Lee Li-Chung

Night Flight - The Memo of Formosa Air Battle, The Final Chapter







Lee Li-Chung: Night Flight - The Memo of Formosa Air Battle, The Final Chapter


Artist | Lee Li-Chung

Duration | July 17 – August 15, 2021 (10:00-19:00 Closed on Mondays)

Artist Talk I | July 17 Sat. 3:00 p.m. Talk with Lee Hsu-Pin

Artist Talk II | July 31 Sat. 3:00 p.m. Talk with Enkaryon Ang

Online Viewing Room | https://onlineviewingroom.com/exhibition/EVZT0UBACS1N/

Venue | Powen Gallery map


After the outbreak of the air battle in Taiwan in October 1944, the American air force had total command of air during the day. This led to counterstrikes at night by the Japanese air force. Unfortunately, Japan’s military capabilities by now were simply too weak to undertake the task. Eventually, military pigeons were entrusted for the mission. These pigeons usually carried out tasks at very high risk as they were faced with the unknown situations in the air. It was a matter of life and death. I came across a novel called “Night Flight,” written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of a world classic “The Little Prince.” The book also relies on flying to show the oxymoron between human beings’ strengths and weaknesses. In the novel, one is courageous enough to transcend oneself and overcome various difficulties while fearing the consequences of uncertainties ahead. The flying experience embodied by the novel’s protagonist and a war pigeon as my reincarnation faithfully reveals my inner struggle and anxiety about life.


In the final chapter of “the Memo of Formosa Air Battle,” my exhibition deliberately appropriates the title of the literary work “Night Flight,” and focuses on the intersection of the parallel universes between the author of “The Little Prince” and my military pigeon. The exhibition no longer features the theme of blood and tears in the war, and shifts to the roles of pigeon and creator in the reinterpretation of the event. The narration of the work still uses military pigeons as a means, and the intelligence obtained through reconnaissance activities also corresponds to the problems of space conversion under colonization, capitalist development, and disappearance of residual space. The video that was filmed at the historical site attempts to reconstruct the historical scene to describe the situations of military pigeons with personification and narrations. The pigeons (and me) that underwent repeated training as if they were Sisyphus developing a series of muttering composed by images, space and body. This signifies the visual effects created through the eyes of others and through the hints of nuanced historical details, the futile resistance of pigeons against their then living environment.


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When Animals Act as Human Beings’ Senses—A Talk about the Shooting and Narratives of Night Flight


Article by Enkaryon Ang


From discovering pigeons in Longing for Your Return to the analysis of 1944 military pigeon reconnaissance in Night Flight, Lee Li-Chung’s pigeon trilogy has taken many years to complete. His works make pigeons the main players in Taiwan’s contemporary war history. The care in this type of cross-species relationship reflects is similar to how, as Gregory Bateson put it, the “basic unit of survival” is “organisms in the environment”. It also reflects Isabelle Stengers’ portrayal in that the relationships between humans and non-human objects are intertwined and “mutually captured by each other.” This multi-species relationship allows us to understand time and symbols three-dimensionally. Human beings’ lives, lifestyles, and responsibilities are all involved in these entangled relationships. The Night Flight exhibition shows not just how the military pigeon has played a pivotal role in the pigeon trilogy, but also draws in the miracles and sorrows shared by the Taiwanese people and pigeons during the transformation period in which Taiwan went from traditional warfare to modern warfare. Human beings’ lifestyles do not come into existence, and cannot be described, in isolation. The relationship between Lee Li-Chung and pigeons is exactly as Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing describes: “Enthusiastically immerse yourself in the study of non-human life.”


Pigeons migrated from rocky cliff habitats to permanent towns in the Near East. This domestication process may have occurred in prehistoric times. The history records indicate that there are written words and images of pigeon breeding in Mesopotamia and Egypt over 3,000 years ago. In the early days of mankind, it is rare that pigeon was one of the few flying animals domesticated by human beings. Considering the synchrony of the writing history, imagination abounds in drawing linkages between pigeons and messages, and between parrots and speeches. For example, in Greek mythology, the Greek word for pigeon (Περιστέρι) has a similar pronunciation to that of the Pleiades goddesses. The Poet Virgil considered pigeons to be related to navigation (πλεῖν). In the interaction between culture and species, pigeons reveal the aesthetic history of demonstratives. The emergence of letters and the invention of writing guide communicative culture in different places. From this perspective, the documentary photographic history and pigeon history, the images and writing, the shutter and the animality in Night Flight possess dimensionality for contemporary discussions.


In Night Flight, the anthropomorphic tone is not commensurate with moving images. Pigeons cannot speak; nor can they write. The video footage in Memo of Formosa Air Battle and in Night Flight do not come from the perspectives of human beings. The humming in Memo of Formosa Air Battle and the chirping in Night Flight do not come from human beings’ sense organs. There are three main viewpoints on animals’ minds: Linguicism denies that nonverbal animals have any thought; idealism states that, due to animals’ different perceptual inputs, their thinking differs from human beings’ thinking only in terms of degree; while everyday philosophy and Wittgenstein take the middle ground, stating that animals can have simple thoughts. Citing Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight as a hint for the fictional dimension, and having military pigeons play the role in Taiwan’s transition from traditional warfare to Cold War technology, Li-Chung opens the possibility of linguistic intentionality, which has been highlighted as a key feature that differentiates communication systems.                                     


From the perspective of a pigeon, the pigeon is both a participant in the war and a mourner. When non-human species enter the textual order, they also participate in the process of symbolization. In Night Flight, military pigeons had involuntary experiences of fate, just like Taiwanese people who were drafted into the army at the time. Their fate was deeply shaped by foreign imperial powers. From the perspective of artists and art history, the Night Flight exhibition uses a combination of words, photographic machines, and images to reflect precisely what philosopher Hans-Johann Glock describes: “Animals perceive things that happened; and they can evaluate things that happened. In other words, in the real behavioral learning process, they can take corresponding measures in response to their environmental characteristics—be they good or bad, be they attractive or threatening. Animals can explore objective reasons through cognition; and they can conduct self-evaluation when it comes to intentions.” This kind of linguistic centralism is also an unsolved problem in art history. Conventionally, language is a demarcation point that distinguishes animality. Contrasting this with the fact that the battlefield photojournalist records what happens on the battlefield through the camera lens, there are many possibilities for reflection on the relationships between the automatic shutter, instancy, the reappearance of politics, and language in documentary photography. The same possibilities apply to Li-Chung’s social narratives that are about transformation into other species through photography.


Night Flight not only describes the symbiotic relationship between human beings and military pigeons during the war, but also adds narrative war details on the roles pigeons played in Taiwan’s wars. Night Flight also describes the many turns and twists that have happened with whistling pigeons and racing pigeons. If we think about the art of photography and video recording that carry animality, including the hidden role of pigeons in the history of writing and shaking images of pigeons in the air through camera lens, how do we reassess the contribution of animal intentionality? To ask this question, Li-Chung has spent five years exploring documentary photography, raise questions of possibility, and open ways of speaking (façon de parler) that center on pigeons and show thought in arts. Li-Chung further let fictional written documents about cross-species themselves be transformed into technological media to show the complexity of artistic aspects in the dissemination of information.