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The term “entelechy,” originating in Greek philosophy, is defined variously as the actualization of potential and the agent that brings about this actualization. Where does the “life” force end and “life” itself begin, then? Through a series of readily communicated metaphors, embodied in materials both traditional and contemporary, Chenhung Chen’s Entelechy series explores that liminal area between the potential, the actualizing agent, and the actual – the arc of being T. S. Eliot described in “The Hollow Men”: “Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow…”

Chen’s grasp of entelechy is far less ominous and shadow-ridden than Eliot’s. Whereas his poem describes a spiritual, moral, and even sensate purgatory, Chen’s assemblages and drawings – for all their prickly, ferocious physicality – radiate a far more positive spirit. “The meaning I’m using,” the artist writes in defining “entelechy, “is the driving force for inner fulfillment.” Such fulfillment rejects, or certainly transcends, the confusion-ridden torpor Eliot describes, torpor that would proscribe fulfillment and even challenge the validity of a personal inner life. By contrast, Chen’s art in effect exteriorizes that inner life by turning its potential energy into actual material.

It was a friend who sent Chen on her search for entelechy by giving her a mass of discarded cable, electrical wire, and electronic components. (“They saw the linear quality in my past work and thought I might find some use for them.”) By opening up the cable and extracting its copper wire Chen amplified the linear complexity of the material she had been gifted. She was seduced by its brittleness and suppleness and determined that the improbable tangles she was producing constituted a kind of “drawing in air.” Chen thus determined to elevate many of her naturally interwoven sculptures rather than allow them all to rest on the floor. The horizontal pieces brim with their own vitality, to be sure, but those hung from above incorporate gravity, almost as a distinct ingredient woven into them.

Chen’s more recent Entelechy sculptures feature another factor that inferentially counters the moral and intellectual paralysis projected in “The Hollow Men.” Indeed, it is not the work of men but the work of women that has prompted Chen to include passages in the sculpture of crocheted wire – in order, she writes, “to create a spine-like structure to hold the electrical wire and components together.” She identifies the crocheting – the act of crocheting and the effect it has on her work – as “very feminine,” recalling that she and other girls were taught to crochet in her high school in Taiwan. 

Chunheng Chen regards her “Entelechy” works as assertions of invention and exploration, exemplifying  the constructive and progressive impulses of humankind. The works’ reliance on discarded elements of advanced technology might seem to lament and criticize waste and environmental degradation; but the dramatic formal energy of both sculptures and drawings has a vigor to it suggesting that ways of dealing with the glut of discarded material – ways such as Chen’s own aesthetic recycling – are at hand. The works in “Entelechy” are manifestations not of doom or despair, but of hope and continuity. They model both the potential in our species for creative solution and the abiding resilience and regenerative power of nature – an entelechy of ecological wisdom. Eliot’s shadow does not fall here.      


Peter Frank

Los Angeles February 2016                                  

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