TSAI Wen-ying 蔡文穎 (1928-2013)

The polemical “first” case of media art: Tsai Wen-ying’s brief appearance in Hong Kong

C_Tsai_12_Tsai at MIT 1971
Tsai Wen-ying in his former NY studio in the 1970s

From 26 October to 2 December 2 1979, a solo show titled Tsai’s Cybernetic Art Exhibition featured the works of Tsai Wen-ying (蔡文穎 Cai Wenying, 1928-2013) at the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMA), then known as the City Hall Higher Block Galleries. This is arguably one of the earliest documented electronic art events in Hong Kong. A year later, in 1980, Tsai built an electronic fountain for the Landmark in Central.

Tsai’s portfolio is the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle for a possible genealogy of Hong Kong’s media art experience. In this exhibition, we have reconstructed his paths and accomplishments around his artistic stop-over in Hong Kong.

「考古」:搜集零碎的片段。備受爭論的「第一個」例子:蔡文穎在香港的曇花一現

1979年10月26日至12月2日,在香港術館(即當時的大會堂高座美術展覽廳)舉辦的《蔡文穎的動感藝術》個展,擺放了蔡文穎(1928年生於福建省廈門)的作品。[i] 這大概是香港在案的其中一個最早期的電子藝術活動。一年之後,蔡氏重臨香港,受邀在中環置地廣場築起了一座電子噴泉。

這次《演算藝術:劃破時空》的展覽中,我們花了好些時間希望可以把蔡氏當年其中一兩件作品帶來香港,經過多翻折騰,現在就只能以重組的方法,以小型資料館的方法把香港媒體藝術歷史的可能是最早的外來啟蒙抓住;環繞的就是蔡氏在港的一場重要的藝術“過路”。

 

Tsai Wen-ying (14 October 1928 – 3 January 2013)

Tsai Wen-ying was born in Amoy (now Xiamen, Fujian Province, China), moved to Shanghai in 1939, went to the US as a student in 1950, and became a US citizen in 1962. He is known for his motorized sculptures, use of stainless steel rods, stroboscopic light and audio feedback control, broadly known as cybernetic sculpture and multi-kinetics.

With an academic training in mechanical engineering (Da Tong University, Shanghai; University of Michigan) and ten years of architectural engineering consultancy work (in New York), Tsai finally committed himself totally to art in 1963. His artistic preparation, however, had been life-long without interruption, starting with Chinese brush-work as a child, as well as the 13 years in the US alongside his engineering practice, including taking classes at the Art Students League of New York. He also took evening courses in political science and economics at the New School of Social Research as well as modern dance classes with Eric Hawkins. [1]

His first key moment was the solo show, Super-Imposed Painting in 1964, resulting from a John Hay Whitney Opportunity Fellowship for Painting. Here he exhibited his first batch of 3-dimensional constructions including optical effects, radiant paints, ultra-violet light and more.

In 1965, with an Edward MacDowell Fellowship, Tsai was able to devote himself to the full integration of science, engineering and art. His time at the MacDowell Colony produced key works such as the Multi-Kinetic Wall (shown in 1965 at Art Turned On, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston) and Cybernetic Sculpture (completed in 1966, part of a solo show in 1968). Cybernetic Sculpture is the first of Tsai’s works to include “harmonic vibration, stroboscopic effect and electronic feedback control system.” (1979 catalog)

In 1968, Tsai joined other avant-garde machine-artists at the interdisciplinary show Cybernetic Serendipity, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, an exhibition of cybernetic art curated by Jasia Reichardt. Tsai showed his cybernetic sculptures alongside a mechanical computer (Rowland Emett), radio-controlled robots and a light sensitive owl (Bruce Lacey), Robot K-456 and TV sets with distorted images (Nam June Paik), large mobiles (Gordon Park), painting machines (Jean Tinguely), a biomorphic hydraulic ear that turned toward sounds (Edward Ihnatowicz), a self-destructive five screens with a computer programmed structure (Gustav Metzger), computer generated movies (John Whitney), computers for visitors to produce texts such as Haiku, children’s stories and essays, simulated Mondrian squares, and Boeing Corporation’s exhibits on their use of wireframe graphics. [2]

In the early 1970s, Tsai was a Fellow at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), completing his time there with the solo exhibition Cybernetic Sculpture Environment, 6 Feb to 3 Mar 1971, at MIT’s Hayden Gallery.

The next milestone came in 1974 when he fused his cybernetic environment with the performing arts. Tsai received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a group of sculptures for the Chiang Ching Dance Company [江青舞蹈團]. The event was a cybernetic theatre in collaboration with composer Chou Wen-chung and choreographer Chiang Ching (Jiang Qing) at the Hunter Playhouse in New York.

The Double Helix cybernetic water fountain was made in 1977. In 1979, the same year Tsai had his first solo show in Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Museum of Art at City Hall, he was also working on a computer mural.

Tsai was one of the founding members of the Art Workers’ Coalition started around 1968. With his wife Chang Pei-de, Tsai established the Committee for Chinese Artists Intercultural Movement, a pioneering non-profit organization that brought mainland Chinese artists to exhibit in the United States in the 1980s. After visiting Paris in the 1970s, Tsai permanently settled in New York City. In 2006, Tsai and Chang “established the Tsai Art and Science Foundation to support and bring awareness to endeavors that are at the intersection of the arts and sciences.” (Wikipedia)

Linda C.H. Lai (11.2018)

[1] http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Wen-Ying_Tsai

[2] https://boingboing.net/2016/02/01/weird-robots-and-computer-art.html

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蔡氏自1939年定居於上海並在那兒取得學士學位,直至1950年移民美國,當時他二十二歲。這位在密西根大學主修機械工程的工程設計師,自兒時接觸過水墨山水國畫之後再次學習繪畫。1953年,蔡氏在紐約開始了他的工程師事業,1956年起共四年,他利用工餘時間在享譽盛名的藝術學生聯盟(Art Students League)修讀美術。身處於當時的紐約該是令人興奮的:其時為抽象表現主義藝術的高峰期,普普藝術、視幻藝術和機動藝術亦漸成趨勢。1963年,蔡氏獲得約翰.禧.惠特尼獎學金(John Hay Whitney scholarship),讓他可以花一年時間投身藝術創作。這期間他作出了一個重大的決定:離開工程事業,專注藝術創作。蔡氏在六十年代憑他著名的動感雕塑(Cybernetic Sculpture),及經常被拿來與丁格力(Tinguely)作比較的機動藝術成就而漸漸冒起。他的第一組動感雕塑於1966年發表,展示了工程學理論在雕塑創作過程中的可塑性。這組作品的電子儀器會製造出不同的頻率,藉以使一群瘦長的玻璃纖維和不銹鋼棍桿震動。一個複雜的感應系統就此誕生:當雕刻實體依據音樂、觀眾的掌聲和談話來移動的時候,從頻閃觀測器發出來的光則對雕刻實體的震動作出反應,創造一場自動衍生、協奏得當且會舞蹈的雕塑的視覺表演。

在中文媒體的報導中,蔡文穎這個名字常跟好些詞彙拉上關係,比如是動感雕塑 / 運籌學雕刻(cybernetic sculpture)和機動藝術(kinetic art),他甚至有“中國第一位電動雕刻家”的綽號。蔡氏於六、七十年代以動感雕塑為其創作重心,時亦正值科技與藝術間的對話漸成藝術實驗的一大關注。1968年,蔡氏舉行了他首個動感雕塑個展,然後隨即被邀請到麻省理工學院的“高級視覺研習中心”(Advanced Visual Studies Center),與其他抱著相似興趣的藝術家和科學家一同進行研究、創作。從那時候開始,他的作品常同時以雕塑和表演的姿態示人,有時候也有一些傳統藝術的表演者如舞蹈家和音樂家參與其中。進入七十年代,蔡氏更為他的動感作品帶來其他物質(例如流水)。在那十年間,他的作品於美國、加拿大和一些歐洲的主要藝術中心展出。蔡仞姿引用了一篇刊登於《休斯頓紀事報》(Houston Chronicle)的訪問,當中蔡文穎解釋了他跨越科技的實用價值來提煉人類情操的這個動機。他說,科學與科技可能只會關心到人類的物質生活,藝術卻容許我們在不能認知的事物中洞悉一些已知的形態。26 大概在1979 和1980那個後毛澤東開放之年,蔡氏到訪了中國,介紹了很多關於藝術和科技的電影。在七十年代末至八十年代初,動感藝術(連帶著全息攝影藝術)變得普及起來。

1979年,蔡氏在香港舉行的個展一共陳列了十二件於1971至79年間創作的作品。一則報導為我們提供了當時場館氣氛的端倪:“蔡文穎的⋯每一件作品,都是由眾多不銹鋼杆組成。它們固定地每秒鐘顫動二十至三十次。由於閃燈的照明,我們卻看到鋼杆是在不規律地擺動⋯⋯當閃燈速度與鋼杆顫動率同步時,後者就看來像是一個固定和諧的弧形曲線⋯⋯” “蔡文穎的動感藝術”展覽由當時的香港市政局主辦,為亞洲藝術節的節目之一。根據本地資深藝術家蔡仞姿的說法,當時蔡文穎對於大會堂在展場安排上的官僚式行政有所不滿,自此以後再沒有來香港舉辦展覽,儘管他的作品繼續在新加坡和台灣出現。

然而,1980那年,蔡文穎重臨香港,為中環置地廣場重建的開幕做了一件電子裝置作品。這件被放置於大堂中央,以一百萬港元委約的作品,是一個以聲音感應系統操作的噴泉。但由於很多商戶對這電子作品所發出的聲響提出投訴,聲音噴泉大約只存留了兩年的時間便拆掉,而香港人第一次在公共場所與電子藝術的短暫接觸就這樣完結了。蔡仞姿在回顧時總結:“香港未準備好。”不論是科技與藝術的結合,抑或是藝術在公共空間接受商業資助這一想法,都沒有得到大眾的合理回應。另一方面,蔡氏的短暫到訪亦似乎沒有立即激發起本地藝術圈的重大回響,這局面大概要到1983年才得以扭轉:那一年的十二月,由香港藝術中心、歌德學院和進念二十面體合辦的“香港國際錄像藝術展”開幕,是香港第一項探討媒體藝術的集體嘗試。

— 節錄自黎肖嫻,“為香港(新)媒體藝術構築初步的歷史:考古、公眾的認知、藝術家的教育”,《香港視覺藝術年鑑2007》,2008年香港,107-108頁。

The 12 artworks shown in Cybernetic Art of Tsai Wen-ying《蔡文穎的動感藝術》, 26 October to 2 December 1979, Hong Kong Museum of Art, City Hall:

1 Square Tops 方頂,1969 , 56cm x 43cm x 112cm            

2 Double Diffraction 雙光栅, 1972, 74cm x 65cm x 129cm

3 Tuning Fork 音叉, 1972, 58cm x 46cm x 234cm

4 Circular Harmonic Sculpture 園波作 , 1973, 100cm (dia) x 123cm (h)

5 Multi-Chromics I  多彩片(一), 1978, 122cm x 122cm

6 Multi-Chromics II  多彩片(二), 1978, 91.5cm x 91.5cm

7 Umbrella , 1979, 196cm (dia) x 262cm (h)

8 Cybernetic Sculpture 307 回輸控制作 三〇七, 1979, 28cm (dia) x 190cm (unit size)

9 Cybernetic Sculpture 璃桿回輸控制作, 1979, 305cm x 427cm x 213.5cm

10 Single Harmonics 單波, 1979, 48cm x 61cm x 51cm

11 Upward Falling Fountain 昇降泉,1979, 305cm x 244cm x 30cm

12 Single Diffraction 單光栅, 1979, 57cm x 46cm x 119cm