Empire’s Borders II – Western Enterprises, Inc.
Since the 1980s, Chen Chieh-jen has built a body of work that explores issues of globalization, capital, labour, migration, and the impact of these forces on individuals. His early work, during the period of martial law in Taiwan, took the form of guerrilla-style performance and underground exhibitions meant to challenge both the political system and the conservative art establishment of the time. After the period of martial law ended in the early 1990s, Chen began to use moving images as his primary medium. His beautifully realized films and videos are composed of a blend of re-enactments, architectural studies and documentary elements. Though universally expansive in their scope, the root of Chen's investigations remain within Taiwan, a country that has continually found itself at a crossroads between global political and economic influences.
Chen's most recent work, Empire's Borders II–Western Enterprises, Inc., looks at a period of cold war secrecy in the 1950s. Working with the Taiwanese government, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established an operation called Western Enterprises where its agents trained the Anti-Communist National Salvation Army (NSA) for a surprise attack on Communists in Mainland China. At the center of this three-channel installation is a haunting narrative following a group of ghostly figures as they stumble through the dilapidated interiors of an old factory. Chen builds this story from the biography of his father, who was a member of NSA, whose relics from his time with them—an autobiographical journal, a list of soldiers killed, an empty photo album and an old army uniform—form the substrate from which Chen's narrative is realized. Chen says of the work, "This film affords an opportunity to re-imagine memories in a society without records and to heal the self by refocusing attention on the void created by 'Western Enterprises.' On this journey into our recent past, we can reunite with those silenced voices to rebuild our home for the future."
Chen Chieh-jen was born in Taoyuan, Taiwan, in 1960. He represented Taipei at the Venice Biennale in 2009, where he has also been included in the curated shows in 1999 and 2005. He has participated in many other international biennials including Gwangju, São Paulo, Istanbul, New Orleans, Taipei, Shanghai, Liverpool and Sydney; the Asia Pacific Triennial, Brisbane; the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial and the Guangzhou Triennial; and was recently shortlisted for the Artes Mundi Prize at the National Museum, Cardiff. He has had major solo shows at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris; Asia Society New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; REDCAT in Los Angeles; Long March Space in Beijing and currently has a major retrospective at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. In 2000 he was awarded the Special Prize at the Gwangju Biennale in Korea and in 2009 he was awarded Taiwan's prestigious National Award for Arts for Outstanding Cultural Achievement.