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METAHISTROY – Backstage Interview with Liu Chihhung
October 19th, 2018Type: Sound Scene
Author: 馮馨 (整理), 王韓芳 (訪問), Jasper Chen (翻譯) Editor: Rikey Tenn
Quote From: 《歷史變體》(METAHISTORY)展覽手冊
Note: In the Sound Geography project, Liu Chihhung is like a transcriber, which is a publication series of the sonic ethnography of places, in which on-site visits, collection of local histories, oral accounts from residents, and video footages are transcribed by the artist into texts on paper, figurative / abstract sketches, or photographs. Liu takes the auditory sense as the surface for writing and geological territories as headings, engaging all sorts of “sketching” of sounds that is absent in the exhibition space through physical perceptions in the field. “What I care about is the possibility of ‘audio visualization,’ exploring the various spatial connections disclosed through visual / auditory experiences...”
Liu Chih-Hung, "Sound Geography" in Metahistory; Photo © 2018 TKG+ Projects

In the Sound Geography project, Liu Chihhung is like a transcriber (註1), and the works offers the viewer an experience of the extremely personal sentimental and the extremely authentic (record). Sound Geography is a publication series. Each issue is an ethnography of a place, in which on-site visits, collection of local histories, oral accounts from residents, and video footages are transcribed by the artist into texts on paper, figurative/abstract sketches, or photographs. In the creative process, Liu Chihhung takes the auditory sense as the surface for writing and geological territories as headings, engaging all sorts of “sketching” of sounds that is absent in the exhibition space through physical perceptions in the field research. According to the artist,

What I care about is the possibility of ‘audio visualization,’ exploring the various spatial connections disclosed through visual/auditory experiences in an attempt to leave behind sound specimens of cities and regions that are gradually accumulated into a “database of sound patterns”.

Retrieving things that are left out in the visual observation, such practice is not holding an objective methodology when recording a place, but reassembling sound memories of the local in the exhibition space with the deduced images and texts. In the process of image/text reading, the viewer shall reconstruct a mental map based on their own imagination, offering a possibility of collecting, narrating, and reading. The works on view this time include a selection of 12 pieces from Sound Geography: Kaohsiung, Hengchun, Coastal Area of Tainan, and Beitou as well as 4 newly-recorded sounds from Taiwan and the converted images.


Superimposition of Writing and Painting

Liu Chih-Hung, "Blue & Painful Love"; photo © 2016 Taipei Fine Arts Museum

When I look back, I found the works from college to graduate school were mostly paintings. The paintings then were more neatly done in cool colors, and I had a good balance between work and life. Yet, such easy life inevitably brought me self-doubt for the second time prior to my graduation. It was as if I had to break this balance condition and rethink about the meanings of engaging in painting, while examining the deeper reason I chose painting as my major medium. I think, maybe it is about the way painting expresses. The stroke of painting is fascinating and honest. For instance, you draw a line, which may be tender, tough, rational, or swift, and these expressions reflect the physical sense of the moment to a certain degree. In the face of yourself and the audience, this work cannot lie. The same applies to the works in mediums with other attributes. Nonetheless, painting not only conveys message and feelings, but leaves plenty of room for imagination, which is essential to me. In addition, I also wanted to add elements beyond painting to complete the facets expressed by my works. That is where writing comes in. Guang Wu (2013), the solo exhibition in the year of my discharge from the army, was my very first attempt to juxtapose writing and painting in the exhibition. To me, those writings were not just auxiliaries, but also another means to capture the picture and those fleeting images. Juxtaposed with paintings and sketches in the exhibition, they all responded to the same thing.

The solo exhibition Short Fiction in Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 2014 selected and compiled the “Drawing & Sketch Project” from 2010 to 2014. This series was my reconsideration on “paint and painting”. The “Drawing & Sketch Project” is like the cultivation of habit in painting, with no desire to depict details. Hence, there is no existing image to compare with. Instead, I portrayed it with only the image in my head. The canvas sizes in this series are mostly size zero to three, which are the sizes I tested to make sure I could manage to finish a work within a specific time frame, using unmodified brushstrokes to keep a vivid impression. This series essentially documented of my various stages in life, ranging from school, military, to work. I believe the bond between art making and life is important and that life should be the nutrition to art making, while the status of art making should be reflected in life and progress hand-in-hand. The works exhibited in Short Fiction were nearly three hundred pieces. Some friend once asked me the reason behind the high quantity of the selected works. It was because of this high quantity that the viewer might see how to preserve and record the things related to their daily lives with painting, especially to shed light on the flow of time through a body accumulated with various paintings. Browsing various works in a row, one can see the temporal progression, which is relatively different from that of a single painting that crystalizes one space and time. As for the “integrity” of works, which is pertaining to my imagination toward the “completeness” of art making. Perhaps this is also why my creative perspective nowadays is free from the limited thinking of single medium, and my exhibition arrangement of paintings is prone to a showcase in series or to the expansion and completion of a theme with different mediums.


Voice as the Point of Departure for Imagination

Liu Chih-Hung, "Sound Geography VII: Beitou" (sellected), 2018; image courtesy of artist

The Sound Geography project (2015-) is the brain child during my residency in Japan in early 2015 and has been evolving ever since. The place provides natural resources in abundance and local residents are hospitable, and both shared a close relationship. Owing to the residency project, I thought about artists as an “others from elsewhere” and that how we could find the connection with the place, echoing with the place via art. That is to say, it was about how we interact with the place instead of intervention in the place. There are two completely different things. Thanks to the change of living environment, the sounds I heard there were quite distinctive from the living environment I had been used to. Thus, I decided to record the sounds I heard with abstract sketches. Meanwhile, I wrote down the interviews with the residents as well as the oral accounts, “visualizing” and “textualizing” the auditory experiences. I define Sound Geography as a sonic specimen of a certain region. Along the process of art making, I read literature, visited and interviewed before putting into records. Among which I find fascinating are stories with history, legends, and the bonds between individuals. Sound Geography, though themed with sounds, takes sounds more like a point of departure. The common works pertaining to sounds take sounds and listening or the on-site experience and performance as the subjects of the works. Yet, Sounds Geography works differently. As a result, in my previous exhibitions, I always refused the appearance of sounds in the exhibition. If the original sounds re-present the content described in quick sketches and texts, they would take away the imagination of the viewer about the sounds. The lack of the sounds themselves, however, may expand such imagination.


In addition, during the field research, the auditory sense taking the body to experience, to feel and perceive, and to walk into many places is the heart of this creative project. Also, the “area” in Sound Geography is also an area that is walked and defined with the body. Therefore, the titles of Sound Geography will not be limited to a single area, such as Coastal Area of Tainan or Davao & Kota Kinabalu. What it involves includes how the body that perceives sounds moves and where it moves. The local culture, history, and geography will inevitably be touched upon or understood as I go further and deeper. Yet, history has always been the most frustrating subject for me during school ever since my childhood. Through the journey to different areas, I realized the concept of “history and geography are one” everybody is talking about. Take “General Zhenhai”, one of the entries in Sound Geography V: Costal area of Tainan for example, I followed the map and texts of legends to visit the region, and discovered that there is the worship for lonely spirits in the southeast coastal area of Taiwan for the deceased found in river streams, Dajhongye (Masters of Many), and Jian Jun Miao (General Temple), which is connected to the geographical factors of the local area like the estuaries of rivers, the direction of ocean current, and armed conflicts. Hopefully, the viewer may lay out the outlook of the area bit by bit in their minds with the content read on each page.


The reason Sound Geography can continue to this day lies in the flexibility of the project. After the residency in Japan, I found such creative approach is free from the period of residency, nor does it contradict the creative project proposed in residency. It works like a plug-in that works in parallel, which can be switched on or off at any time, accumulating continuously. Now that it is not the primary objective of the project for the residency later on, it remains flexible, allowing multiple visits even after the residency before it is compiled for publication, like the issues of Henchun and Coastal area of Tainan. The fact that Sound Geography released in the form of publication later on is for the consideration of circulation. Even though the spread speed on the Internet is fast nowadays, the circulation in hard copies locally may be higher than that online. After all, you cannot give a grandma a link and tell her she can browse it on the Internet, for she would not know how to look it up online. Also, in the event of no specific interviewee that can be sent a copy to, it can be put in a fisherman’s association, farmer’s association, a park, a small temple in the community as a publication for charity. This is also why this book is not for sale, except for special partnership. Printed publication has a physical copy that will not fade away. It only decreases slowly with no one knowing its whereabouts, which if you think about it, is kind of romantic.


Macro-imagination Reflected in Micro-perspective

Liu Chih-Hung, "Sound Geography II: Kaohsiung"; photo © 2018 Crane Gallery

I’ve always considered myself engaging in art making in three directions (painting, installation, and Sound Geography). Nonetheless, after a profound discussion with Ms. WANG Pin-Hua, it turned out these three forms of works appear to demonstrate a macro-imagination via a micro-perspective. For instance, Sound Geography is like a massive string of stories of various locations and common folks, which is portrayed with a light touch that resembles the quick sketching in painting. Hence, the texts in the work can be seen as a sketch of sounds. Another example is the four-year “Drawing & Sketch Project” in the exhibition Short Fiction(2014), Numerous texts and images were juxtaposed, and both discussed the same impression, constructing the flow of time and visual/auditory experiences through multiple paintings.


As far as I am concerned, I like to describe the status of what I saw and record for the sites and stories of the past in the work of Sound Geography as “echoes”. Though you cannot hear it directly like the sounds reverberating in a valley, which are as complete and clear, it is recognizable to a certain degree as what it should be originally to a certain degree. Through such bouncing, it serves as the point of departure for imagination. The means of exhibition this time is not quite the same as the direction of Sound Geography before, selecting only twelve chapters from four areas to compose the imagination the curator wants the audience to experience. In addition, some methods of highlighting the explicit through the implicit are employed to demonstrate the invisibility of sounds. This exhibition also recorded new audio files of the four areas, which are not the original sounds from the chapters. They are meant for the audience to listen and think about where it is and what it is or stimulating the audience to imagine the environment and scene at the instant of audio-recording, which is among the elements to expand imagination.


[1] The term “transcribe” is quoted from Rikey Tenn’s “How Sounds Are Transcribed: Liu Chihhung’s Sound Geography,” published on the website of Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture, April 11, 2018.