Chang, Chaotang’s images are deceptively simple. So is he.
Introspectives : Photographs of Taiwan 1960 – 2005, is the third exhibit of Chaotang’s photographs I’ve curated in the span of a year. No mean feat.
When I received a compilation of Chaotang’s work in early 2011, I took a cursory look at his images and figured that my curatorial efforts would be simple and straightforward; an easy sum of the parts. After a preliminary selection, I realized there were deeper layers of insight that had escaped me. My initial assessment seemed superficial and had missed the mark. I started over, several times. It’s not just that Chaotang has a tremendous body of work encompassing more than five decades of image making – a curatorial challenge by any standard; I also had to account for the many facets of his life, his evolution as a person and an artist, his visual language, the arc of his work… it’s daunting to curate Chaotang’s images into a single exhibit.
We presented two exhibits of Chaotang’s photographs in our 2011 FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA Festival, as part of Taiwan’s Splendid For 100 celebrations. One at the Instituto Cultural de Mexico in San Antonio, in which the images tended to formal abstractions, and the other at the City of San Antonio International Center, which was more of a historical retrospective. Even so, I knew we were not doing justice to his work. Yet, in eighteen years of producing our festival, we had never presented two concurrent exhibits by the same artist. Chaotang was the exception.
For this exhibit at the Taiwan Academy in New York, I made a selection of prints from the two prior exhibits and added a few more to the mix. The title, Introspectives is a composite of introspection and perspective, two essential traits that define Chaotang’s distinctive character and his work. The title also reflects his approach to image making: intuitive, thoughtful and unobtrusive, underlined by a perceptive depth and a precise point of view.
Chaotang is a master storyteller. He tells street stories, where hot soup is plentiful, gestures abound, and life is at its fullest. His stories are not sequestered in chapters, and they don’t cycle neatly into pre-determined finales. They reveal themselves randomly, surreptitiously, as interludes, in flashbacks, with subversive running commentary. Ultimately, it dawns on you that the stories he tells are his own.
Speaking of stories, Chaotang has been to the Alamo and has supped on chicken caldo; he has traveled up and down the Texas Hill Country, savoring PoPo’s fried chicken in Welfare and juicy ribs at Cooper’s BBQ in Llano – two of Texas’ hallowed culinary shrines; he has been to Comanche Rock and he has been to Luckenbach, the music capital of Texas. More to the point, he was designated by the City of San Antonio as San Antonio’s Cultural Ambassador to the rest of the world.
Chang, Chaotang is a true son of Taiwan, no doubt. However, considering his Texas bona fides, Chaotang is as much a Texan as any Texan can be.
San Antonio, Texas