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  • Jul 03, 2024

Shi Jin-Hua, 1964–2024

Portrait of SHI JIN-HUA. Courtesy Mind Set Art Center, Taipei. 

Taiwanese conceptual and performance artist Shi Jin-Hua, whose practice delved into themes of existentialism, tragically died on June 28 due to a car accident in Kaohsiung City. The 60-year-old’s passing was announced last week by the Taipei-based gallery Mind Set Art Center. 

Born in Penghu County in 1964, Shi suffered from congenital diabetes, requiring him to rigorously monitor his daily medications and health since the age of 17. This experience led him to view his body as an “other,” a vessel and tool that bridged the spiritual and the physical manifestations of art-making. Shi’s spirituality was evident through his Tibetan Buddhist beliefs as he often explored subjects of impermanence and reincarnation.

During his postgraduate studies at the Irvine’s University of California in 1994, Shi took an almost used-up pen, gifted to him by his older brother, and began to spontaneously scribble on a piece of paper until it was completely out of ink. The work, titled Pen Walking #1, sparked his seminal eponymous series that he continued for the next 28 years. Each work involves Shi depleting pens and pencils to create abstract imagery, from figurative subjects to the use of words. Once completed, the artist gathered the pencil shavings and stuck it onto the surface of the work. The used-up pencils become a metaphor for the cycles of life and death, while the shavings left behind represent the post-mortem remains of the human body.

Shi continued to explore his practice in connection to the spiritual, expanding the theme to his performance piece Ink Walking (2021–22). In it, a long white cloth is laid out on the floor as the artist holds a bowl filled with black ink and proceeds to walk back and forth. During this process, spilt ink stains the cloth beneath him and traces the motions of the artist. Shi replenishes the bowl with water and repeats the walking process until all that is left in the bowl is clear liquid. The performance was inspired by an old Buddhist tale of a man who enacts the same action, but with a bowl of oil on his head and the threat of execution if it is spilled. Shi connected the story to his need to walk (to regulate his diabetes) as well as the idea of purifying the soul, which he saw as represented by the gradual clearing of the ink. 

During his four decade-long career, Shi extensively showcased in both Taiwan and abroad, as well as participated at the Taipei Biennial and the Asian Art Biennial. His work is collected by various institutions such as Australia’s White Rabbit Gallery, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, the Taiwan Art Bank and the American corporate art collectionFidelity International Art Collection.

Mind Set Art Center stated that a public memorial is planned for July 7, with further details to be announced.

Camilla Alvarez-Chow is an editorial assistant at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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