ArtReivew Asia, 2015
As the title indicates, I AM A SCRIPT could be seen as the script of Practicing LIVE (2014), a play and a 3-channel film created by Taiwanese artist Yu Cheng-Ta. The play, documenting a family get-together in honour of a father’s birthday, consists of three acts, in which style conversations are shared among characters as family members and friends who act out different artworld roles. The film is not only a record of the performance, but also a documentary of the production in which the crew, the sets and even the large-character scripts held by a prompter are visible. Even more is revealed in intercut interviews with selected actors/actresses: 10 minutes, 42 seconds in, Esther Lu, a curator in real life, but playing the role of a gallerist and the youngest daughter in the family here, states ‘this group of so-called “actors” are actually professionals in the art field. To a degree, there was an element of each of us mimicking another’s role in this, so actually I didn’t feel that it was necessary to put too much effort into acting as someone.’ There is then, a blurring of ‘acting’ and real life, and a sense in which the play seeks to reveal institutional structures in the artworld.
With all that in mind, reading I AM A SCRIPT page by page allows another truth of the tale to come into focus: that it’s a detective story focused around the absent artist. Approaching it like this, the reader might examine each character and their ties of consanguinity, to trace this key character: David Yu, a good-for-nothing child to the family. Although he never appears in the play itself, as you trace the conversations among his museum director mother (institution/rigid system) and art critic father (theory/boredom), gallerist aunt (commercial practice), obsolescent artist uncle (rubbish star artist) and retired art-historian grandfather (also a failed art collector), two other absent characters start to draw the attention of readers: David X, an emerging star artist and Skyban, a mysterious collector who supports David Yu’s aunt and mother.
There is no massive surprise when the truth is finally revealed (by two ‘outsider’ characters) in the final scene: Nicholas, a curator and a ‘friend’ of his uncle, reveals that David Yu is David X; and Mary, the domestic helper, that David is also Skyban. The real climax comes when Mary comes out as the spectator as well as the ‘detective’ and asks an emotionally arousing question of the family: ‘Have any of you been truly concerned about him?’ At that very moment, a broadcast comes wafting from the TV set announcing that David X has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize. The film doesn’t end here but after reflections from director Yu Cheng-Ta and all the art practitioners who have served as actors and actresses on the complex structural networks of the art world, and questioning the substantiation of art itself.
As the title of the book indicates, Yu allocates a subjectivity to the script. Each page contains a timeline and operational instructions on the left-hand side that runs in parallel to the dialogues on the right. This serves further to enhance this sense of presence, which is rendered even more tangible and physical the moment you touch the book’s soft, black rubber cover. Given the artist’s interest in playing with different viewpoints, the real and the represented, and with language itself, there’s an inherent humour to be detected in the family name Yu – that of the artist Cheng-Ta himself, and phonetically an English language ‘you’. Further complications along these lines are also demonstrated via a ‘stone’, which is carried around by the failed art collector, and proves to be an artwork by David X. If, in this sense, the ‘stone’ plays the role of evidence of the artist’s presence, it also refers to Cao Xueqin’s eighteenth-century Qing Dynasty masterpiece Dream of the Red Chamber (a family drama in which one of the central narrators is a sentient stone) and the materialisation of the story-teller. Notably, it is Mary again who discovers the truth of the stone.
Peng Pei-Hsuan, who plays Mary, is the only one missed out in the interviews, and the role of Mary is the only one that is not appointed to any of the identities in the artworld. In some ways she is more mysterious than the absent David Yu. She prepares dinner, cares for the retired grandfather, and knows about the hidden truth. She close to, but also outside of the family. Indeed she is ignored or even slighted despised by it. She simply observes and questions the system. Viewer/reader, she is the real you.