp）以及約翰．卡吉（John Cage）在紐約的實驗性音樂的開放教學。正如後來加入該「弗拉克斯」（Fluxus）群體的布瑞奇(George Brecht)所言：「彼此都有某種無法描述、難於形容的東西」。透過具有立陶宛血統的音樂家暨建築師：馬契亞納斯(George Maciunas)四處奔走的活力，這些藝術家於1961年，在紐約舉辦一系列的表演藝術，試著在「現實音樂」（concrete music）、「視覺藝術」（visual arts）和普通而日常的各種動作姿態表演之間找到一種综合性的效果。
至於現成物的轉用，筆者嗅出她藝術家的敏銳，使用「葡萄酒文化」的回收物，也就是原來外國酒廠出貨裝葡萄酒的木箱；這些向朋友要來或自己收集的箱板，上下左右都印有裝瓶酒廠的名稱、品牌、年份、容量、瓶數的文字，及置放上、下方向的標記。藝術家使用這些木板上色刮線，但她對原本的文字與標記作某種程度的「掩蓋」或保留「顯義」，甚至應用其他現成物的材質做成「拼貼」(collage)作品；有的甚至集結多塊畫好刮好線的木板成為一種「集合藝術」(Assemblage)。當然「拼貼」藝術早在1907年，「立體主義」(Cubisme)的布拉克(Georges Braque)和畢卡索(Pablo Picasso)，在畫布上首次貼上舊報紙的碎片時就已經開始；歷經一次大戰間「達達主義」(Dadaïsme)的發揚光大，「拼貼物」擴充到舊照片、郵票、鐵絲網等，以及1940-45年代「集合藝術」的代表，羅森伯格（Robert Rauschenberg）使用的「拼貼物」，已經發展到有體積而捶手可得的「撿拾的物件」(Found object, from the French objet trouvé)或「現成物」(Ready-made)如水桶、枕頭、樓梯、收音機等；到1960年代工業文明消費社會帶來的機器大量生產和大量使用，製造大量的廢棄物，法國的「新寫實主義」(Nouveau réalisme)藝術家諸如塞撒(César Baldaccini, dit César)和阿賀曼(Armand Fernandez, dit Arman)使用工業廢材或現成物製作藝術作品，此時「拼貼」藝術發展到最高峰。從「藝術社會學」(sociologie de l’art)的觀點來看，這是西方產業革命必然帶來的藝術趨勢；然而鄭麗雲的「拼貼」是有不同的時空背景，她不是工業文明的歌頌者，更不是消費文明的擁護者；當地球的生態遭破壞，當地表的物質資源大量耗盡之後，人們才驚覺意識到生存危機之際，藝術家會運用智慧以最簡潔的語言，說給你聽作給你看：藝術就在你身邊，用回收物化腐朽為神奇，暨環保又怡情，因為那些透露著「葡萄酒文化」的關鍵字與標記，隨時會喚醒人們的環保意識和連結令人振奮的「葡萄酒文化」裡的酒神迪歐尼索斯(Dionysos)的希臘神話之美，倒是滿「後現代」(Post-Modern)。
Appearance Stems from the Mind‧Lines Give Shape to Form — Leigh Wen’s New Development with Linear Art
Professor Joseph Wang
Ph.D., Art History and Archeology, Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV)
Former Chair of the Department of Fine Arts, National Taiwan Normal University
Clarification of the Title
Prior to discussing a concept, it is necessary to first clearly define the vocabulary and context of the concept. It is, therefore, integral to explain and clarify the title of this essay, Appearance Stems from the Mind ‧ Lines Give Shape to Form, to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding.
Generally, a person’s external features are the result of his or her state of mind, with emotions of joy, anger, melancholy, happiness, or benevolent or evil thoughts reflected on the person’s face; hence, the Chinese saying “appearance stems from the mind” is commonly used to express this phenomenon. The saying is connected to a particular allusion, but the origin of the saying is not of particular importance to this essay and will not be discussed or examined in detail here to decipher whether the saying was based on the story of a well-known premier in the late period of Tang dynasty Pei Du’s encounter with a Zen master, or was it derived from Buddhist teaching, because either way, the emphasis is placed on the connection between one’s external features and his or her internal state.
The concept of Appearance Stems from the Mind ‧ Lines Give Shape to Form is used to discuss the new development with Leigh Wen’s linear art, highlighting the artist’s approach for creating form, shape, or appearance, which is derived from a painstaking process stemmed from her inner candor and tenacity. The concepts of Appearance Stems from the Mind and Lines Give Shape to Form dealt with in this essay encompass different capacities. However, these two different concepts are derived from the same fundamental source of motivation — the heart. The heart symbolizes a form of emotion, a kind of metamorphosis, growth, refinement, and philosophy. Leigh Wen’s earliest exploration involved the four major elements of earth, air, water, and fire, and with shifts and turns of space and time, her state of mind has also continued to grow and change; however, her rhetoric is based on linearity has always remained unchanged. She has persistently used lines to define form, to act as embodiments of physical attributes; this is seen with her various artistic expressions, including unfathomable oceans and rivers and towering mountains and cliffs, and also flowers that symbolize women or glazes on ceramic pieces. In other words, lines dictate the fate of form.
Flowers and Women
Mingshan Art presented unique floral paintings by Leigh Wen Li-Yun’s at Art Taipei 2014 presented at the former site of the Taipei Flora Expo, with lines once again the main focus of Leigh Wen’s art. Not only are lines used to illustrate the different shapes of various flowers, the petals and stamens are also enhanced. Irregularly shaped canvases are also used to accommodate the shapes of certain flowers, referencing the unique expression of using shaped canvases that were innovated by American artist Frank Stella (1936- ) in the 60s. The shapes of these canvases differ from the conventional rectangular or square shape, with their contours dictated by the subject matters depicted in the paintings. However, Stella, being a minimalist artist, mainly focused on creating minimal, hard-edge geometric abstract paintings, such as Luis Miguel Dominguin (1960, 238 x 182, coll. of artist) which is composed of symmetrical geometric shapes extending outwards, resulting in the use of at-shaped canvas. Compared with Leigh Wen’s irregularly shaped flowers, Stella’s minimalist compositions are relatively simpler and easier to handle.
In order to aesthetically stretch canvases in irregular floral shapes, Leigh Wen hired an experienced carpenter to make wooden frames for her, with canvases directly mounted on floral-shaped wooden boards. With layers of paint applied and the petals and stamens illustrated with lines, strips of canvas made with the same material were then tightly wrapped around the shaped canvas, following the contour of the floral shape. With this approach, frames are not used to confine two-dimensional paintings; the artworks guide the audience’s eyes and let their imaginations run free with the various unrestrained floral shapes, extending and expanding into all directions. This is why these artworks can also be regarded as nonconventional three-dimensional sculptures. This is also a foreshadow reserved by Stella when the concept of shaped canvas was developed, explaining why he later also began using minimalistic ready-mades to create tangible three-dimensional sculptures.
The origin of Leigh Wen’s floral paintings traces back to 2013 when she returned to Taiwan to set up a studio. By chance, she stumbled upon a spacious, brightly lit, brilliant house surrounded by nature in the Yangming Mountain area of Taipei. Leigh Wen spent quite some time renovating the house and planted different flowers and trees that she adores in the garden, with a small outdoor area reserved in the garden for taking coffee breaks in. With a cup of aromatic coffee, she would sit there in the afternoon admiring the spectacular mountainous view and marveling at the shifting clouds in the sky, while also contemplating her art and drawing in inspirations. However, Typhoon Soudelor that struck Taiwan in 2015 uprooted tens and thousands of trees, even metal mailboxes were bent by its powerful wind. Leigh Wen’s studio also suffered serious damages, and while blocking an aluminum window from being blown open by the strong gusts of wind, she suffered from bumps and cuts on her head and face. Fortunately, she has recovered fully from the injuries after weeks of medical treatment, and is able to return to working on her art; however, when visited by the owners of Mingshan Art, the brother and sister duo Hsu Ming and Hsu Shan, the artist still suffered from a minor case of post-traumatic headache.
Flowers and women have been connected since ancient times, and are even regarded as synonyms, as seen with the word femme-fleur in the French dictionary (woman-flower; a woman that is beautiful like a flower). French literary master Victor Hugo once said, “If God hadn’t made THE woman, he wouldn’t have made the flower either.” There is also a Sanskrit proverb that states, “Three things cool the heart and grief issue: water, flowers, feminine beauty.” There is also a Chinese expression that compares a woman’s beauty to flowers.
Leigh Wen also makes this feminine association with flowers. The cycle of a flower goes from its budding phase to growth, bloom, wither, and decay, which is similar to the cycle of human life with birth, age, sickness, and death. The cycle of life makes a particularly strong resonance with Leigh Wen. A person of complex thoughts, Leigh Wen’s approach echoes with the following words that associate flowers to love by Irish poet Oscar Wilde, “Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” Another association is also made with French poet Paul Claudel’s words urging to cherish the joy of life, “A flower is short, but the joy it brings in a minute is one of those things that doesn’t have a beginning or an end.” Also bringing to mind is the common European saying that compares a woman’s youthful beauty to a blooming rose in the morning. The sentiment also resonates with the following verses by Du Qiu-Niang of the Tang dynasty, “ Cherish not your golden-threaded robe; cherish but your young days! While the flowers are blooming, gather them; lest you but wait for empty branches.” Opportunities in life ought to be cherished, with destiny controlled by one’s own hands.
Lastly, emphasis on the signification of flowers or the language of flowers is to be stressed here. The language of flowers is a unique culture observed in some countries or by certain groups of people, with different symbolisms and meanings formed with notable features and legendary allusions connected with different flowers’ shapes, colors, aromas, and traits. Although the signification of flowers may have shifted with time and changed with cultural evolutions, however, the language of flowers has made its way from France in the early 19th century to England and the U.S., gradually becoming a part of conventional usage and expression. As a woman and also inspired by the Western feminist art philosophy, Leigh Wen adores and cherishes flowers, and instinctively references the language of flowers to pay homage to feminist movements or fearless female figures. The vibrantly red hibiscus (Language of Flower: passion, new love, delicately amazing beauty) is used to represent Mexican woman artist, Frida Kahlo. The Oncidium orchids, or also known as dancing ladies (Language of Flower: beauty, vibrancy, joy, and concealed love) are used to symbolize Italian woman painter from the Baroque period, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c. 1656). The dainty Viola tricolor (Language of Flower: it’s known in French as pensée, which means “a reflection or thought”. Yellow Viola tricolor has yellow petals, and it represents “a mixture of worry and joy”. Purple Viola tricolor has purple petals, and its flower language represents “silence”) is used as a metaphor for American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Lee Krasner is represented by the Rhododendron (Language of Flower: the joy of love, restraint, restricted desire). The Amaryllis, an orchid that appears like a spider (Language of Flower: regal, precious, opulent, gracious charisma) is used to represent Louise Bourgeois, a French feminist artist who has created large public artworks in the shape of spiders around the world. The Paphiopedilum, also known as lady slipper (Langauge of Flower: a genuine person, a beautiful person who worries a lot, and unwavering love) is what Leigh Wen uses to represent herself. This flower is shaped like a fairy’s slipper with a wide pouch-like body, which symbolizes women’s inclusive tolerance.
These blooming flowers depicted on shaped canvases are used by Leigh Wen to pay homage to artists that she admires. “A flower consists of several male stamens that surround a female pistil, and the pistil represents the feminine power and independence, as she steadfastly strives to survive in a male-dominated world,” expresses Leigh Wen. The flowers she paints are not only elegant but also embody a sense of vital strength and a strong feminine will.
The flowers on view this time include Iris germanica (155 x167 cm, 2015) that symbolizes elegance; Clematis (155 X 153 cm, 2015) that represents a beautiful heart; Siberian Iris (126 X 165 cm, 2015) implies the message of love, and also included are three different indigenous orchids of Taiwan, Lady’s Slipper 1, 2, 3 (2015), representing tenacious love.
Mountains and Waters
Compared with Leigh Wen’s previous paintings of mountains and waters that highlight the aforementioned elements of earth, air, water, and fire, the biggest difference with her recent mountains and waters paintings is that they no longer linger in an elusive, ethereal state. She does not shy away or hide from it and openly declares to art lovers that, “A mountain I see is a mountain being.” When asked about this imagery shift, Leigh Wen responds, “I didn’t work enough with the element of earth before.” The fact is that any change that an artist takes on is all but a natural process; it is a positive phenomenon because to have the courage to challenge one’s existing self shows ambition, which is why regardless of the kind of change, the endeavor should first be encouraged. Those that are idle and stagnate are actually more of a cause of concern. Moreover, with the premise of “A mountain I see is a mountain being”, besides depicting the mountains with more realistic and objective colors, they are also portrayed by Leigh Wen in a more stable and more striking manner. For example, in the painting Green (100F, 2015), the translucent and glistening emerald lake shows lightness and intensity that shifts with the structure of the mountain, presenting a distinction between the ying and the yang, and as the mountain elevates higher, the distribution also becomes lighter and more dispersed. The mountain that follows takes on a steeper angle, with the surface of its cliff washed with a subtle hue of sienna and its ridges and textures exposed; it’s incredibly steep and majestic. Shifting the focal point back to the foot of the mountain is where a vaguely triangular body of water is situated, showcasing an ingenious gradation of colors, extending from a lemony yellow at the shallow end to a lime green for the deep sea. The composition shows Leigh Wen’s artistry by using corresponding colors to contrast the entire mountain cliff with the shape of the water, with lighting effects and reflections permeated throughout the entire landscape and also projected on the water surface. What this painting has achieved is clever color applications but also the textures, positive and negative space of the mountains, the ripples of the water, the shallow and deep bodies of water that are all well defined with lines.
Sharing a similar compositional concept is Cliff (100F, 2015); however, the two paintings differ in how the mountains and the waters are treated. The central subject of this piece is a steep and towering cliff, which Leigh Wen has chosen to portray with steel blue, in order to visually depict the granites in a truthful manner. The rock formation’s horizontally crisscrossing textures with overlapping slabs of rock in various sizes are naturally illustrated. The visually towering and steep cliff can have psychological associations of being unstable, but a sense of mental balance is created with a contrast of form by juxtaposing a calm, mirror-like Mediterranean blue sea next to the cliff. The phrase, “to be abstemious with the use of ink” was used by ancient Chinese literati to describe the state of being just right, and what Leigh Wen has demonstrated is “abstemious with the use of lines”, as seen with the generous lines used to depict the uneven textures on the cliff but none is seen on the calm surface of the water.
Leigh Wen specializes in depicting the element of water. The lines undulate along with the waves in Voyage (120M, 2015), with distances far and near deciphered with colors and the poetic, dreamy horizon, again, free from any traces of line. Focusing on the element of “water” in Glacier (110 x 211cm, 2015), we see that the body of water depicted in this painting takes up a little over one-third of the entire composition, with the mountain taking up the rest of the canvas. More precisely, the mountain is a melting glacier. The vastness of the ocean is immeasurable, and the mountain here is certainly sprawling. The glacier, though melting, the ice cracks, avalanche, and flowing water are still moving in their respective paces, except a white line along the bank, which is clearly different from the other topographical elements and the melting ice. The line’s shifting thickness and varying levels of blurriness make the piece utterly fantastic! Using the most simple and precise expressions to convey the subject matter, it can be interpreted that the glacier is melting, and the cracks on the ice are depicted with scraping gestures. To convey a stable topography, the artist tends to use etched lines that are more orderly, structural, and rhythmic, creating structurally defined mountain ridges. However, with this painting, except for the more clearly defined structure on the left, the etched lines are also comparatively more orderly and rhythmic; in addition to the compositional structure, less defined and even blurry structural texture and contour are showcased in the other components because the artist seeks to portray how the ice fragments are sliding off due to gravity. The lines are purposely made to appear intertwined, unrestrained, and fluttering. This matches perfectly with that noticeably different white line, forming the condition of “melting in progress”, and because of this, it proves that the artist’s change is of a practical purpose.
Installation Art Concept and Readymade Application
Leigh Wen grew up in Yingge, a district well known for ceramic art, and thus, for her to work with clay is not unexpected. She has also previously collaborated with Mr. Lin Chen-Long of Tzu Yang Kiln. During a visit at her studio in Yangming Mountain, Leigh Wen carefully took out and showcased a blue porcelain bowl-shaped tank with glaze resembling Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain. The piece has her signature etched lines on the outside and inside, and amongst all the large ceramic vessels made by her, this is a piece that exemplifies her simple and earthy aesthetic.
It is quite difficult to etch lines on the tank’s rounded surface, requiring a Zen state of mind that is calm and collected to achieve. She has extended the linear concept observed in her paintings to her three-dimensional pieces, but philosophically, she does not intend for the bowl-shaped tank to only lingering within the preconceived notion set for ceramic art; she intends for it to become a message delivery medium, using the display approach of installation art with sound, lighting effects, and even mirrors to create specialized spatial effects. Connecting temporal elements from the past, the present, and the future, a situational context where the artist can express herself is fostered.
The installation piece, The Longest Night (2015) consists of five bowls of the same size (18 inches in diameter, 22 inches in height); however, the lines expressed on the inside and outside of the bowls are all unique on each piece. The entire display area is 4 meters in width and 5 meters in length. The distinctive site with an arrangement consisting of the five bowls of the same shape is surrounded by mirrors on all four sides. Plumbing valves are used for water to drip into the bowls intermittently, creating drippings sounds leaking from the ceiling. The faint lighting recalls the farmhouse in Yingge that the artist was in during the Great Flood of 1959, an unforgettable catastrophe marked by dim lighting on a bare ceiling.
During her exhibition at Mingshan Art, Leigh Wen expressed that the inspiration behind The Longest Night (2015) comes from the historic flood on August 7th, 1959 in Taiwan. Typhoon Alan formed in the southern sea region of Japan scraped by Taiwan but created a heavy tropical airflow with a heavy downpour that lasted for three days on the 7th, 8th, and 9th of August that year, with a tremendous amount of rain particularly pouring down on the 7th causing severe disasters in central and southern Taiwan. As a child, Leigh Wen often heard her father recollecting the disastrous flood, and the catastrophe is still something that haunts them to this day. “It was the longest night we have ever experienced. Rain was pouring outside of our house, with deafening thunder and lightning bolts. Water was endlessly dripping down from the cracks of our ceiling and was caught with buckets and pails. My father was tirelessly checking on the cracks and leaks, while also relocating us to ensure that we would have a dry and secure place to sleep and to avoid the possible danger with the roof collapsing down and injuring us.” This installation piece by Leigh Wen is an integration of environment art and performance art with personal spiritual warning and confession.
In 1952, at the Black Mountain College in the US, two musicians John Cage and David Tudor collaborated with painter Robert Rauschenberg and choreographer Merce Cunningham in presenting a performance that is considered a pioneering endeavor of the genre “Happening”. They attempted to fuse together different expressive formats and explore total art with experimental spirits. Fundamentally, the concept was derived from Dadaism, especially influenced by Marcel Duchamp, and also John Cage’s open approach to teaching experimental music in New York. As stated by George Brecht, a later member of the Fluxus movement, “both were excruciatingly difficult to explain.” Through devoted efforts by musician and architect of Lithuanian descent, George Maciunas, this group of artists was able to present a series of performances in 1961, seeking to uncover mixed effects from concrete music visual arts, and everyday ordinary gestures and actions.
“Reflecting the interconnected echoing emotions from different media and art of different functions” is an agenda shared by Leigh Wen, as she uses art to express and transmit the profound emotions and sense of redemption experienced by all the victims that lost everything overnight during the Flood of 1959 and to be able to break free and heal from the traumas still lingering inside her.
The application of readymade is where the artist’s sensitivity is demonstrated. She has taken recycled wine crates that she has collected with the names, brands, years, quantities printed on all sides and signs indicating the direction that the crates should be placed and painted and etched lines on the wooden surfaces, with the original lettering and labels either concealed or enhanced and also collaged with other found objects. She has also created assemblages by piecing together several painted and etched boards. Collage was pioneered in 1907 by Cubism artists Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, with fragments of newspaper pasted on paintings. Dadaism reached its apex during World War I, and objects used for collages expanded to include old photographs, stamps, and metal wiring. Iconic for his assemblage art created in 1940-45, Robert Rauschenberg began using found objects (from the French objet trouvé) or ready-made in his art, including bucket, pillow, steps, and radio. In the 1960s, capitalism was propelled by industrialization with items mass-produced by machines resulted in lots of discarded objects. Artists of the New Realism movement in France including César Baldaccini, dit César, and Armand Fernandez, dit Arman began incorporating industrial wastes or ready-mades in their artworks, making collage art into its developmental climax.
From the perspective based on the sociology of art, changes in art were bound to occur with the industrial revolution in the West; however, Leigh Wen’s collages are set in a different space-time. She doesn’t pay homage to industrial civilization nor does she embrace consumerism. When our natural ecology is damaged and Earth’s resources are depleted, people are suddenly realizing that when our survival is jeopardized, Leigh Wen is using a language that is wise and simple to talk to you and to show you. Art is all around; it can spin gold out of straw with recycled objects. The artworks are environmentally conscious and pleasant because those keywords and labels associated with the wine culture can act as a constant reminder that calls upon people’s awareness for the environment while also connecting with the intoxicating aesthetic of Greek mythology with Dionysos, resulting in something that is quite post-modern.
The form, shape, or appearance created by Leigh Wen, including flowers and women, mountains and waters, installation art, and conversion of ready-made, all come from the heart; however, her lines are what ultimately define these shapes dwelling in the heart and give them distinctive forms. Leigh Wen has clearly showcased in her recent creations that she is no longer an artist that simply works with two-dimensional planes, and she is not stuck with using one type of rhetoric or language to convey the different messages she wishes to convey through art. She strives to freely use different formats of art to welcome the daunting challenge of contemporary art, whereby the change is the only unchanging factor.