Critics’ Picks

Tao Hui, An Interview with Leng Shuihua, Writer of The History of Southern Drama, 2018, single-channel video, color, sound, 10 minutes 46 seconds.


Tao Hui

Chi-Wen Gallery
No. 32, Ln 2, Sec. 6, Zhongshan N. Rd. Shilin District
July 7–August 18

Leng Shuihua was conceived in three weeks and entered the world an elderly woman. The product of a residency in Taipei by Beijing-based artist Tao Hui, the character was created for “The History of Southern Drama, Scene A,” an exhibition that takes its name from Leng’s sole literary work, a fictional memoir on the state of affairs between China and Taiwan across half a century. The show is staged in a two-story Tianmu house with a garden, built to quarter United States Armed Forces sometime between 1950 and 1979.

In the foyer of Leng’s imagined residence, a flashlight rests atop a piano bench by the doorway—a nod, perhaps, to the writer’s youth, as the object appears on her desk in the photograph A Young Leng Shuihua No. 1 (all works 2018). Elsewhere, Leng confides her story to a reporter in a rare video interview, granted so that the public might leave her in peace. Leng hasn’t written in the past forty years, since the betrayal of her lover, who without her permission made copies of her manuscript and adapted it to the screen. Tao sets the interview in a house bound by gates, echoing the ways in which the writer has walled herself off from the world in order to conduct a quiet existence. Yet what she calls the memoir’s “private sentiments and confessions” have become popular films, their narratives beyond her control. Neither writer nor artist divulge the contents of the The History of Southern Drama, and so the book can only serve as a projective container for the island’s history of diaspora and war. Perhaps the only pause from Leng’s life is found in the living room’s Handwriting Machine, a pen plotter that feverishly details the struggles and disappointments of a failed actress, as if to remind us of the spirits and longings of the building’s erstwhile tenants.