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Chen Chieh – Jen

Factory, The Route, Empire’s Borders I & II

Since the 1980s, Chen Chieh-jen, born in Taiwan in 1960, has been developing a body of work that is closely connected with the history of his country. In it, he interrogates the structures of power, the writing of history and collective memory in a society that in his opinion has lost any form of identity under the autocratic rule of the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang (1949–1987) and the phase of neo-liberalism that has since replaced it. “Taiwanese society”, the artist says, “has been repeatedly forced to become one with historical amnesia and has lost the ability to imagine and reflect on the future from the context of the past.” His works, in which specific, mostly suppressed historical and present-day aspects of the current situation become visible, can be seen as a form of resistance against this forgetting.

Work presented in the exhibition Factory, The Route, Empire’s Borders I & II – Current Live Preview Share, Mudam Luxembourg, 05/10/2013 – 19/01/2014
© Image: Chen Chieh-jen

Chen Chieh-jen’s artistic career began with illegal actions performed in the public sphere, before he turned to digital processing of archive photos, and for over a decade now, he has focused on the production of ambitious video works. These films, in which the artist directly addresses social and political issues connected with Taiwan’s current situation, broach issues such as the consequences of globalisation for the labour market (Factory), the complex relationships that Taiwan has with the two “empires”, the USA and the People’s Republic of China (Empire’s Borders I), the resistance in the workers’ movement (The Route) and the forgotten chapters in the recent history of his country (Empire’s Borders II – Western Enterprises, Inc.)

Chen Chieh-jen’s works make visible both universal issues and individual fates. The artist regularly involves in the production of his films nonprofessional actors from social fringe groups that are the subject of his films: unemployed people, minorities, political opponents, activists. With their slow rhythm, Chen Chieh-jen’s films have retained something of a photographic character. The artist is less concerned with precise historical reconstruction than with exposing the emotions and feelings of his protagonists in a brief restoration of their community.

The starting and central point of this exhibition, in which Chen Chieh-jen presents four films made from 2003 to 2010, is a specially created installation, a “temporary cinema” in which an excerpt from his most recent film, Happiness Building I (2012), is to be seen. The image of the eight young people who together, but without really belonging in a group, push a baggage trolley in a seemingly aimless and endless fashion becomes a metaphor for the contemporary society of his country.


  • Enrico Lunghi