Chen Chieh-jen: Empire’s Borders II-Western Enterprises Inc.
2 October – 20 November 2010
The main piece in his project for Chinese Arts Centre is a new three-screen HD video installation and photographic/documentary archive Empire’s Borders II—Western Enterprises, Inc. The piece is based on a number of documents the artist’s late father left behind, which painted an intriguing picture of a life lived in cold-war secrecy. They hinted at the politics of an era when the CIA cooperated with Taiwanese intelligence and trained the Anti-Communist National Salvation Army on its long-abandoned mission to retake the Chinese mainland. As Chen said, his father rarely talked about his work; the only fact he acknowledged was that the autobiography he wrote was fictional. Chen’s new film project is about his father’s journey, about his imagination and his own imagination.
Almost all of Chen’s recent films have dealt with the impact of global capitalism on individuals, through various systems of exchange. Earlier works, like Factory or Bade Area focused on the impact that the free movement of goods had on the lives of people as factories for new goods (first textiles, then computers) rapidly became the sources of Taiwan’s new wealth, only to close down even faster a few decades later when industrial production moved to mainland China and elsewhere. In Empire’s Borders I, the artist shifted his attention from the impact of global trade to the human stories of immigration and emigration, told in the words of Chinese immigrants to Taiwan and Taiwanese immigrants to the USA. This first film in the new series dealt with attempts of individuals to acquire or assert their normality and legitimacy in the face of bureaucratic state apparatuses (border controls, visa regulations).
Empire’s Borders II, now, introduces another twist. The actors are the same: the USA, Taiwan and mainland China. But where the first film showed how states take bureaucratic and legal steps to lock down their borders against the movement of individuals, this second project takes its inspiration from the surreptitious cross-border movements of individuals in irregular army units acting on behalf of the state. To do this, Chen turns his gaze not on the secretive military episodes themselves but on the civilian companies set up to provide a legitimate front for these operations. Empire’s Borders II becomes a search for Western Enterprises, Inc, in Taiwan today, updating the Cold War tropes to show up their legacy in the contemporary world.