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Taiwan Pavilion Venice Biennale 2019

Shu Lea Cheang & Paul B. Precadio


Portrait of Shu Lea Cheang & Paul B. Preciado ©TFAM
Portrait of Shu Lea Cheang & Paul B. Preciado ©TFAM

Taiwan pavilion and interpretation of sexual orgies across the globe, time and culture is a good subtitle for Taiwanese pavilion in Venice Biennale. The Biennale is the oldest art event in Europe dating back to 1903 and taking place every two years.


A large number of countries from all over the world sends their best artists and artworks to represent their country at Venice in Italy for six months. Hundreds of thousands people visit each pavilion. For the last twenty years Pallazo delle Prigioni was such a place for Taiwan.


This year the opportunity was given to Taiwanese born artist Shu Lea Cheang who built up a project together with curator Paul B. Precadio. The installation is a new site specific commission based on the historical use of the building as a prison.


Title of the project is 3x3x6 referring to a modern day prison cell, three meters long, three meters wide and monitored by six cameras.


Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019
Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019

The concept of the exhibition initiated a story of one of the most famous prisoner, Giacomo Casanova. He was held prison not only for openly copulating outside of a wedlock and probably serious debts but he did also actively advocate using a protection while having an intercourse.


Something very mundane today but it was unforgivable heresy in the 18th Century and an excellent reason to be sent to the prison.


Still from CASANOVA X, 4K video, 2019, installation 3x3x6-min, courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019
Still from CASANOVA X, 4K video, 2019, installation 3x3x6-min, courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019

As Cheang dived deeper and deeper into the issues of imprisonment for sexual offences by actually visiting many prison sites in person all over the world. Cheang uncovered more and more intriguing stories which significantly shaped the concept of the installation. Moreover, the research brought up another crucial question of confiding to in order to control.


The spectator had to climb a staircase equipped with facial recognition cameras collecting visitors´ data to reach the location of the exhibition. The data were later digitally transformed into the faces of sexual convicts and projected on life-size screens in the first room of the exhibition.


The consignment for sharing personal date is acknowledged by entering the staircase.


Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019
Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019

The first room soaked in dark, contained ten life-size screens distributed in a circle to conjure illusion a ring of cells. In the middle was a projector spinning around a pole to evoke a picture of centralized observation tower as it is common in a prison setting of today.


The sequence of images projected on each screen started with an image of one of the sexual convict gradually altered into a linear sketch of dancing person and rounded up into unrecognisable facial features of the visitors.


Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019
Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019

Before the opening of the exhibition people were encouraged to share their video of dancing to express support an Iranian girl. The teenage girl was arrested for posting a short video of her dancing on social media.


By using the multichannel projection and mixture of the dancing people, each visitor have not only had a chance to become an inseparable part of the exhibition but also they were situated into a skin of the sexual convicts.


Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019
Shu Lea Cheang, 3X3X6, mixed media installation c Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019

The second and third room introduced ten stories of ten sexual convicts starting from Casanova, Marquis de Sade, Michael Foucault to a German cannibal who set up a blind date via social network, slaughter and ate a man who was very well aware what is going happen to him.


Another story was about Muslim university professor being accused of sodomy or transgender person who did not reveal personal gender status before engaging in a sex with woman. The additional stories could have been watched on plasma screens on a floor with headphones.


All of the stories were connected with each other. The individual characters entered the stories of others and interacted with the main character.


For example the story about the German cannibal who instead of killing and consuming a real person, he dismantled and ate a machine. While he was enjoying his dinner a woman, who was jailed for chopping off her husband´s genitals, entered the story and sat by the table. When the cannibal asked her why she did not eat, the woman replied that she could eat only what she enjoys but she hated her husband.