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Rebecca Horn in Affect Machine: Self-healing in the Post-Capitalist Era

Taipei Fine Arts Museum unveils the third edition of its Curatorial Project, Affect Machine: Self-healing  in  the  Post-Capitalist  Era. Curated  by  Yu-Chieh  Li  and  Gladys  Lin,  the  exhibition  is  set  to  run  from  September 18th to December 19th. Taking “affective art history” as a point of departure, the curatorial  team imagines the  exhibition  as an ensemble  of  healing  machines. The exhibition features seven  artists and art collectives from Taiwan and overseas, including Rebecca Horn, Chen Hui-Chiao, Chen  Chen Yu, Cam Xanh (Tran Thanh Ha),  John Akomfrah, Olafur Eliasson, and Chu Hao Pei + Lee Chang  Ming. Employing immersive installations, poetic language, and performative practices, the artists will  create a domain of self-settling or emotional release in the post-pandemic era. 

The Post-Capitalist Era: “Affective Art” and “Machine Art” 

In  the  post-capitalist  era,  all  disciplines  encounter overproduction. Facing  media  spectacles  and  information explosion, we are gradually alienated from our own feelings and losing connections with  the world. Uncertainties produce perceptual disruptions and even anxiety about impending crisis. In  this exhibition, seemingly opposite states of “affect” and “machine” coexist and are mutually affirming through  different  mechanisms  and  codes, presenting  a  constantly  fluctuating  state  of  tension  and  relaxation between us and the environment. 

According  to co-curator Yu-Chieh Li,  the works in  this exhibition express “affect” at different levels.  First,  a  variety  of  multimedia  installations  evoke  emotions,  creating  a  pathway  that  can  trigger  affective perceptions  and  further to  train  and  repair  sensory organs, and face one’s  own  fragility.  Second,  artists  adopt  a  calmer,  more  distanced  approach  to  depict  trauma,  pain,  toil,  loss,  and  relationships  with  nature,  and  thus  produce  a  kind  of  “affective  art  history.” Through  tactile  experiences, sound, and alternative ways of viewing reality, their practices create affective registers  that resonate with the mental activities of the audience. 

The “machines” in  this  exhibition  represent  different  mechanisms  of  affective  flows,  connections  among disparate species—even between humans and artificial intelligence—and affective dialogues  across different  time  and  space.  Early  on  in  the  transition  from  post-industrialization  to  post-modernism, machines came to be viewed as having the ability to generate and destroy humanity,  while creating a  host  of  reveries  and  spectacles.  Present-day  digital  phenomena  are  gradually  permeating our lives, blurring the boundaries between our bodies and machines, as they support and  enhance our various sensorial and cognitive experiences. 

A Look Back at Affective Art History 

Centered on an exploration of feeling, this exhibition features eight sets of performance and digital art,  two  of  which  are  new  commissions.  Looking back  on  the  history  of “affect” in  art  since  the  1970s,  from body art to multimedia installations, the exhibition attempts a variety of approaches to explore  resonance between the body and the environment, as well as poetic or theatrical forms of expressions, inciting emotional reverberations in the audience to release anxiety and introduce a more cerebral,  sedate state of contemplation, re-stimulating sensory balance. 

Upon entering the exhibition, one encounters German artist Rebecca Horn’s Performances II, a series  of  film  documentations of  her  early  works  which  explore  bodily  sensations,  pain  and  desire,  transforming inner  feelings into external movement.  It includes  her  classic work Cockfeather Mask,  now in the collection of Tate Modern in London. The cyclical violin bowing of her more recent kinetic  installation  Der  Sonnenseufzer (“Sigh  of  Sun”)  seemingly  represents  the  two  poetic  notes  of  lamentation and loneliness. Taiwanese artist Chen Hui-Chiao’s A Room with  a View blends  together  different  kinds  of  narrative,  crafting  resplendent  painterly  surfaces  on beds through needles  and  threads,  to  depict  powerful emotional  demarcations  that encompass  such  subjects as  dreamscapes,  healing, and death. Behind a wall, Taiwanese artist Chen Chen Yu’s multimedia installation Here Each  Vibration  Long  Away broadcasts  news  reports  of the  plague  year.  Ritualistic  objects  deliver  a  meditative sense of comfort and provide many avenues to experience feelings.

Entering  the  white  cube in  the  adjacent  gallery,  visitors  are  enswathed  in  the  minimalist  concrete  poetry of Vietnamese artist Cam Xanh, which compares engineering codes with biological genes. Silk  cocoons symbolize mechanisms of self-defense or healing. Sound and music encompass The Airport  by  John  Akomfrah,  a  British  artist  of  Ghana  descent.  The three-channel video installation weaves  a  tapestry  of  different  performance  segments,  inciting  resonance  with  viewers’  bodily  perceptions,  challenging  identity  in  the  post-capitalist  era,  and  awakening  lingering  memories  of  trauma.  Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson is  known  for his immersive works  that  stimulate  the  senses.  His  Compass  family is  a  series  of  trembling  mechanical  sculptures  that  symbolize  the  mutually  constraining  relationship  between  human  activities  and  nature.  Connecting  the  museum’s  interior  and exterior spaces, they allow us to  feel the “realities” present in different contexts. The exhibition  concludes with the photographic installation Beneath the Bodhi & Banyan by Singaporean artists Chu  Hao Pei and Lee Chang Ming. It documents the illegal, transient folk shrines set up under trees along  Singapore’s  Sembawang  Beach. Being entrusted  with  humanity’s  wishes  for  a  beautiful  life,  the  pantheon also reflects the locale’s broad social, cultural, religious and ethnic structure, as well as its  geopolitical situation. 

The  theme  of  “Affect  Machine” is divided  into three  viewing  trajectories:  The  first  is  the  communication  that  takes  place  between  the  body  and  the  environment through various  media before emotions are generated; the second is  the anxiety  of  the post-capitalist society,  transformed  into  poetic  or  theatrical  languages; and  the  third  is folk  culture  outside  of  capitalist time,  such  as  dreams, divination, and  religions. These  trajectories are meant  to  release  the  feelings that  resonate with  the  environment.  An Online Symposium  organized  in  conjunction  with the  exhibition  will  be  held at  14:00  on September  25  (Sat.), centering  on  two themes:  sensorial experiences  surrounding  affect theory and machine augmented experiences, and secondly the role of affect in post-colonial art  and  discourses.  For details of the event, please  refer to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum website ( or follow the museum’s official Facebook page (Taipei Fine Arts Museum). 

Curatorial Team 

Yu-Chieh Li / Co-curator.  

Yu-Chieh Li is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Studies and a research  fellow at the Centre for Film and Creative Industries, Lingnan University, Hong Kong. She has held  research positions at UNSW Art and Design, Tate Research Centre: Asia, and the Museum of Modern  Art, New York, and is co-founder of SCREEN, a media art platform established in 2015. Li’s research  engages with aesthetics of performance art in Asia and postcolonial discourses. Currently she is  working on a book project examining affect and the artistic autonomy of post-socialism. 

Gladys Lin / Co-curator 

Independent art consultant Gladys Lin specializes in international exhibition planning and art  administration. She has served as Director, Asia at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York and Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, India. She has extensive experience in the contemporary art market, and since 2008 has  focused on promoting the works of international artists in Asia.