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23 April - 5 May: Kao Chung-li: 'The Man with the Film Projector'

‘The Man with the Film Projector’ is Kao Chung-li’s first solo exhibition in the UK. Kao is one of most important artist working in Taiwan today, and his practice combines filmmaking, painting, photography, sculpture and installation. The artist is undeniably influenced by the impact of European avant-garde cinema (when works by auteurs such as Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard were introduced to Taiwan by Theatre Quarterly in the 1960s), but he has also created his own aesthetic languages. In particular, he has modified a variety of cinematic devices in order to reflect the socio-economical complexity of contemporary Taiwan (which he describes as the ‘audio-visual underprivileged of the Third World’). Reflecting on the way in which cinematic mechanisms of the West have been transformed and interiorized by the visual culture of Taiwan, Kao modified 8-mm film and slide projectors, renaming them ‘photochemical mechanical mobile images’ and ‘slideshow cinema’ respectively. Adapting cinematic devices in this way is a critical gesture for Kao, since he notes that ‘film history in the West is created by the film camera [which represents] the viewpoint of filmmakers’. Kao focuses his attention on the role of spectator whose film experience, he feels, is often informed by the film projector which in turn impacts upon the way identity and ideology is formed. In order to initiate critical viewing, Kao consistently employs such machinery as emblems of systems of power, obsessively collecting and transforming out-dated audio-visual equipment that poured into Taiwan from the ‘First World’ (especially the US). He is an autodidactic, media-archaeologist perpetually creating his own idiosyncratic histories of cinema.

Born in Taiwan in 1958 to a second-generation family of Chinese immigrants, Kao uses his work to investigate the complex relationship between history and personal biography. ‘The Man with the Film Projector’ showcases My Mentor, Chen Yingzhen (2010), a film-diary based on the memories of Chen Yingzhen, one of the most important writers in post-war Taiwan. Chen was an intellectual who devoted himself to leftist ideals, and often clashed with both the right-wing authoritarian government and the mainly liberal intellectual community in 1960s and ’70s Taiwan.

The exhibition will also present Slideshow Cinema1: Taste of Human Flesh (2010–12), an audio-visual installation that tells the story of Kao’s father (who was shot during the civil war in China in around 1948) through the key motif of the bullet travelling through his father’s body. The exhibition’s archival section presents historic materials of the avant-garde in Taiwan including the pioneering Theatre Quarterly (1965–7), Kao’s early experimental film That Photograph (1984) and stills of the artist performing in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985).

In conjunction with this exhibition, there will be an exclusive film screening event and panel discussion on 14 May at LUX, an international arts agency that supports and promotes the moving image. George Clark, Assistant Curator of Film at Tate, will chair the event, which aims to explore the experimental film history of Taiwan as well as Kao’s specific film aesthetics. The screening will showcase many rare experimental films, all never before shown in the UK, including Zhuang Ling’s Life Continued (1966), Chen Yao-chi’s Mountain Climbing (1966) and Chang Chao-tang’s Face in Motion (1970). The screening will also include Kao’s early experimental film Home Movies (1988), which inspired Yu Wei-yen’s film Gang of Three Forever (1989). The panel will also include Chang Shih-lun, a PhD candidate at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College, and Chou Yu-ling, the curator of this exhibition. Topics under discussion will include Kao’s media politics and the relationship between home movies and early experimental films in Taiwan.

‘Kao Chung-li: The Man with the Film Projector’ is curated by Chou Yu-ling as a part of the Taiwan Spotlight Project, presented by both Birkbeck, University of London, and the Taipei Representative Office in the UK. LUX Artists’ Moving Image also supports the screening and panel discussion. The Taiwan Spotlight Project is funded by the Ministry of Culture (Republic of China, Taiwan) and the generosity of the Taiwanese entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dr Samuel Yin.