Integrative Seminar 2
In photograph Cape Canaveral, Florida (Astronaut), artist Tseng Kwong Chi is standing next to an astronaut from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. One of the East Meets West series of self-portraits, this 8 × 8 gelatin silver black and white photograph was taken in 1985. Tseng is placed a little bit right from the center. He is wearing the iconic Mao suit he once bought at a thrift shop and reflective sunglasses, standing straight and still, and facing directly at the camera with no facial expression. Tseng has his left arm dropped down by the thigh and fist clenched. His right elbow is turning outside and his right hand is held by the astronaut’s right hand. Tseng’s entire body looks strangely stiff. It seems like the astronaut is shaking his hand but he is not moving at all. The astronaut is wearing the white space suit with his helmet on, thus his face can’t be seen. He also has gloves and a backpack on the shoulder, fully equipped to enter the space.
The abnormal thing about this photograph is the atmosphere created by Tseng’s posture. He is excessively serious, or detached, to an extent that it is almost fake. But there is also a sense of humor in the artificial indifference. The contrast between humor and seriousness induces viewers to stare at the photo and dig more into it. Judging from the reflection point on the helmet and the shadows on the ground, this photo was taken in a sunny day, probably at noon because the shadows are short. Acting as a mirror, the helmet also reveals that there are few clouds in the sky and the day is clear. Tseng’s black shoes has obviously been polished, for it also reflects points of light. The interesting thing is that although both of Tseng and the astronaut are facing the camera, no one shows his eyes to the audience. Their eyes are blocked either by the sunglasses or the helmet. It seems intentional, as if Tseng didn’t want the eyes to reveal any information about the story behind. One can’t help but wonder what happened before the photo was taken. Did Tseng ask the astronaut to pose or the other way around? Had the astronaut mistaken Tseng for a travelling dignitary? Did Tseng confess about his real identity as an artist? He leaves those for his audience to answer.
People may have different interpretations for the questions according to their own imagination, but there are certain speculations can be made based on Tseng’s background, as well as the context of this photograph. It took Tseng ten years from 1979 to 1989 to complete his self-portrait collection East Meets West, in which he travelled around the world and took pictures in front of famous architectures in the world as well as natural landscapes. In this particular photograph, the figure of astronaut delivers a significant message, which is the travel of time and space. A long way from China, Tseng, dressed in Mao suit that alludes to government official, meets an astronaut who represents the growing technology in Western world.
another picture of the artist that I find inspiring: