Luxury Flats by Mountain Parks
– Cai Guo-jie Solo Exhibition
Text: Chen Kuang-yi
PhD holder in Contemporary Art History from Paris X Nanterre (University of Paris X Nanterre); Professor of the Graduate School of Fine Arts and Dean of the College of Fine Arts at National Taiwan University of Arts
Cai Guo-jie’s ” Half-Field Plan “, originally a site-specific art project on different urban locations, has been going on for more than 10 years －with exhibitions evolving from the Yong Kang Street, Taipei in 2004, the Warehouse No. 20, Taichung in 2005, to the Macao Ox Warehouse in 2015 and the Post-ox Warehouse Experimental Site and the Tap Seac Gallery in Macao in 2018, and then from Florence, Italy the same year to the NIDO Asia gallery in Hong Kong this time.
These maps from Cai, though looking completely different from his previous colourful paintings of cityscapes, originate from the same idea: urban tranformation results in decentralisation, deconstruction and loss of functionality of the city while hindering spatial readability and generating nostalgia among other things. Therefore the maps evoke viewers’ memories about transformations and reconstructions, while also triggering relevant imaginations. It does not matter if they are drawings or a project.
The exhibition shows cadastral maps, city maps and other big maps along with pictures of buildings instead of landscape paintings. This technique of urban depiction was based on a train of thought related to mapping, triggered by Charles Beaudelaire’s concept of flânerie and Guy Debord’s theory of Dérive. These ideas were further developed by Robert Smithson, who had built a system of “sites” and “non-sites”: “sites” refer to specific places in the world characterised as panoramic, borderless, decentralised and incomprehensible territories in which all historical and cultural concepts are nullified; “non-sites” are the museum-based displays of the materials, photographs, maps, survey diagrams, etc. of these specific places, which collectively summarised these geographic sites in an abstract manner.
Early modern artists often regarded maps as a symbol of power. “Maps give men and women the power of gods and captains,” said Robert Storr while curating the exhibition Mapping at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1994. Meanwhile, the global geopolitical instability and the emergence of urban politics have led artists to use cartography to try to visualise gradual power shifts.
In his attempt, Cai Guo-jie does not only address the dialectic relationship between sites and non-sites but also clearly focus on territorial power and ownership rights. The artist presents a large number of cadastral maps (most related to the exhibition location) used in land sales, land contracts and notices of land sales. Moreover, he sets up an office table on which virtual deals could be made, with simulated land purchase contracts being signed between himself /real estate agent and any visitors. As soon as the ‘deal’ is inked, the sold plots would be marked on the maps exhibited. Such ‘performance’, taking place in Hong Kong, a place known for its land shortage and high housing costs, will undoubtedly attract huge public attention, as it addresses thorny local issues like stratospheric home prices, revitalization of old blocks, allocation of public housing and deteriorating living conditions.
However, how can an artist have land resources for sale? Does he have the right to sell them? How does art reveal or expose the issue of urban space allocation, and “show, interpret, work out and reconstruct the power across media and space?” – just as what the artist has proudly claimed.
In my opinion, Cai has cleverly answered this crucial question by introducing the concept of liminality. This anthropological term developed by Victor Turner has been used widely in different senses: in psychology, it means being at a sensory threshold or barely perceptible to the senses; in describing a person, it refers to someone living in between two identities. A liminal space is yet-to-be-defined, contradictory, transitional and in between two things (entre-deux). As a self-dubbed borderline manager, Cai sells “interspaces”, a designation he gives to areas that arise from the inevitable margins of error occurring when dividing land and floor spaces. His act may seem rather absurd and ridiculous, but the idea of selling these barely perceptible, indefinite and transitional spaces as someone in between an artist and real estate agent in a venue that is half-gallery, half-real estate agency makes it poetic, even if it is raising important issues about ownership of urban spaces and the art market economy. The visitors welcome it with open arms because at little cost they can get an imagined space to escape from reality.
Finally, notwithstanding the artist’s performance art and visitors’ participation, it is noteworthy that all the cadastral maps, floor plans and survey diagrams.