Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-jen works primarily with video installations, consistently creating works in collaboration with people from the margins of society. His films function as archives of disenfranchised lives and memories, resisting the collective amnesia of societies founded on neo-liberal economic systems.
Chen’s Realm of Reverberations (2014) tells the story of several lives entwined with the fate of a sanatorium for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients in Xinzhuang district in Taiwan, which was partially demolished under government plans to ‘develop’ the land. Established in 1930 by the Japanese colonial government to isolate leprosy patients from the mainstream through methods including forced sterilisation, the facility’s strict quarantine regulations were relaxed only in 1961. In 1994, the Taipei Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) decided to move their depot to the land occupied by the sanatorium, necessitating the relocation of its residents. As a result, the patients who were once forcibly brought to and confined within the facility were put in a position where they had to fight to be allowed to stay in what now constituted their only “home”. According to Chen, despite protests, the patients were removed and the buildings razed in late 2008, leaving less than 30 per cent of the original structures intact.
Realm of Reverberations comprises four films, each made from the perspective of different individuals affected by the sanatorium’s demolition. These include a young woman who accompanies sanatorium residents (Keeping Company), old residents (Tree Planters), a nurse from mainland China (The Suspended Room) and a fictional political prisoner (Tracing Forward). Presented alongside is The Unfathomable Pain, an abstract video made up of slides from a discarded presentation about Hansen’s disease that Chen found at the sanatorium.