“I view the absolute precision of mechanical movements as an abstract language.”

Born Taipei, Taiwan, 1966. Lives and works in New York City

Most of Shyu Ruey-Shiann’s works have moving parts and motors, but what really animates them is a rapidly alternating current of contradictions: between complicated mechanics and minimalist simplicity; precise control and life-like motion; machine manufacture and painstaking handiwork.  Whether a work has a couple of components or several thousand, the artist makes most of them himself and assembles them all by hand; an installation can take two or three years to complete. His subjects are often grandiose—Time and Being or The Law of Relativity—but they are conceived primarily as stories, from his own life and from Taiwanese culture. One Kind of Behaviour (2000–2007) was inspired by the artist’s memories of childhood, when his toys were broken things his impoverished mother picked off rubbish heaps; it also embodies his reflections on the relationship between the works of man and of nature. Eight Drunken Immortals (2012) is named after a kung-fu style in which fighters seem to fall about like drunks. Eight four-legged robots with wheels for feet and reservoirs of ink on their backs career across a large sheet of paper, scribbling as they go—mechanical precision in creative abandon. In Travellers’ Wings (2011) (video), rail tickets become the wings of mechanical birds, flapping in an intricately orchestrated rhythm that mimics flight but travels nowhere. The rhythm is the point, the artist says: it represents the heartbeat, and the human feeling that can invest even the coldest things with meaning.

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