The bar was almost empty. The only other people were a couple, almost obscured from view. 'They work together,' he said, as we sipped beer and tried to find flesh on our meal of dried fish.
'How do you know? You've got you're back to them, and we can hardly hear them,' I replied, wondering why he cared.
'Ssssh. They've been having an affair, I think. He wants her to be quiet. Oh, he wants to end it. She's crying. Can you see what's going on?'
'No, not really. What are they saying.' I was intrigued and disturbed by the soap opera he was translating for me.
'Oh, they're leaving', we said almost together, as the visibly shaken ex-couple walked out.
They didn't know we'd been part of their break-up, that Peng Hung-chih had taken me on a voyeuristic journey, with them as the stars.
But that's his nature. He likes to watch and create stories, to change or at least make us reconsider how we see the world. His 'vision' is about recreating vision, fracturing and repositioning our eyes, our bodies and hence, our thoughts. In many aspects it is light-hearted -- the toys, the colors of the helmet and paintings soothe us, seducing us into a place where we can be bent backwards, falling upon ourselves.
The paintings, some cartoon-like, another an anatomical study, tear our gaze forward, as we follow the line of the distended eyeballs, looking back upon themselves or throwing them around with abandon.
Even in describing the toys of his childhood, Peng talks of the space, the door that opened onto the Japanese-style room full of Taiwan-made toys, rather than the individual objects. 'Dog Curtain 2000' is a space made of toys, encompassing his newly found fascination with dogs. But it is also control -- the sliced, stretched dog only yaps when we come near.
Viewing is control - as humans we can only see from one aspect. Putting on 'one-eye-ball', the space-like helmet moves that point, to the ground, the side or high above our heads -- we take control, and in a childlike way, are able to play with what we see.
Psychology, film and art criticism all have variously theorized vision and control -- the auteur, the scopophile, the gaze -- but none or all of these could be easily applied to this work. It is designed to make us aware that we see, that technology and the human body are in a symbiotic relationship and it is the artist's curiosity of this, the changes impacted one on the other that leads him to these experiments. For while playful, there is a little of the inventor, the director, the storyteller inherent in these works.
Siao-Pai, his aunt's dog was co-opted by Peng to become our eyes, traversing Taipei, looking in the corners, sniffing butts. But his pace is infuriating, and at times as the screen jumps with his incessant searching and prying, I feel sick, motion sickness at the new perspective of streets so familiar. And anguished -- he is put into her neighborhood, dressed with human technology -- and his fellow dogs are not amused. The distress of being in the melee is palpable, but at one stage there is the artist (see, over there in the green shirt) just watching -- he will be part of it later -- no, look, even at the end he's still watching -- us.
Born in 1969, Peng studied at the National Taiwan University, before completing an MFA at San Francisco Art Institute in 1997. The work he has exhibited in Taipei and San Fransico is a continuing examination and exploration of vision and technology -- not the high-end technology of the specialist, but the corner store technology, of wind-up toys and cheap surveillance cameras.
Once he called himself a cynical artist, scornful and mocking of himself or his audience? But now he has moved from such a simplistic definition to much more the narrator, moving our eyes, our minds, familiar things and ideas, drawing us into new stories and shifting us around in space.
Paul Anheim Gallery, San Francisco, June 2000