Chen Chieh-jen

Chen Chieh-jen, The Route (installation view), 2006

Chen Chieh-jen, The Route (installation view), 2006

Chen’s work focuses on the idea of the body as a social construct subject to power relations, a theme which runs from his early performance as resistance against the authoritarian regime in Taiwan, through digitally manipulated photographs of torture and war, to recent films about the vacuum left behind for workers and the built environment when capital moves elsewhere.

Using photography and film, Chen (b.1960, Taoyuan, Taiwan) creates a space in which standard narratives are deconstructed and the subjectivity of the viewed can be reestablished. In the 1990s, Chen adapted a series of historic photographs of torture and war by digitally replacing the victims, the torturers and the onlookers in the scenes with images of himself. Rather than using them to comment on specific historical events, the artist calls these images ‘echoes’ that address the issues of the coloniser and the colonised, the photographer and the photographed, gaze and power, discipline and body, self and other, and reality and illusion.

Factory (2003) and Bade Area (2005) are documentaries of non-events in northern Taiwan, where textile factories and workers have been abandoned after capital shifted to China and other low-cost regions. Like the photographs, these slow, silent films portray the cruelty and void imposed on the workers and their architectural habitats; they suggest the aftermath of a long-drawn-out war.

Chen Chieh-jen’s films can be deceptively beautiful. He creates striking sequences of near abstract black and white images, but at the same time his works are moving depictions of the lives of real people: he uses the local and the individual to show us the often harsh realities of global economics. Chen’s film for International 06 looked back to the dock-workers’ strike of the 1990’s, sparked when five hundred Liverpool dockers were fired for refusing to cross a picket line. Entitled, The Route 2006, the film followed the fortunes of one ship and its cargo, revealing in the process a truly global story of workers’ solidarity that begins in Liverpool’s docks and ends all the way back in the artist’s homeland, Taiwan.

In 1995 Liverpool dockers protesting at the casualisation of labour refused to cross the picket line and were sacked by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. During the dispute they alerted longshoremen’s unions across the world and gained support from their colleagues internationally. When Neptune Jade set sail from England dock workers in Vancouver, Yokohama and Kobe all refused to let the ship dock and unload its cargo. The ship eventually sailed to Taiwan where it was dismantled and sold. Neptune Jade stands as a significant event in the struggle of the dock workers and has become a model of their international solidarity. 
During his research Chen worked with Liverpool poet Dave Ward who created a poem based upon the ongoing traces of the dockers’ dispute in Liverpool. This global event started in Liverpool and ended in Taiwan, the artist’s home. The Route represented history by interspersing documentary footage of films on the dockers’ dispute and the Neptune Jade with new footage of a staged picket line at the Port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The action of the Taiwanese dockers in 2006 suggested a meaningful understanding of the future for dockers’ rights. A symbolic connection between workers in Liverpool and Taiwan was created, echoing the dockers’ phrase ‘The world is our picket line’.

Chen Chieh-jen at Liverpool Biennial 2006

The Route
, 2006
DVD projection, black and white
Single channel video and sound installation 
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2006 
Exhibited at The Tate Liverpool

Supported by

Taipei Representative Office in the U.K.
Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan