The Artist Laid Bare

Nana Chen Interviews Kuo Hui-chan (郭慧禪), performance artist, photographer, part-time lecturer at Tokyo University Applied Arts Department


Nana: Please give me some information about your background, when you got interested in art and how you pursued it.

Hui-Chan: I’m from Yilan .… small town. Did not start out liking to create. Went to study art abroad on impulse. Did not like art until I got to London. Tate Modern had just opened. Bourgeaux was an inspiration. I hadn’t seen such powerful work before in Taiwan. It really inspired me. Suddenly, an artist had some worth. I also came across a great instructor from 2000 to 2001. I started out as a designer, doing illustrations for websites. Drawing whales, dolphins for about half a year. Then I wanted to change. Also did interior design, which I was not good at, so I went to Main Trend Gallery and became a gallery assistant for a year and a half. It was too superficial. I had to socialise. For every qualification they needed, I did not have. It was torturous.

Artificial Garden

Nana: But you got the job anyway. Okay, let me ask this, you were drawing, designing, what got you into photography?

Hui-Chan: Brian Don Chocolate, an instructor. I did not feel like drawing anymore, so he suggested why not make a sculpture…model making. He suggested studying people like photographer Cindy Sherman. He saw that I wanted to focus on self-identity or gender and recommended using photography or video as my media. He said it would be a more effective way for me to carry my concepts across.

Nana: What motivated you to incorporate nudity into your performance pieces?

Hui-Chan: Because I wanted to explore the fact that as long as you are dressed it symbolises something. To me, the purest form of the human body is the state of nudity.

Nana: The people that you see in the photographs are placed in there afterwards – digitally manipulated images?

Hui-Chan: Yes. But in Floating, I am nude in the countryside.

Nana: Would you consider doing this in front of an audience?

Hui-Chan: No.

Nana: What elements do you combine in your work?

Hui-Chan: I would like to explore a complex mixture of things.


Nana: Do you mean mixed media?

Hui-Chan: Right. I don’t like to just use one medium to convey my message. I’d rather incorporate photography with Photoshop. For example, asking someone to adjust this or that then pushing a button is just boring.


Nana: You want to be able to manipulate the images. That’s the creative process for you.

Hui-Chan: That’s the most important process, the most important thing.


Nana: Your creativity is being able to manipulate the images. So now you are using Photoshop as a form of painting, which you studied. Are you reverting to your early training then?

Hui-Chan: Yes. It’s the most natural thing for me.


Nana: What is your next project?

Hui-Chan: Right now I think I just want to focus on traditional photography. Then that would focus on some other subject. Just not use myself. More realistic work. Maybe also continue with model making and using mixed media.


Nana: How long have you been a professional artist?

Hui-Chan: Six years.


Nana: So half of those years you concentrated on the form of your body. And what have you focused on during the other three years?

Hui-Chan: I started to think about other work. When I did the Floating series, I lost interest in my own body. I had nothing else to say.


Nana: What message were you trying to convey?

Hui-Chan: I was trying to see why we must look the way we do? The total experience. Why the body? Why the clothing and make-up?


Nana: So you tried to portray yourself as sexless.

Hui-Chan: Yes. But now I think it’s funny and boring. But that’s just what came out of me.


Nana: I’m curious. I’ve never taken my clothes off in public. Please explain the process.

When I was in London I did it all in a studio. So I did not feel embarrassed. But in Taiwan, particularly in the countryside, I felt a little scared. Plus, I used a male photographer.

Nana: So they were not self-portraits, but taken by another photographer. So in this case, you were more a performance artist. When did you start to do self-portraits then?

Hui-Chan: Often, I have to get others to take photos of me in the nude. Other times, I do it digitally. Sometimes I set it up and have others push the button.

Nana: So that it is not their interpretation but yours. Would you ever collaborate with other artists or people to participate in a shoot?

Hui-Chan: I feel this is a finished project. I never look back or care about my previous work. If I look back…well, there’s no need. It really doesn’t matter who the person is in the photograph. Just that by using myself it is easier to control.

Nana: So for you, creativity is about control.

Hui-Chan: Yes.

Nana: What is the future of this? What is the best-case scenario for you?

Hui-Chan: I would like to introduce visual arts to the general public. I hope in the next thirty years, I can create art that most people would see, not just in galleries. It would have more meaning if it’s not just appreciated by the elite or other artists—mutual praise does not feed me.


This article first appeared in Taiwanease magazine in September 2006.