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By identifying incidents beyond the camera, Chia-Wei Hsu’s video work re-establishes relationships between humans, materials, and places that are often neglected or deliberately erased in the writing of mainstream history. He emphasizes the actionability below the surface of image-making.
The video installation Spirit-writing (2016) presents an unusual dialogue between the artist Chia-Wei Hsu and the frog god Marshal Tie Jia who was allegedly born in a small pond more than 1,400 years ago. It is said that his temple in the Wuyi Mountains in Jiangxi, China was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, so he has since taken shelter on Matsu Island in Taiwan. The local villagers communicate with Marshal Tie Jia through a unique divination chair ritual to help them make decisions on many things in life. During the ritual, the divination chair shakes violently under divine orders and proceeds to hit against the altar table and write down commands decreed by the divine power. Sometimes, legible words are written down; other times, the writing needs to be deciphered through further gestures of pounding or noise-making.
In Spirit-writing (2016), Hsu invited Marshal Tie-Jia to come to a film studio where the ritual was performed to ask about the original conditions of his temple in the Wuyi Mountains. Hsu also informed the Marshal about the approach and concept behind this art project. Motion capture technology was applied in the film studio to document the movements of the divination chair, which was post-produced into a 3D animation, while a 3D temple was also constructed according to the fragmented clues provided by Marshal Tia-Jia. The work provides an inspiring example of how we might be able to navigate through the realm of the digital and the divine, and reconnect scientific methods with ritualistic beliefs that are repressed by the former as superstitions.