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  • Jul 12, 2018

Shu Lea Cheang To Represent Taiwan at 2019 Venice Biennale

*Last updated November 27, 2018.

The artist-curator team for the Taiwan Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Art Biennale. Left: artist SHU LEA CHEANG. Right: philosopher PAUL B. PRECIADO. Courtesy Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) announced on July 12 that it will feature the multimedia works of Shu Lea Cheang in the Taiwan Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Art Biennale. Cheang is the first woman to represent Taiwan since the pavilion began hosting single-artist presentations. Philosopher and writer Paul B. Preciado, who recently served as the curator of public programs for Documenta 14 in 2017, will curate the presentation of Cheang’s works at the 16th-century prison, Palazzo delle Prigioni, near Palazzo San Marco.

Cheang’s site-specific work for the 58th Venice Art Biennale is titled 3x3x6, referring to the architectural model typically adopted by industrial prisons around the world today: a nine-square-meter cell that is monitored by six surveillance cameras. Reflecting the history of the Palazzo delle Prigioni, Cheang will take ten historical and contemporary imprisonment cases related to gender, sexual and racial nonconformity as a starting point for an immersive multimedia installation that explores confinement and liberation through new digital technologies. Using smartphone applications and computer algorithms, the work devises a cyclical feedback loop between the real and virtual, and aims to bring into question how legal and visual regimes shape sexual and gender norms over time.

Preciado notes that the pavilion “can be in your pocket” and that it is “not so clear that the pavilion is even in Venice.” Elaborating on the work, Preciado, in a statement released by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum on November 27, said: “3x3x6 explores the relationship between political punishment and sexual enjoyment, between modes of seeing and processes of subject production. Inverting the watchful eyes of our panoptic society to partake in an empowering collective vision, the exhibition aims to reinvent desire and pleasure beyond hegemonic norms.” 

A self-decribed “digital nomad,” Cheang was born in Taiwan in 1954, but came of age as an artist in the 1980s in New York, where she was involved in producing video art and local public-access television programs. In the 1990s, her interest evolved into the emergent field of new-media art, with installations that fused real spaces and virtual networks through the use of computer programming and video technology. Most famously, her work BRANDON (1998–99) was the first web artwork commissioned and collected by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and was recently restored. TFAM director Peng Lin called Cheang “a pioneer of net art, not only in Taiwan but around the world.”

Since 2000, Cheang has continued to produce a variety of new-media works, from net installations, mobile games, to performances, as well as films. Her second feature film I.K.U. (2000), which has been described as a cyber-erotic remake of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000. Developed across residencies in Spain, her performance and game UKI (2009–16) is a sequel to I.K.U., and continues to imagine narratives about the GENOM Corp, an internet porn enterprise that dispatches “I.K.U. coders” to collect orgasm data. UKI will also take the form of a feature-length piece of "interruptive cinema." In 2017, she presented her third feature FLUIDØ, a “cypherpunk film” which imagines a “post-AIDS” future in 2060, at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The pavilion’s curator, Paul B. Preciado, is a former student of Jacques Derrida and the author of a memoir and history of 20th-century sexuality, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. He is also head of research at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona and a leading voice on queer, trans- , and gender issues. Preciado remarked: “Bringing together many underground traditions, from transfeminism, queer and anti-racist politics, as well as science fiction narrative, video art, and performance, Shu Lea Cheang’s work is a reflection on what it means to be free, to act freely within contemporary society.”

The Taiwan Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale opens to the public on May 11, 2019.

HG Masters is ArtAsiaPacific’s editor-at-large.

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