Hou Chien Cheng
December 13, 2014 – January 24, 2015
Father’s studio burnt down. I thought I dreamt it – I was wrong. The police came to break the news to Mother and me and told us it could be arson. If Father were still alive, I’d bet a hundred dollars that he’d done it. Father hated that studio.
The construction of the studio started in 2007 when Father thought he had the makings of an artist. He was twenty-six at the time and was full of passion. Though passion was something I never saw in Father. He then spent the following six years building the studio while trying to establish his name as an artist. According to Mother, the studio was finished in 2013, but Father never made it in the art world.
With reality constantly knocking on the door, Father gave up on his dream and took a job at the post office and began working as a mail carrier. Father once wrote me that the repetitive routine of delivering mail was meditative, and he found it more interesting than making art. But if you ask me, I’d say Father just needed an easy way out – tons of artists struggle much longer than he did.
[…] “The fire was brutal, but it looks like there’s an area the fire didn’t completely destroy,” a man from the fire department said when he led us to a few dozen piles of mail that were kept inside a shower. It was odd to see a shower standing right next to a work desk, but come to think of it, Father always smelled good even after spending a whole day in the studio.
I picked one up and saw it was neither addressed to nor sent by Father – it was sent from an art center to some woman living in the city. “Open it,” Mother requested. I opened it and took out a typed letter in A4 format. It was a rejection letter telling the woman she wasn’t selected for some residency program. I didn’t know this woman and neither did Mother. We then opened the rest of the mail and uncovered more letters. Though the letters came from different types of institutions, they all had one thing in common – they delivered disappointment.
Father used to speak of disappointment. He said that feeling disappointed was utterly useless as the events that create disappointment were generally beyond one’s control. Therefore, nobody must treat disappointment as something valuable. I never agreed with Father’s theory, and I don’t think he believed it either. Why else would he be preserving other people’s disappointments? The pain of being rejected cannot be assuaged this way, can it?
I went to visit the woman by The Markermeer hoping she could explain to me how her disappointment from thirty years ago ended up in Father’s studio, but her family said she had passed away sometime in November. I wondered if she had ever made it. Or was she disappointed until the day she died?
Back in the house, I spent hours laying all the letters out on the floor, one next to another. Only then did I see something other than disappointment. I saw an archive – an archive of devotion, of aspiration, of Father.
Hou Chien Cheng (1981) was born in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. He lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. He is currently conducting a PhD research at Ghent university. This research, as well as the work developed during his residency at HMK, revolves around the fictional in (artist’s) autobiography. According to Donald M. Murray,even the non-fiction, all writings are autobiographical. We write what we know and what we experienced, therefore there is always a piece of ourselves that can be traced in the writings we did. Though it may be correct, these traces don’t guarantee a true autobiography. It is the percentage of truth that makes or fails an autobiography.