5-21 May 2017

Stella Chen

Facade of Memory

Stella Chen, Facade of Caged Memory, 2015, photo projection, 59.4 x 84.1cm. Photo: Franz Anthony.

Artist Talks: Saturday 20 May 3-5pm

Open for the Inner West Studio Trail on

Saturday/Sunday 20/21 May 11-5pm

Facade of Memory is an installation presented by artist Stella Chen. This exhibition questions the accuracy of recollection and portrays the present as a state of flux. Chen’s work locates itself in the past and present by delving into the unreliable, fraudulent and fragmented nature of memory.

Chen comes from a traditional family in Taiwan and lives as a migrant in Australia. For Chen, the sense of dislocation created by making a home in a new country holds parallels to the traditional cultural practice of ‘Tongyangxi’, whereby girls are adopted into the family of their future husbands. Chen explores her personal history through the execution of a caged hoop skirt, which signifies her immersion into Western society while simultaneously symbolising female identity within a patriarchal world.

Artist’s Biography

Stella Chen is a Taiwan born, Sydney based interdisciplinary artist. Chen’s art practice reflects her interest and endless curiosity about the human condition, with memory and trauma in relation to nature, time and space as a migrant in Australia. Chen approaches these issues philosophically with an imaginative and experimental process, querying and exploring through the lens of psychology, philosophy, neurology, herbalism and personal history across the disciplines of painting, drawing, performance, photography and installation. Chen holds a Master of Art degree from UNSW Art & Design. Chen was the recipient for Waverley Art Prize 2016, Highly Commended for UNSW Emerging Artist Kudos Award 2015; nominated as a finalist in the Contemporary Art Award 2016 and Women’s Art Prize for City of Ryde 2016, and a semi-finalist of Yen Female Art Award 2015. Chen has been exhibited in Sydney, Hong Kong and Ireland, including recent solo “Living With the Past” at Stacks Projects, Sydney, 2017, Group Exhibition EternalMending the Memory Gap” at Cat Street Gallery, HK, 2017. Chen’s upcoming exhibition including a solo “Facade of Memory” at AirSpace Projects, Group Exhibition Solidarity “Mending the Memory Gap #3” at Articulate and a Collaboration Inhabitation of Violence “work title-tbc” at Art Space 541 in Sydney. Chen’s work is held in private collection in Australia and overseas.

Facade of Memory

By Stella Chen

Facade of Memory is part of an on-going investigation of themes I am interested in; including ruins, memory and trauma. My aim and commitment to this current project is to question the illusive, inaccurate and fragmented notion of memory.; I wish to glimpse its true essence through the manipulation of time with sound and spatial relationships in still images.

The spatial relationship between a performance, a camera and a projected installation challenges the viewer and the performer’s perceptions about dimensions in space. A camera-based performance is a 4 dimensional past event recorded via a camera that leads to a 2 dimensional output, a photograph. Projecting still images onto layers of sheer fabric creates an illusion of space, like a hologram. The airflow generated with the passing of each viewer in the exhibition room brings the interaction between the past and present to a state of flux.

The sounds of ruins (Dillon, (Ed). 2011) are rain, birds, leaves, echoes, whispers, footfalls, stonewalls, windfalls, silence and falls. Manipulating the speed of the sound recording enables the viewer to travel into different dimension of time; in this manipulation lies my curiosity about silence. From my perspective, silence mirrors ruins, because silence only exists in a vacuum. For humans to experience silence signifies death, a very similar experience to staying still for a long time or sleeping. The sense of uneasiness is the brutality of silence, quietly existing like ruins, evidence of industrial trauma. Most importantly, ruins is an abandoned space like a time capsule. According to Rebecca Solnit; “[…] Ruins stand as reminders. Memory is always incomplete, always imperfect, always falling into ruin; but the ruins themselves, like other traces, are treasures: our links to what came before, our guide to situating ourselves in a landscape of time.” Each individual’s presumed reality lies within oneself’s negotiation of one’s ruins.

“Tongyangxi” (Chang, 2010) was a cultural phenomenon practiced in Taiwan in the Han Community before the early twentieth century. Young girls were adopted or sold to another family from a very young age, to be married to the son of the family when they reached mature age. The residual effect of this traditional cultural practice was evident in the trauma of disconnection, abandonment and gender suppression through generations. As a migrant in Australia, I have lived under the Western influence of female empowerment for the last 10 years. This work allows me to question my place in a patriarchal world through the exploration of personal history with the execution of a caged hoop skirt.


[1] Chang, Doris. (2010) Women’s movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan. University of Illinois Press.

[2] Dillon, Brian. (Ed). (2011). Ruins. Document of Contemporary Art. Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press.

[3] Solnit, Rebecca. (2007) The Ruins of Memory. Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press.

©2017 Stella Chen

Something Out of Nothingness

A ruin is something that has to be seen. From Piranesi’s etchings of the remnants of ancient Rome, and the ruined castles of countless Romantic paintings, to the exclusion zones of Chernobyl and Fukushima, the ruin is a magnetic point that draws spectators to the end of times. Even in a state of despair and neglect, and especially in those places that retain some sense of past purpose, the melancholy of disaster radiates the imagination.

The image of the ruin presupposes the presence of a viewer, without whom there is no meaning: a ruin recorded is an act that reignites one of the most ancient symbols of Western civilization, sometimes in the awe inspiring sublimity of an entire civilization destroyed, as in the fantastic 19th century paintings of Thomas Cole, sometimes in the symbol of the broken column so popular in Victorian funerary sculpture, or subsumed into images of nature where mountains, trees and waterfalls stand in for the clutter of old world cities, such as in the operatic landscapes of painters such as Eugene von Guérard or Alfred Bierstadt.

And just as surely that the subject of the ruin imagines that there is someone outside the frame to observe it, god like, there is often a lonely figure within, not just to provide scale, but also to act as a stand in for the viewer. In Stella Chen’s Façade of Memory, the chimerical figure encased in an iron cage, like a horrific bodice, is an avatar for the figure in the future city. Chen has written about the now officially banned, but culturally persistent, Taiwanese custom of Tongyangxi where girls as young as six or seven were sold from their biological families into the families of men who would eventually marry them. The trauma of that separation has echoed down the generations just as surely as Taiwan built itself up from post war calamity into the contemporary nation state that it is today, the diaspora of its people taking those memories with them.

Projected onto silken screens, Chen’s image suggests the virtual, a figure born out of nothingness into the somethingness of light. The image is reminiscent of the imaginary holograms seen in the recent live action version of Ghost in the Shell [2017], and glimpsed in the trailer for the forthcoming Blade Runner 2049 [2017], towering yet weightless figures that would disappear as soon as power is lost. That sense of virtuality speaks to the contemporary sense of weightless history that surrounds us. It seems we imagine destruction and ruin in every pop culture movie, TV show and game, yet it has no impact – it disappears just as soon as we change channel. The virtual figures in these worlds have the same substance as Chen’s projection, yet Façade of Memory reminds us of the cost of real past actions just as surely as the slow leak of abandoned radioactive materials enters the oceans and the skies. There can be no real sense of moving into the future, unburdened by the past, without a recognition of the past, conjured up by an image of our collective mortality to remind us that nothing is forever.

Andrew Frost.

©2017 Andrew Frost and Stella Chen