張永達延續前年底開始發展的Without Composing系列，結合偵測游離輻射粒子的蓋格管，組構採集並轉譯數據的科技裝置，讓源自遠古時空的宇宙射線、潛藏於環境中而且幾乎無所不在的放射粒子，具體地視覺化與聽覺化。另也利用具天然放射線的岩石，進一步展現放射能量的衰變發展。此偵測系統，見證科技輔具所帶來的感知擴展，揭露人類不易或無能察覺的物質存在，卻也同時質疑著身體感官、反照出人類感知的侷限。作品中客觀而科學性的數據採集，體現了對「真實」的扣問與求索，然而，隨機隱現的放射粒子，卻是無法預測、難以量化。轉譯數據的光點或聲響，以「非人」的邏輯、自主變化的節奏，不斷改編、不停翻新，不僅「去作者中心」也「去人類中心」地呈現瞬息變動的能量演化。終究，張永達偵測出的乃是不可測的本質，而正是於此，他充滿悖論而微妙地反映了不受控制、無法掌握的「真實」。稍早，後現代科學和相關的理論研究既曾預告以「不穩定」為特徵之時代的來臨。法國數學家托姆（René Thom）對「穩定系統」的質疑引發了熱烈迴響之後，後現代主義學者李歐塔（Jean-François Lyotard）繼而申論，直指後現代科學探究的是「不穩定」現象（instabilities），更謂其生產的不是知識而是未知。在變動更甚以往而根本已成常態的當代語境中，張永達以偵測放射粒子的科技藝術裝置重返宇宙母題，微物大化地持續探索遙遠宇宙與根本存有，引人重新感知深遠無垠的過去，也反身性地覺察自我的極限、思辯人類與科技的關係，並意識到莫可測的現在與未來。
Re-sensing the Cosmos—Nick Dong x Chang Yung-Ta
Curator: Liu Chun-Lan (Professor, National Taiwan University of Arts)
Heavenly Questions by the poet Qu Yuan during the Warring States period, with its first question about the genesis of the cosmos and the creation of the world, poses more than one hundred and seventy questions manifesting a grand vision that surpasses space and time, while conveying profound thinking about and exploration of the formation of heaven and earth, natural order, life, society, and history.
The question about the cosmos has always been a focal point in technology as much as philosophy. It transcends generational differences, history, disciplines, and genres, as well as involves both the progression of times and changes of viewpoints. From ancient theology to modern sciences, our cosmic views and cognitive framework have undergone a recurring process of re-discovery and re-definition. Since the ancient time, human exploration, perception, and imagination of the cosmos have also been a driving force behind aesthetic experiments and multiple topics, which enable us to break through existing frameworks and ways of thinking. In early 20th century, hyperspace philosophy and cosmic consciousness, which combined science and spirituality, and the concept of the tesseract and the fourth dimension, have brought forth innovative experimentation carried out by the avant-garde art. Moreover, space research and cosmic technology after the war have also driven artistic imagination and practice informed by modernity in the Western society and Taiwan. In the summer of 2022, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the U.S.A. announced the latest images of the deep space. The splendid, colorful pictures are not simply visually pleasing and emblematic of technological advancement, but also re-launch the issue of the cosmos in a more tangible way, shaking our current perception and customary imagination, while encouraging people to re-examine our homogenous, centralized thinking about and mode of the world.
Borrowing the title of the poem from the ancient Pre-Qin period, the exhibition features the latest works by Nick Dong and Chang Yung-Ta, and concentrates on the artists’ viewpoints and investigation of the cosmos. Furthermore, the exhibition focuses on their respective technical deployments, medium languages, and aesthetic conversions, placing an emphasis on the spatial-temporal perception and unique sensibility embodied and introduced by their works, along with their fundamental reflection of and inquiry into the environment and the subject of existence. Using the title of a two-thousand-year-old poem, the exhibition not merely highlights the transtemporal (and transcultural) implication of the cosmic question –a motif to all humanity indeed – but also aims to view the artists’ distinctive contemporary expressions and different viewpoints in a macrocosmic context to further ponder on things that are eternally unchanged or constantly changing in the cosmos.
The cosmos can almost be said to be the keyword that characterizes Nick Dong’s work in recent years. While his work echoes the quest of cosmic truth in Tian Wen (The Heavenly Questions)1, Dong incorporates Buddhism, the thinking of Zen, as well as knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, and physics into his work. From four dimensionality, multi-dimensionality, superstring theory, to quantum entanglement, such knowledge has nourished his cosmic awareness. Dong began conceiving the idea of this new art series featured in this exhibition last summer. He utilizes the geometric shape of sphere as a basis, and uses the shape as a metaphor for heavenly bodies, or the elemental unit that constitutes all things in the cosmos. From being juxtaposed, connected, intersecting, to separated, and from independent individuals, collective resonance, to harmonious unification, the entire series paves the narrative of “relations” through the connection of sequential components. Comparing to the simplicity and purity of the sphere’s exterior, Dong employs his training in metalsmith and jewelry design to amalgamate contrastingly lighting, mirror surfaces, motorized mechanics, and sound design, and produces precise and elaborate structures, which unveil a splendid world.
Intertwining and overlapping, repetitious and expanding, the metal structures, especially the web formations therein, echo the mega structures of galaxy filaments of star clusters in the universe. Through mirror reflection, an extending spatial dimension and a stretching depth are produced. Reminiscent of the repeated rhythm of rotation or revolution, these structures evoke an association of a different dimension devoid of temporality. Also, they hint at the constituting pair of self and non-self, as well as the repetitive cycle of flickering light, embedding individual existences and the rhythm of life in this endless illusion. Consequently, the microcosmoses crafted by Dong, whether the entire series or individual components, are both small and large, as well as near and far. Thus, the individual and the collective, the close and the distant, and the past and the future are all in a coexisting and interconnected state. Modern mathematicians and scientists have proposed and revealed that time and space should be viewed as one “continuum.” This notion has connected cosmic heavenly bodies and individual existences in the microcosmic scale as one. Connecting macrocosms and microcosms, distant and recent times, Dong’s work creates channels that are material, sensory, and spiritually abstract, and unfolds an exploration and imagination of multiple intertextual relations between cosmic stellar systems and individual existences, as well as macro systems and micro individuals.
Chang Yung-Ta continues his ongoing series Without Composing launched at the end of 2020, and combines the Geiger–Müller tubes – a device used to detect ionizing radioactive particles – to assemble technological installations that translate the gathered data. The installations thereby create concrete visualization and sonification of ancient cosmic rays and radioactive particles ubiquitous in the environment. In addition, he utilizes naturally radioactive rocks to demonstrate further the decay trajectory of radioactive energy. This detection system, on the one hand, speaks of how assistive devices can expand the human senses, and expose the material existence difficult or imperceptible to detect for humans. On the other hand, it also questions and reflects the restraints of human bodily senses. The objectively and scientifically gathered data in this work embody an inquiry into and a pursuit of “reality.” However, the radioactive particles that appear at random are unpredictable and unquantifiable. The dots of light and sounds translated from the data manifest a “non-human” logic, and an autonomously changing rhythm. Ceaselessly re-modifying and renewing, the work is not only “de-author-centric” but also “de-anthropocentric,” displaying the evolution of energy that changes at every instant.
What Chang’s installation reveals in the end is the nature of immeasurability. However, this is precise the reason why his work paradoxically yet subtly reflects the uncontrollable, unfathomable “reality.” In an earlier time, postmodern science and related theoretical studies have already predicted the advent of an era characterized by “instabilities.” After French mathematician René Thom’s questioning of the “structural stability” generates much discussion, postmodernist scholar Jean-François Lyotard continues the theoretical investigation by pointing out that what postmodern sciences explores is the phenomenon of “instabilities.” Instead of knowledge, they produce the unknown. In the contemporary context, in which changes occur more than ever and almost become a normality, Chang’s radioactive particle-detecting installation of technology art revisits the motif of cosmos to continue exploring microcosmically the macrocosmic topics of distant universe and fundamental existence. His work engages us in re-sensing the infinitesimal past, while prompting us to be reflexively aware of our limit, think about the connection between humanity and technology, and perceive the inestimable present and future.