Wang Cheng-Sean

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To Thomas Ruff, photography, New York, 2016

A Socio-psychological Study on the Constitution of Landscapes

This is a project on the construction of ‘hybrid scenery.’

Over the past few years, my artistic pursuits have critically examined the socio-cultural expectations in what constitute the genre of ‘landscape photography.’

American Dream in Taiwan (2013) documented cottages in both Boston, USA and Miaoli, Taiwan. The speculative approach of this photography series unveils not only the scenic realism for both locales, but also (perhaps more importantly) an anthropological study on the architectural vernacular in various cultural settings and how the aesthetic judgement of image-makers is influenced and reconstructed under drastically different expectations toward what a cottage should appear like based on socio-cultural differences.

My Scenery Only for You (2014-2015) was conceptualized to capture the ‘unpleasant’ objects in parklands of planned tourist zones in Taiwan. The photo images based on these found objects were later projected onto dilapidated cityscapes in urban areas. The non-iconographic objects captured, were manipulated to fabricate a sense of liberation with my playing of the formality and genre of landscape photography. As a result, exotic imaginations of the viewer toward the ‘other’ were provoked as they see the mixture of found objects and its projection onto non-conventional corners of the city. Ironically, the photos produced in fact only present oxymoronically plain and unpleasant objects, without justifying the viewer’s sense of a romantic otherness. This disconnect between the format and content becomes the critique of the formality of the ‘landscape genre,’ including 1) the ‘exotic’ imagination in the local beholders when looking at the photographic representation of the sceneries in local parklands of popular tourist zones, and 2) how these arbitrarily pre-conceived notions about what landscape ought to look like, in turn shape the way in which scenic spots are planned and the type of subject matters considered as ‘photogenic landscape material.’

What Is Expected from A Landscape?

Hybrid Scenery project is a natural extension of my previous inquiries toward the cognitive subjectivity behind what constitutes an acceptable subject for landscape photography and a liberating sense of alter-reality expected from the viewing experience. The imagination toward the concept of ‘landscapes’ of most Taiwanese and perhaps a large quantity of other non-western residents in fact might very much take the form of Western significations, such as saturated color schemes, signs of modernization, as well as exotic and non-local atmospheric interventions. 

The subjective wishes of local Taiwanese toward what indicators suffice as ‘landscapes’ – hypothetically speaking – will not meet the ‘scenery’ requirements for a western audience, since the indicator for ‘exoticness’ in the eyes of Taiwanese viewers will become overly normal for a western eye. 

Consequentially, the people from a non-Taiwanese origin would prefer visual symbols that indicate images filled by primitivity and unsaturated color presentation, so as objects signifying settings that constitute ‘another-placeness’ to the beholder. Namely, a drastically different definition concerning what ‘the other’ is comprised of.

Otherness = Liberation? A Mobile Scenic Lab on the Go

However, this theory might be complicated when it comes to a city like Chiang Mai. As a metropolis thrived on multiculturalism, does the diverse cultural backdrop correspondingly make the preference of the city-dwellers for landscape photography more diverse as well? If adopting the same methodology in the My Scenery Only for You project and ask the local to project a photo onto another selected street scene, with what Chiang Mai street shots (if asked to make a judgement call) will the Chiang Mai people choose to mix the photos of found objects from Taiwan with? What difference will it create on the final hybrid landscapes, when the image-producers/decision-makers are now of a much more diverse cultural background?

Furthermore, through this interactive process, I also want to find out whether the people in Chiang Mai also crave for a sense of escape to an ‘other’ land. Whether landscape photography, as a metaphor of an exit to transport the viewer out of the immediate socio-psychological environment, is still as powerful a trigger when it comes to this most populated metropolis in the world?

In order to answer my curiosity, a mobile scenery making machine, in the form of a projector integrated with a camera device, will be produced. This machine will follow me to explore the streets of Chiang Mai. Passer-by will be invited to choose from an image from Taiwan and then be placed in the projection of the chosen image for a portrait taken by me. After the portrait, I will then invite them to project the chosen image from Taiwan on a street scene in New York, which the participant finds most hideous or boring. The project is conceptualized to experiment, produce, and represent the cognitive process of the construction of ‘landscapes.’ These images created will be later sent back to Taiwan for my colleague on the ground to project them once again back onto the forgotten corners of Taiwan. The manipulated images will then be sent back to Chiang Mai for a final presentation. Through these multi-layered mixings, I aim to erase the cultural and human factors that decides what ‘landscape photography’ are constituted of, in hope of creating an ultimate form of landscape which perhaps is the integration of all cultural expectations?, which the participant finds most hideous or boring. 

Why Pi

Wang Cheng-Sean, a Taipei native, holds both a BA and MA in History from the National Taiwan University. He later received his MFA education in photography from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Sean spends his time traveling between Bitan and Taipei and actively engages with photography and criticism. Sandor Marai is his favorite writer.