Visual Representations of an Imagined Return from a Taiwanese Exile: an installation of photographic diptychs with artists’ books
Mr D Watkin (external supervisor)
This thesis constitutes five sets of photographic work of self-portraits in diptych form within an installation, with two artists’ books and a written component. It explores and visualises my particular condition as exiled artist (voluntary and enforced) from Taiwan, seeking the possibilities of return.
Firstly, it presents the sequences of the individual’s journey into exile, from the countryside to the urban, moving from the island of Taiwan to the United Kingdom, and Taiwanese culture’s sense of exile from the mainland. Particular emphasis is placed on experiences of Taiwanese exile in economic terms and on the veteran servicemen who left the mainland after 1948. Secondly, the thesis examines the impact of exile on the individual’s sense of homeland, of parents and childhood over the last sixteen years.
Central to the understanding of the work is the structure of family life, the role of the Father and the duties of the Eldest Son in Taiwanese culture. Thirdly, the thesis explores visually the quintessentially Chinese experience of exile in the creation of “Chinatown” and surrogate structures of hometown. Fourthly, the thesis presents visual strategies for the return of the exile, and scrutinises concepts of reality and artifice in re-creating the hometown for the act of return. In contemplating a return, the work presents the futility of nostalgia and creates other strategies of survival in emblems of reconciling the past.
The installation sets the photographic work within a context of a metaphorical journey, a trajectory from an empty room through space to a sequence of galleries presenting themes of anxiety and loss, within the context of the imagined return. The diptych form is used to provide opportunities of separation of location joined in the overlapping self-portraits, giving the possibility of a visual comparison between two confronting images.
The written component combines analytic texts, diagrams, and images to explain and explore the nature of exile. The first part is an account of two Taiwanese exiles’ particular experiences. The second part details my personal history of exile and expresses family relationships, homeland and childhood in the photographic work. The third part articulates the specific role that photography plays in representing such issues.