Tony Godfrey / Charwei Tsai

Singapore / Taipei
16 July 2010
Published in Dust in the Mirror by Djanogly Art Gallery, University of Notthingham, UK

Tony Godfrey (TG): What does the title ‘Dust on the Mirror’ mean to you?
Charwei Tsai (CT): Working with mirror has attracted the interest of many artists throughout history. For me, the most memorable example is found in Las Meninas by Velasquez, it shows how the painter juxtapose the complex relationship between the viewer, the painter, and the characters in the painting. In the work that I am presenting here at the gallery, I am working with similar relationships but with a ‘moving canvas’, in this case, a video capturing the changes in various landscapes around me. I find the curatorial topic ‘dust on the mirror’ relevant to this series in the way I work with the mirror and the various components of its reflection. I see the ‘dust’ as a reminder that the mirror is merely a reflection of an exterior world, one that is constantly in flux.

TG: The phrase comes from the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna uses it to explain how we see the world inaccurately – as if through a mirror – and, moreover, as if through a mirror covered with dust. Does this accord with your beliefs?

CT: I think since it’s a curatorial topic that you have developed, perhaps it’s more interesting how you see the relationship rather than how the artist does since I did not make the works with the Gita in mind… what do you think?

TG: I think that is a fair response. To be honest, when I look at your work I don’t think about the insubstantiality of life or the error of our perception of reality. I am stuck by the beauty of the things and the melancholy that these things will pass. Perhaps this leads to an acceptance of the temporary nature of life and sensations rather than a distaste for them. It might make me meditate but it does not make me turn my back on the world – quite the opposite. Tell me, is it more important for you that your materials are ephemeral or that the artwork is beautiful?

CT: I don’t see the two elements as mutually exclusive. In fact, I often find beauty in the ephemeral. In terms of use of material, often times critics expect artists to develop their work as if we were writing a thesis, so that we should keep using one type of material or follow a specific topic of discussion leading to a statement. In my view, it is more important to capture spontaneous impulses and the viewers would just understand the work as such. Sometimes a body of work doesn’t necessary lead to a conclusion as an essay could, it’s more about grasping a gut feeling that, linguistically, I am not able to express. Beauty for me is part of this feeling that I cannot describe as a function.

TG: The other artists in the show have had residencies in japan and have some affinity withn Japanese art. Am I right in thinking this is not true of you?

CT: No, I have never lived in Japan. I only started visiting Japan a couple of years ago, when I made a project with a wonderful gallery based in Tokyo. However, the Japanese sense of aesthetics has really made an impression on me. While I was visiting the gardens in the countryside in Kyoto and in Kanazawa, I thought what an amazing contradiction it is that they spend so much effort to make a garden feel so effortless and serene. I also see my work reflecting life this way, full of contradictions, but one could find peace by understanding this contradiction.

TG: Is meditation important to you?

CT: Yes meditation is very important for me because it is putting a theory into practice. The specific type of meditation that I practice and that I am speaking about is called Vipassana. Often times I find myself intellectualizing too much and not having the discipline to put thoughts into practice. Meditation is a method that helps me make this transition.

TG: Is the performative aspect of your work meant to encourage others to meditate?

CT: No, it was not my intention to develop a relationship between the work and meditation, but many people who have viewed the work have said that they enter a mediative state because of the subtlety of the movement that takes place in the videos.

Tony Godfrey is the curator of the exhibition “Dust in the Mirror” for which, the interview was conducted for. He has taught at Sotheby’s Institute since 1989 and was one of the co-founders of the MA in Contemporary Art in London and in Singapore. His books include Conceptual Art, Drawing Today and The New Image: Painting in the 1980s. His recent book on contemporary painting was published by Phaidon in 2009. He has taught at Yale, New York and Oxford Universities, and many art schools. He is a regular contributor to contemporary art periodicals including Art in America, Art Monthly, LEAP, and The Burlington Magazine.