The kinetic art of Ruey-Shiann Shyu has been whirring and moving through museum and gallery spaces since the mid-90s. Although the motorized artwork is mechanical, it conveys an organic sense of emotion.
Born in Taiwan in 1966, artist Ruey-Shiann Shyu studied art at the Fu-Hsing Trade and Art School and the Chinese Culture University in Taipei, where his studies focused on western-style painting techniques and sculpture. After moving to France to attend the Aix-en-Provence Art College, he was exposed to new mediums and methods of art creation. He was particularly attracted to metalworking and mechanics. The direction of his art changed as he embraced kinetic sculpture.
Self-portrait (1997) is one of my first three kinetic art installation works which I personally think it expressed my feeling/psychological distress very well during that time in France. Most of artists have its own self-portrait in the form of painting or sculpture, to me is in the form of kinetic sculpture! [sic]
While his medium is mechanical, the work itself is wholly personal. Shyu draws his inspiration from his own life. “From my life experience, basically there are four threads of thought: memory, families, environment, and history. Those contexts are surrounded within my works.” he explains. From these four threads of thought he has made many evocative artworks. “One Kind of Behavior” is an installation of motorized buckets that rise teasingly, like crabs peeking out of their shells, before clattering down. “Traveler’s Wings” utilizes the transportation tickets Shyu accrued while in France. “Fragments of Memories” features small objects and toys spinning inside milk jugs. “Mom’s Drawer” is a drawer that gets installed directly into the wall of the gallery space only to slowly open and project family photographs on the ceiling and wall. And he’s created still many other works of art…
Each of these works manages to create a sense of wonder and nostalgia. There’s an almost organic rhythm to how some of his works move. I asked Shyu what considerations he makes to ensure that his creations aren’t just things that move, but things that move with resonance.
I think I have to be perceptual and rational at the same time. When I face the mechanism/movement, it has to be very precisely. Each of my works may contain hundreds to thousands of different objects. Most of them are handmade by me. Every object must be modeled precisely; slight miscalculation will lead to complete failure. When I was inspired by something, I became very perceptual and would come out some abstract ideas or visual images. Those ideas spontaneously connected to mechanical movement. And I try to communicate my ideas in a subtle and humorous way through stereotypical mechanical constructions instills meaning and life into my works. [sic]
Eight Drunken Immortals
One of my favorite works by Shyu is his Eight Drunken Immortals. The Eight Drunken Immortals are eight small machines that swivel and sweep their way across the floor, their paths marked by the ink on their trolley wheels. The movement harks back to the “drunken” kung fu moves practiced by one of Shyu’s brothers, and these eight mechanical immortals pay homage to a Chinese legend about eight Taoist adepts who, overjoyed at their own immortality, would perform extraordinary and carefree acts of agility. Using the Eight Drunken Immortals as an example, Shyu explained the thought process behind creating this piece:
By integrating the philosophy of Chinese martial arts with traditional Chinese painting, I abide by the tenet that emphasizes inner essence over outer form, intention over performance. The eight sets of trolley wheels, each in varying distance to the other, resemble the interaction between people. Ink is discharged with the rollers’ movement, leaving marks on the canvas in random ways and creating the image of a landscape that is constantly changing. It conveys a Chinese philosophy that is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists.
Ruey-Shiann Shyu seems to have mastered the art of turning mechanical movement into evocative art. But for him each work of art, each element of an installation presents its own opportunities and challenges. As he puts it:
To me, creating an artwork is always a learning process. I have been keeping on study mechanical movement and theory all the time. And at the same time, I also think deeply how to infuse my artistic idea and life experience into this cold medium/material. Despite the massive complexity, I hope visually it leaves an impression of simplicity. Not just something moves but something that touches people’s inner feeling. [sic]
Ruey-Shiann Shyu’s art has been shown at museums and galleries around the world. His Eight Drunken Immortals will be on display as part of the “Beyond the Frame: New Media Arts Taiwan” exhibit at the the Long Beach Museum of Art in Long Beach, California, from March 11, 2016 through May 29, 2016.