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Artists III

Chen, Chieh-Jen (Taiwan)

Lingchi - Echoes of a Historical Photograph, 2002

Three-Channel Video Installation

"Lingchi - Echoes of a Historical Photograph" is based on a real photo taken by a French soldier around 1904 (or 1905), portraying an execution by lingchi - "death by a thousand cuts." It reinterprets the power relationship that exists throughout history in the mutual observance between the subject and others. Furthermore, it adverts to the issue of "resemblances" and "differences" among cultures by paralleling this eastern execution image with its often-associated western crucifixion figure. Using digital photographic alteration, Chen Chieh-jen had also previously interpreted this photograph of lingchi execution in "Genealogy of Self" (1996).

In 2002 he created a three-screen film, in which the execution scene appeared as a cruel theater filled with noiseless violence. The creative objective, however, was neither to search for proof in history nor revisit it, but to deeply explore such issues as history, power and watching/being watched. Chen employed a method similar to historical reenactment, creating a narrative of fragmented images in which performers appeared with costumes and props of different eras mixed together. Running through different times, spaces and suggestions within the process of historical development was the ever-present image of lingchi. In the film, the camera lens travels through two wounds on the victim's chest and enters the body, as a reference to an inner gazing at one's own history. Then it looks out from the past toward the present - ruins and relics filled with the images and implications of lingchi, such as the Japanese army's Unit 731, which performed germ warfare experiments on live human subjects, Taiwan's prisons for political criminals, factories that pollute heavily - and moves outward from the wounds in the victim's body to gaze at the Western photographer of 1905 (the observer), as well as unemployed workers of the present day.

Chen Chieh-jen transforms the wounds of the victim of lingchi execution into a channel joining the past to the present, logically expanding lingchi into a metaphor of marginalized area across from its historical to the contemporary meaning, and exploring the state of people living in the margins today that, as in earlier times, are dominated by forms of power. Bridging the pass to the present, the internal and the external, the "channelized" body of lingchi victim represents "the intangible being" of the Buddhist perspective on embodiment.

By Amy Chang