Curator's Note [中文]
In contemporary society, religion is often viewed as the antithesis of modernity. Sociologist Max Weber introduced the concept of "disenchantment" to describe the characteristics of "demystification" in modern society. Scholars like Émile Durkheim and Larry Shiner argue that "secularization" is one of the most important factors in the development of modern national political systems. In this context, modern science is highly valued, and traditional ways of living and believing that cannot withstand scientific scrutiny are condemned as superstition and conservatism. However, the issue is that modern science is just one of the many methods developed by humankind to theorize, interpret and explore the psychic world. As a result, it cannot entirely explain human spirituality and emotions or truly satisfy our spiritual needs. The long-standing idea of prioritizing rationalism and positivism has created a religious and spiritual vacuum in modern society - a vacuum that is not only full of numerous assertions and deceptions, but is also often manipulated by unscrupulous individuals or groups for their personal gain and social power.
In her book The Case for God, Karen Armstrong argues that historically, few people were outright atheists who denied the existence of God completely; rather, they simply disagreed with certain conceptions of God made by mainstream religions at the time. To her, religion is a form of practice through which individuals experience and discover religious/spiritual truth on their own. She believes that this process is similar to artistic creation, as both rituals and artworks can inspire participants at an aesthetic level and lead them to a deeper understanding of existence. This is the curatorial aim of "Return to Divinity": through artistic works, exhibition, and mutual talks, the exhibition seeks to explore concepts of divinity, re-adjust the distance between humans and God, and blur the boundary between modern scientific rationalism and pre-modern mysticism. Featuring the works of six Taiwanese artists exploring various aspects of human religious and spiritual practices, such as religious rituals and installations, mystical experiences, attitudes towards death and the afterlife, and divination tools, this exhibition encourages the audience to reconsider and reframe their understanding of spirituality, divinity, the cosmos, and religion. When we hold faith and reverence for the supernatural or a particular form of divinity, but also harbour doubts about how contemporary mainstream religious organisations interpret these beliefs, we may find ourselves, in the words of Armstrong, "atheistic theists".
The first exhibition room presents the artwork of Chuan-Lun Wu, “Angle-Fortune”(2016-2017). Using 3D-scanning, data analyses, documentation and paper-carving, the artist represents a stone pile built by the riverside near Baekdamsa Temple, South Korea. Piling up stones is a primitive religious ritual of making a wish in Korea. By doing so, humans create a simple artwork by re-setting natural objects in praise and honor of sublime mother nature. “Angle–Fortune”is an artistic action with similar essence, in which the artist applies science and mathematics to honor primitive religious rituals of mankind. By presenting this artwork, “Relocating Divinity”discusses the primitive meaning of human religious ceremonies and religious art.
The second exhibition room presents Yin-Ju Chen’s artwork, “Notes on Psychedelics II: Inside a Memorable Fancy”(2018–2019). The artist uses charcoal drawings and videos to show her spiritual experiences after imbibing a herbal soup during a shamanic ritual, illustrating the transformed states of mind evoked and invoked by the shamanic practice. This spiritual journey, as the artist believes, has the potential not only to broaden one’s understanding of different dimensions of human consciousness, but also to unify ordinary and altered states of human mind. What “Notes on Psychedelics II”explores is therefore not only religious rituals but also individual spiritual experiences, which can be the core and even the common origin of human’s religion and mystic beliefs. Yin-Ju Chen remakes this artwork by including icaros chanted by a Taiwanese shaman practitioner, Lin Li-Chun, rendering the original soundless version even more completed and enriched.
In his work “Reunion”(2018), Ning Shen imagines Siri as his deceased grandmother and engages in a daily conversation with her. The artwork not only delicately represents human’s deep mental desire for connecting with the deceased relatives, but also discloses the important feature of religion as an intermediary bridge between people and the sacred. In fact, besides mediating people’s remembrance and reminiscence, religion is also the intermediary to which people project various expectations and wishes, such as for good marriage, wealth, offspring, promotion, peacefulness and composure). In the artwork “I collect a piece of you / you collect a piece of me”(2014–2019), Jia-Jhen Syu transforms her online diary into a type of this “intermediary symbolic system,”by making the diary into a set of fortune-telling cards. The artist plays the role of "psychic" or "spiritual medium", and explains the meaning of the cards to her audiences with her emotions and moods that she was once ashamed of announcing publicly. By doing so, the artist and the audiences share certain emotional commonality and gain certain form of mental cure. Perhaps, as this artwork tries to show us, "fortune-telling" and "divination" are not really giving predictions about the future, but casting doubts and healing broken souls by reaching mutual connections and mutual understandings.
Tzu-Tong Lee’s work, “#Ghostkeepers”(2018), expands the above-mentioned dimensions of emotions and desires to the level of collective society. The artist creates three fictional Facebook accounts, inviting her participants to play the roles of three political victims on the social platform. The three participants have to share posts and interact with each other and other users. On the last day of the exhibition, the artist closes the accounts and prints all their posts. A ceremony is then held to burn the posts and see off the three ghosts. “#GhostKeepers”aims to collect and write private, individual stories that are forgotten in the grand narrative of modern history. The artwork manifests the fact that human religious activities are not only for personal healing, redemption and spiritual satisfaction, but also can play an important role in dealing with the rupture between the individual and the society. They may facilitate the transitional justice in a society, and assist the society to alleviate the collective pain.
So far, we have discussed how people use religious rituals and mystic practices as means to approach the image of God and to experience divinity, and how people's spiritual needs (desires and wishes) are projected and extended to religious/mystic objects and activities. The final exhibition room further explores how people can use and manipulate these mechanisms to gain their material interest and social power. Two of Jui-Lan Yao’s artworks—“An Automatic Sealing Machine for Psychotherapy Course of Healing the Low Self-esteem of the Bomb Generation, Unit of Mysticism, Camp for Experiencing Utopia and Fighting against Capitalism, the China Youth Corps, ROC”(2019) and “An Automatic Sealing Machine for Employment Service Station for Religious Leaders and Universe Masters, Bureau of Promoting Confucius and Mencius Thinking, Ministry of Education, ROC”(2019)—explore how false prophets provoke people’s negative emotions (e.g. alienation, nihilism) and offer them religious mystics as spiritual fast-food to obtain benefits. Confucianism is one of traditional ideologies that these false prophets often utilize to demand their believers to respect authority, making them accustomed to renouncing their own subjectivity to authoritative leaders, such as "guru" and "master".
“Relocating Divinity: Being an Atheist Theist”
Time: 11/2–12/1 (2019)
Venue: Waley Art, Taipei, Taiwan
Artist｜Yin-Ju CHEN, Tzu-Tong LEE, NING Sen, Jia-Jhen SYU, Chuan-Lun WU, Jui-Lan YAO
Opening Event Speaker｜Nobuo Takamori
Special Event Speakers｜Li-Chun LIN, Shih-Chi WANG, Keng-Chang CHENG
Exhibition Spongers｜National Culture and Arts Foundation & Department of Cultural Affairs Taipei City Government
Exhibition Visual Design｜Jui-Lan YAO
Instagram AR Design｜Jui-Lan YAO
Exhibition Support｜Waley Art (Tsai-Hsun PENG, Meng-Chieh HSIEH, Jessie W.C. CHIU, Yu-Fang CHEN), Chia-Sheng LIN
Administration Support｜Waley Art
Technic Support｜TRONK Interactive Co. Ltd. & Wang Shao-Gang Visual Studio
Photography｜Sean WANG, NING Sen
Picture Album Design｜Mi-Jing CHEN
Picture Album Sponsor｜National Culture and Arts Foundation
Special Thanks to｜Chieh-Hsiang WU, Kuang-Yi CHEN, Tai-Song CHEN, Bûn-Kî Tēnn, Art Critique of Taiwan (ACT)