Entretien avec Ban-Yuan Chang : « Humanism in posthuman subject »

The Blessing From The Gods. Mixed Medium. 25cm x 15cm x 15cm. 2018

Entretien en anglais

L’artiste taïwanais Ban-Yuan Chang s’extirpe de toutes réflexions négatives du futur en créant des œuvres puissamment orchestrées entre technologie et science. Présentées au Taipei Fine Art Museum lors de son exposition personnelle « The Self, Humans and Machines with their Residues » du 17 août au 3 novembre 2019, ses installations, sculptures, vidéos et dessins prennent leur source dans sa culture, son expérience paramédicale durant son service militaire obligatoire et les avancées technologiques. A l’origine, la culture populaire japonaise et américaine des années 1990 marque son imaginaire dont il tire ses recherches orientées sur les capacités augmentées du corps humain. Au sein de son œuvre, il n’essaye pas de réinventer l’avenir au reflet science-fictionnel. Il s’imprègne notamment des principes taoïstes et bouddhistes d’incarnation afin de s’intéresser à la manière de se positionner en tant qu’être humain dans une ère post-humaine, postcoloniale et technologique.

Porté sur la formulation d’une identité incarnée dans le corps en transformation, Ban-Yuan Chang cherche l’équilibre dans la complexité des technologies et de l’anatomie. La dimension post-humaine guide son intention à réinterpréter le rapport humain-machine. Toute la profondeur du « soi » faisant entièrement partie prenante de l’équation, l’ensemble est contrebalancé par la fragilité de l’identité observée à travers le prisme de l’histoire postcoloniale de Taïwan. D’un point de vue critique et bienveillant, l’artiste propose les futurs développements de la condition humaine actuelle sans tomber dans une forme d’utopie ou de dystopie. L’échange suivant permet d’en apprendre plus sur cette interdépendance qui lie nouvelle technologie, humain et tradition au sein de son œuvre.

The faith that we used to believe, debris from a factory fire,
cast concrete, acrylic boards, and walnut wood in a folk painting from Bali, 69.8 cm x
69.8 cm x 140 cm, 2017.

Adélie Le Guen : What were the biggest benefits of your one-year substitute military service experience after your art studies in London ? 

Ban-Yuan Chang : My paramedic experience has led me to navigate thoroughly to different social groups. This experience provides me to engage with the front line of social workers (paramedics and firemen) to attach on their ways of seeing. For instance, the views on the patients are not seeing them as a “human” but seeing them as the truth of body landscape. In other words, the ‘landscape’ provides the structures of symptom, the messages of inner body. I consider that this is a communication and an interaction with non-humans inside the human. It is an interface to convert the humanity to the complex neuron network in the micro universe of the body. Thus, I consider that this experience leads me to entangle with the affirmative fragility of the body subjectivity. It therefore triggers me to develop the idea of becoming fragility, which is based on this experience and the background of the broken subjectivity of Taiwan, and applies to my art practice.  

ALG : You have a deep and complex connection with the future in your work, what are the fundamental ideas which guide you in your process?

BYC : I have always imagined the present or current human condition’s future development since my childhood. The imagination of technology and social development account a major proportion because of the interest of human body’s capacity. This interest is derived from my childhood or my generation’s memory. I was born in 1991. That was the time and the generation of Japanese and American animation and sci-fi films, Akira, Power Ranger, Gundam, Rockman, Pokémon, RoboCop, Spiderman, Superman and so forth. Due to this background, I am fascinated in the desire of escalating human body’s capacity. This curiosity has thus driven me to ground the idea of simulation, of fragility, of medicine in my art practice. The idea of simulation, for me, is not only about the imagination but is about the desire and the ambition of territorial domination, which sees body as a territory of the projected desire to go through this projection and modification to estimate the potentially practical impact. The idea of fragility is based on the property of liquidity under the background of cybernetics and the rise of advanced technology. In other words, we used to apply many tools as a kind of extensional prosthesis; however, in today, algorithms, simulative technologies, digital instruments rather have shift and dragged these tools to become the main core of our subjectivity, and this subjectivity is not solidly and concretely settled in our body. In contrast, they rather deconstruct the solidity of the body, namely rationality, free will, individuality, and autonomous, to a fragile and scattered status. For me, this is an affirmative progress. It is a renovation and resonation of the idea of coexistence and interdependence in traditional Taoism/Chinese Buddhism that provides sustainability to define human beings and their correlation with other non-human life forms and technological others. However, this dose not means the human beings is placed at the top of the pyramid; this rather reduces the solid idea of human to become the flux or liquid of the message, energy that entangle with others. It is a process of becoming the corpses from a corpse to vitalities. Finally, the idea of medicine is not only limited on the sphere of anatomy or healing. I rather consider that it is the philosophy of reconstruction, cultivation and mapping. It reveals the truths of the body structure but hooks the urgency of changing body for environmental adjustment. Thus for me, these three fundamental ideas give the category of what is future. For me, the future dose not means what ‘will’ or ‘might’ happen; the idea of future is rather a series of historical and empirical messages to embody and embed in our habitus. It is like the air, an intangible and untouchable but essential existence for being existed.

ALG : It feels like technology becomes more metaphysic than spirit and embodiment. Is tradition helping you to stay in the reality and elaborate the perception of our realistic numeric future? If so, how?

BYC : For me, I rather see technology is a kind of materialization of the spirit. It is the spirit’s embodiment. Technology itself shifts our body condition to a shamanic status. We have always been engaging and entangling with technology. When we are sharing our information or messages with technological others, and simultaneously, they (technological others) are also accelerating and enhancing our cognitions and knowledge. Therefore, I would say technological others themselves are the spirit and the embodiment of information age. In addition, the tradition, for me, is considered as the cornerstone of the reality, which is entwined with the imagination of future, and the numeric projections of the time, life and space are the vitalities from the corpses of the tradition. The corpses dose not means the death; it is a progress of continuity that through the dissections of the corpses to re-compose and re-embed into the new forms of matter. Although today’s future, in somehow, might be numeric, the traditions’ vitalities also contribute the randomness and deviations of cultural understanding to emerge the diversity and complexity under the numeric-like norm, and at the same time, to generate the new pattern of the reality. Thus, I would say the tradition is not only helping me to stay in the reality but it is also guiding me to embody and embed its complexity and sustainability to the vital future through the navigation of art practice.

Vanity Arhan Size: 30cm x 21cm x 15cm Mixed medium 2018

ALG : The faith that we used to believe (2018) and Vanity Arhan (2018) seems like archeological pieces or images of our future, what do you think about this idea of human and posthuman legacy?

BYC : Although these two pieces have different inspiration, one starts from the experience of disaster and another starts form the imagination of the future icon, both of them are based on the idea of rethinking the position of human in the posthuman age. In The faith that we used to believe, the anthropocentric idea is challenged under the agency of non-human, namely disaster; however, this condition rather can be seen as a brutally affirmative encouragement, which unloads the superiority of human subject, to force us to rethink the social habitus and structure through the debris and the residues of the disaster. In Vanity Arhan, the imagination of the futuristic-human-like icon puts the position of the human in an ironic place. This imagination tends to illustrate the living status of the anthropocentric human, and the contradiction of its humanity nostalgia and the unbalanced physical body in the world of posthuman, which is a debris-like condition. The idea of human is thus decomposed to the diverse vitalities (energy) that chains with other life forms and non-life forms’ agency and agents, and I think this dissected progress is affirmative to elaborate the sustainability of the planetary system. The legacy in posthuman subject, in my context, is a projection of the transformation of humanism human in the posthuman subject. But this is not a sadly imagination; it rather tends to explore the possibility of in the humanism in posthuman subject.        

ALG : Pierre Bourdieu (Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, 1984) and Michel Foucault (The Birth of Clinic, 1963) have quite an influence in your work. What other references have inspired you in your posthuman reflection?

BYC : Katherine Hayles in How we became posthuman (1991) and Rossi Braidotti in The Posthuman have inspired me significantly. The former presents the concept of the interdependence and the co-sharing between humans and machines, and articulates the importance of we have always been posthuman. Hayles’s idea of enaction, in this context, has influenced me a lot, as this idea is quiet similar as traditional Taoism’s and Chinese Buddhism’s idea of coexistence and causality, which have played a vital role in my works and my personal background (I am a Buddhist and Taoist, which can be considered as a kind of folk belief, and it is a major belief in Taiwan). In addition, the idea of enaction triggers me to explore the possibility outside of the western vision of posthuman (basing on the trajectory of the decline of humanism, individualism, and the rise of technology) to seek the combination of the idea of coexistence and interdependence in Taoism and Posthumansim in the background of Taiwan colonial history. The latter, Rossi Braidotti’s The Posthuman, provides another significant vision, the life energy Zoe, to me to review on Taiwanese multiculturalism background. The idea of Zoe, in Rossi Braidotti’s context, is a kind of life energy in the planetary system, and human is just apart of this system, and is seen as a kind of energetic flux. In the end, humans will return as a kind of nutrition back to the planet’s ecosystem itself. It is a kind of affirmative decline of humanisms, and it is not anti-human. Thus, this idea has inspired me to think and imagine that the possibility of becoming fragility from the background of Taiwanese colonial history to develop my works.  

ALG : When I came to Taïwan I discovered a very advanced technological art with a sensitive approach. Is there a pattern in Taiwanese art related to the idea of machine, human and future? Do you have some examples?

BYC : I don’t think there is a specific ‘pattern’ to talk on these subjects, but there are some similarities of approaching theses subjects as methods or signifier to present different topics. For examples, Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-Jen’s film Factory[1] approaches the workers’ living status and stories in production line of fabric manufactory and the Taiwanese immigrants’ issue in the boarder of the USA to response the liquidity of capitalism and the workers’ abandoned status after the transition of the factories; Ting Tong Chang[2] approaches the robotic and non-human specimens to response or criticize the problems of anthropocene and René Descartes‘s motto “I think, therefore I am” in the age of information; Ni Hao[3] approaches the technological materials and some daily supplies to criticize the violence of capitalism technology. In sum, for me, these subjects in today’s Taiwanese contemporary art can be seen as a kind of methodology, for me as well, to explore different fields’ issues and trajectories.

ALG : What is your perception of contemporary Taiwanese art?

BYC : Due to our (Taiwanese) diverse historical background (colonial history), the art history can be described as a miniature of western and eastern art. Precisely, Taiwan’s art history starts from the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945), which introduced the impressionism to Taiwan, and following with the cooperation with America under the Kuomintang dictatorship period (1945-1991), democratic progress time with the import of Japanese cultural impact to today’s globalized time. Therefore, this historical background emerges diverse and numerous art vitality and energy to Taiwanese artist. Today, Taiwanese contemporary art presents diverse spheres in different topics (politics, self-narration, identity and so forth). For me, Taiwanese contemporary art presents the reflections of the legacy of colonial history, no matter consciousness or unconsciousness, and digests the global issues or local issues to a multiculturalism perspective.

[1] See: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/film/chen-chieh-jen-factory-and-route

[2] See: https://www.tfam.museum/Exhibition/Exhibition_page.aspx?id=642&ddlLang=en-us

[3] See: https://www.tfam.museum/Exhibition/Exhibition_page.aspx?id=646&ddlLang=en-us

About us, Dimensions variable, projected animations, prosthesis legs, stainless steel, British old fashion makeup box\ plasma ball. Music resources: Launchpad remix app–Novation–Hypnotic energy and other sounds effects from other application. 2019
Sisyphus, 1980 CPR manikin (Kevin), foot pump, steel, CNC cut chemi-wood, MDF, 3D printed ABS, arduino, servos, electrical wires, digital print on polyester stain fabric, size depends on space, 2019.
The Anatomy of Asclepius. Medium: Crystacal R Plaster, 3D printed PLA/ABS, CNC bearing, walnut wood, canvas, Arduino, audio interface,condenser microphone, steel, audicity application, Mac. Size: 150cm x 150cm x 100cm. 2018-19
The God of Misanthrope, Size: 25cm x 15cm x 20cm Mixed medium 2018