It’s a reaching. A desire to attain. A burning frustration, anxiety, and fear.
An empty theater. Train tracks into a brick wall. A red kite caught in the trees. A disconnected telephone handset. A frozen clock. Balloons trapped under a platform.
These images echo around the empty space as you step into Wu Chia-Yun’s A Song for Loss. With a background in film , Wu masterfully incorporates empty shots and video recordings into her exhibition. Whether it’s a photo of melted snow left by a departed car or a video of a lone Taiwanese flag waving in the air, Wu manages to capture innocent moments and present them in a way that stirs up the audience’s emotions.
One of the ways she does this is through creating physical space by layering images on top of each other. The layers are usually made of different mediums and their slightly unfocused nature creates dissonance. This disruption of narrative makes the work seem unsynchronized and induces a feeling of longing. Perhaps it is because our natural desire for clarity, but when we are forced to look at overlapping images, the discrepancy makes us uncomfortable. How you wish the two layers would just match perfectly as one! The distance seems impossible to close and perhaps for one second, at the right angle, it does. But the moment is gone quickly, and the emptiness remains. It is needed.
Between the two layers, physical space translates into a visible shadow on the piece below, emphasizing the unsynchronized duality of the images. Shadows and light are perhaps one of the most important aspects of Wu’s exhibition. They are created on the art, by the art, and also exist outside of the art. The shadows on the work are like a ghost mark and they make you question reality. Was “country” and “home” crossed out by black marker or are the lines just shadows? If this section of hair doesn’t have a shadow, is it real? There seem to be two possibilities in each work. One that is “real,” and one that is its shadow. Yet when you look down, away from the works, to contemplate these questions, everything suddenly seems meaningless. The skeleton shadows of the art mock you by your feet. Does a passport matter if it is reduced to a black square?
It is easy to give in to the darkness of this exhibition. Shadows are dark after all. Yet even in its lonely and bleak images, there is hope. By the train track leading to a fenced wall, you can still faintly hear the sounds of a running train. There are sandcastles standing in the face of impending seafoam, yet they are still, standing. There are black marks crossing out “home” and a fence blocking an invisible train, yet they are mere shadows. Sometimes you are caged by your own doing. Being lost in-between might be uncomfortable and terrifying, but at least there are two things to be in-between of. As seen in one of the pieces, “I’m not unhappy but I’m not happy either.” And maybe, that isn’t the worst place to be.
Judy Chiu is a rising junior at Columbia University studying East Asian Language and Cultures. She was a contributing journalist for Naive Magazine, which is based in Barcelona. Her articles focus on fashion and culture, with a focus on East Asia. She is currently based in Taipei.