For his installation in the exhibition “2 or 3 Tigers”, Chia-Wei Hsu, together with the frog god Marshall Tie Jia, reconstructed his temple in Wu-Yi that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In the journal interview the artist discusses the common features of spiritual and digital worlds, his process-driven work with local communities, and the valuation of multiple variants of history.

The combination of the high-tech digital image and the religious ritual in your work was pretty unexpected. How did that come about?

Heaven or the spiritual world sometimes seems similar to the digital world in that we cannot touch the digital world and it’s the same with the spiritual world. In this work we really can see the spirit in the digital format because all of the spirit’s movements capture the real-time motion of the God’s movements. And also, in my video in the 2 or 3 Tigers exhibition, I describe to the local villagers how the artwork is installed. I show them the installation plan. I take on my real position as the artist in this work and explain the exhibition to the God. I also show the God the sketch of the 3D animation. But he is not happy. He says that 3D does not represent reality because there is no color and no surface. However, the local villagers who are seen carrying the God’s chair explain to him that this is only a representation to give an idea of the digital world; and, more importantly, it does not seek to imitate the image of the destroyed temple but to represent our conversation. Then the God allowed me to continue work on this project.

Before you had the God’s permission, I wonder how you first approached the local villagers to participate in this art project.

As I had already been working with this God for many years, it wasn’t a problem. My first project was in 2012. The original temple in Wu-Yi, having been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, was forced to migrate and set up in the Taiwan Strait. However it was destroyed again by Chiang Kai-shek because as this island was so close to China, it was important for the army to fight against China. They destroyed the temple and built the bunker. Now there is a third temple near this island, which is bigger than the former one. Living with the God is part of the everyday life of the local villagers. The God has tight control over the people there. The situation on the island is very strange. Even should the government want to build a bridge, or do anything on the island, they must first ask the God. If they don’t ask the God, they cannot expect any support from the local villagers on this island. The greater part of the younger generation is not religious, but on this island, religion even moves the government in these modern times.

What kind of relationship do you have with this religion or the local villagers?

Many people ask me if the divination chair really moves during the ritual communication. I have seen the same many times because I have talked with the God many times. During the ceremony I can’t see any flow of action. It seems that no one tries to control the divination chair. But even more important I think is that it can be neither true nor fake because the people on the island believe in the God. Even if none of it is true, therefore, it still changes all the villager’s lives, which is the reality.

How come you wanted to work with this subject in your art project?

It is like a number of step-by-step dynamics: the first time, I just wanted to talk about the history of the temple. But the more I worked on this project, the more a stronger relationship developed. So, during this time, I showed myself and the God showed itself and we showed the dialogue between us, because although we have had many dialogues of this kind over five years, this time I wanted the audience to see it. They can get to know the process further. My work all relates to Taiwan. But even Taiwanese people are not familiar with this culture. This is unique, It seems that having put myself on this island and into the community I learned and experienced the dialogue with them. This experience becomes the work in the exhibition and other people could then feel my experience.

It sounds as if you tend to be focused on communicating with local people for the prospects of that, rather than surveying the “history”.

When I make a film an important aspect of that for me is the process of making it, because the production is a real action. For instance, when people go to some place to make a film, the crew has to work with the local people and its community. It’s not just about a story but also a new event in a place. This is the key point in my work. I am more interested in working with a community to create an event. When I meet people, and if I ask about what they did before, this is already a personal history. I don’t work with history books. I meet different people and communities, and when I learn more about their memories, it is these that then become histories, which means they become present. But I am not really thinking about history. What I care about is people and community. It is also a critique of history, because the history you learn in school is written by the government. This is one version. When Taiwan was under Japanese military rule, we were educated as Japanese and after the Second World War, we were Chinese. It was always changing. So, I work with different people and communities face to face. This is a critique of the “formal” history. The “correct” history does not exist. Every narrative comes from some point of view, and there are also different layers of memory, identity, and imagination.