At Art16, Taiwanese Artists Explored Childhood Anxiety and the Ambivalence of Adulthood

Last month, human anxiety—childhood angst in particular—ran through the works presented by Yiri Arts at Art16 in London as the Taiwanese gallery displayed paintings, drawings, and sculptures by a quartet of artists.

“Children can’t wait to grow up, yet adults want to be kids again,” said Lai Wei-Yu, the youthful artist whose haunting charcoal and acrylic pieces took center stage at the gallery’s booth. “I don’t know whether or not I should grow up, how to do so, or if I’ve even done it yet.”

That familiar ambivalence in the blur between childhood and adulthood is palpable in pieces like Plain Sailing (2016). With children lined up in two rows, facing the camera, the composition is reminiscent of a classroom portrait. But many of their faces are blank, as if rubbed off; others seem engulfed in flames. One child, gagged and clad in leather, apparently dabbles in BDSM. Nightmarish to varying degrees, the images simultaneously suggest both a foreboding future and nostalgia for innocence lost.

Children don’t fare especially well in the other artists’ works, either. Guim Tió Zarraluki’s eerie oil portraits bear some resemblance to Wei-Yu’s classroom portrait. Solemn faces are rendered in black and white, as if captured in old photographs, but their unsmiling expressions are overlaid with streaks of color. Each piece looks like it’s been defaced with a magic marker.

Pair these with the strange scenes of Shih Yung Chun or Hou Chen-Lu’s dismembered clay sculptures and you can’t help but feel slightly uneasy. “Gratuitous nervousness, fear, and inexplicable blows invade us constantly,” Wei-Yu has said, “but you just have to accept it for what it is, and run like a child.”


—Bridget Gleeson


See more artists from Yiri Arts on Artsy.