The title of the exhibition derives from influential Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi’s text Free and Easy Wandering (逍遙遊) in which a fish in the North Ocean turns into a giant bird and sets to travel to the South Ocean, whilst a cicada (insect that makes a buzzing noise) and a dove ridicule him for attempting this. As in Zhuangzi’s story, Chang’s durational performances and his contemporary automata anthropomorphise other subjects which include fish, caterpillars, mosquitoes and crows.
In P’eng’s Journey to the Southern Darkness four kinetic sculptures of crows on elevated plinths and a collection of taxidermy birds, with internal computer circuits in their stomachs exposed, together announce failures of the artist by pronouncing rejection letters from numerous open calls to which he has applied. The number and the type of bird signify death in Chinese traditions and Chang playfully questions the proliferating bureaucratic art world in which contemporary artists find themselves.
The birds are surrounded by film documentation of various representative performances; for each piece, the artist collaborated with scientists and engineers to create a self-sustaining ecology within which Ting-Tong Chang integrated himself by living on nothing else but fish [Whence Do You Know the Happiness of Fish? (2015)] and caterpillars [Spodoptera Litura (2015)], or provided his own blood to feed mosquitoes [Second Life: Habitat (2016)] and the dead ones turn into avatars in an adjacent computer to be played by exhibition visitors.
Presented together with these works is a series of drawings Chang created whilst he confined himself in these self-torturing ecosystems. The illustrations unfold his cynical yet comical imagination of the Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest ecology of the ‘artworld’ he has taken part in over the past decade as a migrant from Asia in London.