The development of modern industrial civilization has forever changed the environment and the way in which human beings live. Natural scenery is gradually disappearing across the globe, and in many places the sounds of frogs, birds and crickets have been replaced by the rumble of cars and trucks. Hsiao Sheng-Chien seeks to recreate the familiar sounds of his childhood memories, using the very same industrial technology that powers these machines.
In the center of the gallery, a section of tree trunk slowly revolves like a turntable, artificially lit with the shadows of wires creating the impression of leaves and branches at dusk. Meanwhile an electronic device plays bird calls—with the sound alternating between sources to mirror the auditory effect of a flock of birds moving from tree to tree.
Hsiao remembers walking down the road as a child after school and seeing noisily chirping sparrows perched in trees and on telephone wires; before long, this utterly natural scene was no more. With each day that the city of Taipei developed further, the sparrows were fewer and fewer. In highlighting the quietening of nature through to the use of fertilizer and pesticide, Return echoes Rachel Carson’s 1962 publication, Silent Spring—which asserted the poisoning of the biosphere, by new 20th century chemicals aimed at pest and disease control.
In Return, machinery which might usually be seen as enacting modern ‘progress’ is altered, humanized, to carry a sense of hand-made warmth. The slowed pace of Hsiao’s slowly rotating trunk points to the mechanics of old musical boxes, fairground rides even, and objects from earlier times which conjure distant memories. In evoking strong and personal emotions, there is a sense of spiritualism and empathy which links the individual, and their own experiences of the natural world to the enormous, and often unfathomable topic of extreme environmental change.
Hsiao Sheng-Chien, born 1968 in Taiwan, lives and works in Kaohsiung.