Linz, 12 December 2002
"Man's - alleged - best friend" has always been an interesting topic for art and has inspired such diverse artists as Beuys or Koons.
For Peng Hung-Chih as well, a young Taiwanese artist who has been a guest at the O.K as artist in residence, the dog is linked with a multitude of meanings. The artist has devoted himself to this theme almost exclusively since 1997, thus assuming a unique position in the contemporary art scene of Taiwan. Peng Hung-Chih's work is now presented for the first time in Europe at the O.K Center for Contemporary Art.
Peng Hung-Chih does not limit himself to depicting dogs, but rather presents the world from a dog's perspective to the visitors. An important precondition for this is the way the artist lives, his many years of intensive occupation and experience with dogs. A complex reference system is built up around this private cosmos in the works, turning the dog into an ideal projection surface for analyzing social structures or economic circumstances. The artist draws from cognition psychology approaches, elements of mass and popular culture, mythological traditions. Posing questions of identity and race using the example of the dog, exploring dog-human interactions or comparing the existence of the artist with life as a dog are only a few of the aspects. When Peng says how much he regrets that it is not possible for him to slip into a dog's skin for a certain period, what one recognizes in this - far outside all cultural differences - is quite simply the wish to see the world through different eyes.
All of Peng's oeuvre is marked by his sense of the absurd and humorous. His equally refreshing and irreverent appropriation of different cultural traditions and aesthetic codes imbues his conceptually focused work with a playful note, making it accessible to a wide audience.
The main piece in the exhibition is Little Danny.
Practically everyone knows
the phrase "Made in Taiwan" - a synonym for cheaply produced
mass goods and example of the seemingly absurd geography of globalized
economic currents that has developed in our commodity society under
the primacy of "cost effectiveness".
All the batteries were removed
for Peng's sculpture, and the toy dogs were painstakingly wired together
by hand and mounted on a wire frame. The approach of visitors triggers
a movement sensor which sets them all "yapping" simultaneously
and wagging their stubby tails.
In the anteroom to the hall, Peng Hung-Chih has staged a combination of a studio and storage room. Behind stacks of countless Little Danny boxes, there is a worktable and fondly and hastily sketched drawings of Greek sculptures in dog costumes pinned to the wall. In front of this, projected from a dog basket, he shows the video Siao-Pai (1999, 30min), his first attempt to show the world from a dog's perspective.
By the entrance, the short video Dress Up (1 min, looped) shows two costumed dogs visiting a dog pound. One is clothed in a fake-fur lassie costume complete with a sewn-on cartoon eye. "Lassie" faces a caged mutt and the two begin an animated barking dialogue. Another dog costumed as a Dalmatian lies apparently uninterested on the side. Clothing plays a crucial role in this scurrilous experimental arrangement: it conceals, it deludes, it seemingly denotes race and identity, and yet it does not lead to success. In the Taiwanese context, the title and story can also be read as an ironic commentary on the custom of buying new clothes to go home for the Chinese New Year celebration.
"Laokoon", created during his residency stay, is also shown
for the first time. As Firm as Rock (Ein Fels in der Brandung)
is the title Peng has given to this copy of the famous Hellenistic group
of figures, in which the main figure, the priest Laokoon, has mutated
into a Dalmatian dog. This sculpture, which greatly influenced the artists
of the Renaissance, becomes a complex and ambivalent conveyor of signs.
Peng blends the western idea of the naked male body as a carrier of
supernatural powers with animist theories, contrasting nakedness and
covering, bridging the gap between high and popular culture, and turning
the hero of antiquity into a Greek superman dressed up as a dog-god.
The high art of the sculpture is irreverently turned into the comical,
breaking down the myth, the story of battle, power, suffering and death,
and telling it like a cartoon.
The installation Face to Face deals with the shift in perceptional perspectives between the dog and the human being. The installation consists of five life-sized models of dogs in various positions, with video films running on small flat screens inside their heads. The videos were filmed with mini-cameras attached to the heads of live dogs as a third eye. From an absurd perspective, they show everyday situations and offer an insight into the world-view of dogs: a world full of restless motion, aggression, hunger, competition and battles for territory - or so it seems, at least. In any case, the arrangement demands much from the viewers: they have to perform considerable contortions, if they want to switch world views and thus symbolically become dogs themselves.
Texts: Susan Kendzulak / Martin Sturm
Maria Falkinger, O.K Center for Contemporary Art Upper Austria