Over two years, Yi-Ya Chen wrote to the executive leaders of every UN-recognized country in the world, requesting an autographed photo.
Some answered promptly, some after two or three reminders. Some took a year to reply. One president answered a letter addressed to his predecessor. Many never responded at all. Some letters were lost, some withheld by the Chinese Popular Party. Others were simply ignored. The apparently naive phrasing of Chen’s letter makes the modest request of a fan collecting souvenirs. But looked at another way, the artist is demanding international recognition of Taiwan as an independent nation state – or at least assessing the extent to which such recognition exists.
The photos Chen did receive are tacked to the wall, a line-up of friendly smiles, potential Facebook friends perhaps, earnest and engaged, blandly straining to convey authority, good judgement and human kindness. They all say the same thing, which in the end leaves them saying nothing at all. The standardized accompanying letters follow the same routine: not only do they refrain from answering the artist’s questions – engaging in the dialogue their photos seem to suggest keen availability for – they are study in providing absolutely nothing in way of information or insight. Though there is some correlation between heads of state of countries that did not reply and those that have close or delicate relations with China, in all the letters Chen did receive, there is not a single mention of Taiwan.