Mr Monkey sees Empire's Borders II - Western Enterprises Inc at the CAC, 5th October
Due to too much of the wrong sort of weather Mr Monkey missed the preview night of the Chinese Arts Centre's latest exhibition. He scampered into Manchester on the second day of the exhibition to see what it was all about.
From 1951 to 1955 the CIA ran a company called Western Enterprises. Based in Taiwan it used 'civilian' advisors (many of whom were serving members of the US military) to train the Anti-Communist National Salvation Army. This army, composed mainly of men from impoverished families, was supposed to invade mainland China and overthrow the Communist government (or, failing that, divert Chinese attention away from the Korean war). At the same time, the Taiwanese government supressed left-leaning organizations in Taiwan.
Empire's Borders II - Western Enterprises Inc by Chen Chieh-jen came about as a result of the artist finding out that his late father had been in the NSA, and had kept some artefacts from the period. These included an autobiography (a piece of fiction written to show loyalty to the state), a military jacket, a friend's personal effects and a list of NSA soldiers who died at sea in a failed operation. Chen used these items as a basis for a film exploring the period and trying to uncover the stories of people left out of mainstream histories.
The installation starts in the corridor on the way to the main gallery. Mr Monkey studied photographs of some of the things left by Chen's father.
Mr Monkey went into the main gallery, and found that it was very dark. He sat down with his humans and started to watch the Empire's Borders II.
In all honesty, Mr Monkey hadn't expected to watch the whole 70 minutes of the film, because that's quite a long time to sit on a bench in a gallery but he soon became involved in the strange narrative.
The film shows Mr Chen exploring a building labelled Western Enterprises which, despite a sign saying 'under construction' is falling apart. In the building he finds the rusty machinery and smashed office equipment you'd expect in an abandoned factory, but also finds odder items such as plaques bearing the shield of the MAAG* and film of Bob Hope entertaining US troops. Strangest of all he meets people who appear to be living in the building.
It's not the real headquarters of the Western Enterprises organisation, and it's obviously highly unlikely that anyone who'd been tied to a chair and left in the 1950s would be able to hold a conversation with Mr Chen in 2010. It's a rather strange but very compelling and intense film in which not much happens, but happens in an intriguing and fascinating way.
When the film had finished, and he'd watched the beginning again to make sure he hadn't missed anything, Mr Monkey went behind the screen to find two shorter videos.
These are both slideshows of pictures of people and military units from the period, with images of documents burning in a furnace at the start and finish.
And then Mr Monkey scampered out on the streets of Manchester. Later than expected and with his thoughts well and truly provoked, he set off for the Manchester Art Gallery to see Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Recorders exhibition.
* Military Assistance Advisory Group, a unit which trained soldiers in small nations allied to the USA during the Cold War.
Empire's Borders II - Western Enterprises Inc runs until November 20th 2010 and is part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival.