Empire’s Borders II – Western Enterprises, Inc. (2010)
Most of Chen Chieh-Jen’s video art is made in collaboration with marginalized people such as unemployed laborers, temporary workers, longshoremen and immigrants. His long-term concerns have been Taiwan’s experiences with colonization, the Cold War, martial law and neoliberalism; the subsequent blocking or elimination of people’s memories during these periods; and how a more pluralistic democracy might be developed through the filming of video art.
Empire’s Borders II – Western Enterprises, Inc. is Chen Chiehjen’s 2010 three-channel video installation. Western Enterprises was the name given to a private trading company which served as the Taiwan bureau of the United States Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War period. For this video, Chen uses a poetic dialectical approach to present the Western Enterprises building, with its imperialistic implications, as a wasteland reflecting the amnesia of the Taiwanese people. This amnesia is a result of US support for the Kuomintang dictatorship, as well as a series of disciplinary and administration tactics aimed at transforming Taiwan into a pro-American, anti-communist base, and a thoroughly capitalist society.
In the video, the son reexamines items left behind by his father; an empty photo album which cannot testify to history, a real but impossible to verify list of NSA soldiers lost at sea, a partially fictionalized autobiography written as self examination, and an old military uniform. The son marks the anniversary of his father’s death by burning spirit money and then putting on the uniform amidst the drifting and curling smoke – unifying his image with that of his father’s – to make a journey back to Western Enterprises.
The son, now portraying the father, wanders through different areas of the abandoned Western Enterprises facility which is permeated with traces of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG). On different floors of the building he meets an NSA soldier unsuccessfully searching for his own military dossier, an undocumented victim of white terror who cannot leave the building, and unemployed laborers and day workers trapped by abandoned industrial equipment. These people and ghosts, rejected by historical views promulgated by imperial and state apparatuses next help one another to the MAAG auditorium in the Western Enterprises building. Here they assemble on the stage forming a monument to the memory of the people, which stands in resistance to dominant historical views.
Biography Born 1960 in Taiwan, lives and works in Taiwan. Chen Chieh-jen is a vocational high school graduate currently living and working in Taipei. He exhibits widely in his home country Taiwan and internationally. In 2009 his work Empire’s Borders was included in the Taiwan Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Chieh-jen was first shown in the Taiwan Pavilion in 1999 at the 48th Venice Bienniale. In 2005 he was one of 41 artists presented by curator Maria de Corral in the Padiglione Italia, The experience of art, at the 51st Biennale di Venezia, Venice. Chieh-jen was included in the Third Guangzhou Triennial in 2008, and the 10th International Istanbul Biennial in 2007. Chiehjen's video artwork includes Lingchi – Echoes of a Historical Photograph, Factory, The Route, Military Court and Prison and Empire's Borders I.
Photo: Hendrik Zeitler