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In a recent lecture at The Getty Museum, Richard Sennett described “the craftsman” in his book of the same title as one who resides inside his work—his life, in other words, is his practice. For the artist, farmer and writer Huang Po-Chih, this idea serves as a mantra. Sennett’s book explores material culture—that is, the objects, tools and machines we create and how we interact with them. As he puts it, “There are narratives to the end product of craftswork, there are stages of its ‘becoming’ and ‘unfolding.’” Unwittingly or not, Po-Chih, who focuses on the experience between artist and viewer, stands as an embodiment of Sennett’s modern-day craftsman.
Graduating with a degree in Art Technology from Taipei National University of the Arts, it is somewhat unexpected to discover that Po-Chih refers to himself as a farmer. Even more unusual is that the backdrop of Po-Chih’s artistic practice is the countryside of Hsinchu, away from the creative nexus of Taipei. He often sites his writing as a starting point: in 2012, he published his first collection of essays, Blue Skin—All About My Mother, a personal history of his mother that reflected Taiwan’s agricultural economic reform and social change over the past fifty years. From this emerged Production Line, shown in both the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial and Taipei Biennial in 2014. These two chosen locations were meaningful, providing a space for us to understand the work itself. For each setting, he rebuilt a live production site in which workers’ names and stories are written and retold, poetically threading together a narrative about his mother’s migration and clothing production in the two exhibiting cities.
Threading together a narrative about migration, production, and participation.
Po-Chih’s recent work connects more closely to everyday life on his farm. In “Micro Micro Revolution,” an exhibition at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in the UK, Po-Chih presented 500 Lemon Trees, an ongoing project in which the artist set out to regenerate three abandoned farmlands in Taiwan, asking five hundred participants to each donate 500TWD towards buying a wine label. The sale of each label then funded the planting of a lemon tree. Two years later, each participant received a bottle of Limoncello. The method of mixology parallels the resulting cocktail—a potent concoction of the labor and craft of his family members, local encounters and the migrant workers he employs. The work uses the convergence of his land and our interaction as a stage, culminating in a performance through which Po-Chih’s experiences are played out in his poetry and the transaction of our accepting the end product in a toast.
Through this system of participation, a platform for dialogue is created, within which Po-Chih acts as a vessel, a bridge. He creates the shared experience between himself and the participant, reigniting our need to question the relationships between the individual and society, even those that reside within ourselves. Po-Chih brings us into the reading of the narrative of his works; we are a part of and actively engage with its “unfolding.” The acumen of Po-Chih, whichever hat he chooses to wear, remains in his ability to allow us to unpack the story of his works communally. They act as ongoing attempts to understand new sites by imbibing together, with shared action, memory and experience used to lessen the distance between one another.
Huang Po-Chih (Taiwan, 1980) is an artist who lives and works in Hsinchu, Taiwan. He is among the six shortlisted artists for the second edition of the HUGO BOSS ASIA ART Award, and will participate in the upcoming group exhibition held at Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) from 30 October 2015 – 3 January 2016.
Ying Tan is Curator at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester.
Image: Huang Po-Chih, Production Line – Made in China & Made in Taiwan, 2014, Courtesy of the artist and Taipei Fine Arts Museum