“If a picture can be a path to the imagination, then in my work the image is the imagination itself.”
Born 1980, Taoyuan, Taiwan
As a child, Agi Chen loved watching cartoons on TV. “I’d get up at 6 a.m. just to watch Disney shows,” she says. She came to see cartoons as part of a collective memory, shared by people of the same generation the world over. As an artist she began deconstructing popular cartoons, trying to isolate just what it was that made them both universally liked and instantly recognisable. Scientists report that the brain tends to reduce complex visual impressions to one or two features, such as colour and shape. Cartoons, with their simple outlines and bold colours, are already several steps down that road; Agi Chen decided to push them even further. She imagined spinning a cartoon character like a top until it blurred into a wheel of distinctive colours: in the case of Superman, the red and yellow of his chest shield circled by the blue and red of his uniform and cape. In the Key Frames and High-Speed Flight series (both 2012), Agi Chen makes colour circles and flying-saucer-like sculptures from the characters in SpongeBob Squarepants. She also uses her digital photo editing skills to simplify the human form. In Reproduction—Male and Reproduction—Female (2011) she arranges photographs of naked torsos in the round into flat, seamless collages. Despite the loss of head, limbs, and shape, the images remain instantly identifiable as a male and female body. As with her distillations of cartoons, these works show how much we can infer from a few essential features—little more, in this case, than breasts, musculature and pubic hair.