Su Hui-yu: The Midnight Hours

Julian Ross

Midnight is when Su Hui-yu is the most awake. Presented in a comprehensive fashion for the first time internationally, the series of recent video works by the Taiwanese artist engages with what people get up to after the clock chimes midnight. Existing between waking life and dreams, Su’s world, half-hidden in a foggy haze, is populated with late-night television hosts, suspicious doctors, naked women and ashamed men, all suspended in the moment of orgiastic entanglement. Primarily focusing on the 1980s, during when he was still an adolescent boy, the private and the public intersect in his videos, set in a time when Taiwan was still under martial law imposed by the ruling Kuomintang party, the Chinese Nationalists. Much like Georges Bataille, it is less the pleasures of the flesh than what is deemed unacceptable by society and the state that attracts Su’s interest as he explores human desire and sexual behaviour and how both are shaped by the frameworks in which they are permitted to operate.

Between pornographic ‘small books’ (xiaoben), Chinese translations of Alfred Kinsey’s sexology and after-hours television, Su Hui-yu’s recent videos are founded upon existing cultural texts. Rather than adopting their content verbatim, he opts to use them as a springboard to explore their ramifications for himself and others, which manifest as hallucinations that haunt the mind. Previously presented as elaborate installations in art spaces, the viewers of Su’s videos are invited to look through peepholes and reflect on their position as voyeurs of sexual fantasies, unleashed from oppression and at times uncomfortably explicit. Nevertheless, presenting the works on a cinema screen brings to bear the filmic qualities of his immersive video art. While traces of Tsai Ming-liang’s candid sexuality and artist Chen Chieh-jen’s approach to referencing historical events can be found in Su’s works, it is his fellow countrymen’s visual style of hyperbolic slowness that can be detected as influences. The deliberately sedate pace in which the reveries unravel holds our gaze with its absorbing atmosphere. In this unique event with the artist present, Su Hui-yu’s fever dreams will spellbind those who take the plunge down the rabbit hole.