A Taiwanese Artist Explores Quantum Physics and the Forces Seen and Unseen that Shape Human Life
“In quantum physics,” the text reads, “entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances. The phenomenon so riled Albert Einstein he called it ‘spooky action at a distance.’ ” It’s an intriguing concept, one that inspired the third chapter in Chen’s larger investigation of the relationship between governments and the human body.
In the first and second installments, As Above, So Below (2013–2014) and Liquidation Maps (2014), Chen delved into controversies related to state violence, from medical “treatments” to political genocides. In the earlier body of work, she dealt more specifically with the differences between modern medicine and alchemy. In Liquidation Maps, she chose five violent political events from 20th-century Asian history, including the Khmer Rouge genocide that occurred in Cambodia in 1975. She then re-examined each massacre through the lens of the occult, using astrology and astronomy to consider history from a new perspective, suggesting perhaps that greater forces were at work for each event.
The same general idea applies to Action at a Distance, her latest work in the series. In the three-channel video, Chen takes a metaphysical occurrence—quantum entanglement—and reinterprets it within a philosophical framework. She’s not the first to do so, as it is rather tempting to apply the strange yet somehow familiar theory to humanity writ large. Earlier this year in the MIT Technology Review, an article described a case “in which two quantum particles become so deeply linked that they share the same existence.” No wonder scientists joke about the “love” between entangled particles.
But Chen goes a different direction. As in earlier chapters of the series, she employs a scientific concept to address the relationship between macrocosm and microcosm. This time, however, she focuses on the metaphysical threads that might connect invasive surgeries to instances of state violence. The exhibition is striking for its specificity, but, as the artist says, it’s one contribution to an overarching theme. “This chapter and its previous iterations,” she has said, “ultimately describe a cohesive and interwoven universe, where science and pseudoscience are merely two complementary routes to understanding human life.”
Chen’s work welcomes the idea that there’s more to life than the eye can see, and even the most powerful among us is no match for the greater forces in the universe. “Man can do what he wills,” said the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, as quoted by Chen, “but he cannot will what he wills.”
“Yin-Ju Chen: Action at a Distance” is on view at the Chi-Wen Gallery booth, Frieze London, Oct. 6–9, 2016.