Hou Chien Cheng


Book, 11 x 17,5 cm, 140 p., language : English, Flemish, West-Flemish, publisher : APE, Art Paper Editions, ISBN : 9789490800222.
Materials: ink, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. B 2027/670).

Literary synopsis

Jeff Brown is a Caucasian American who settled in West Flanders forty years ago. After the sudden death of his West Flemish wife, he becomes a widower in grief trying to go on with his life while at the same time confronted with an ultimatum given by his son.

"In June 2004, I was officially declared by the government of Belgium a “vreemdeling” - a stranger, an alien, a foreigner. I remember when I was in the fifth grade, we were encouraged to share with the class what we wanted to become when we grow up. Though it seemed like a simple question, we took our time. So by the end of the lesson, we had produced a long list of “occupations” - a baseball player, a comic book artist, a scientist, a businessman, a fireman or a journalist. The list went on; anything children at that age could possibly think of, we wrote down. On the day I became a foreigner I tried to recall the list, and “foreigner” was not on it. I guess we had never thought of becoming one – no one did."

Brown is a work of fiction at the same time an autobiographical collage that depicts a potential future self – a stretched reality, translated from visual memories, that lives on paper. It examines how people define and call a place home, and how people struggle when they're socially disabled. It’s a story for people who are away from home, who are going to be away from home and who had been away from home.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

Brown is the first episode of a novel trilogy – Orchestrating the Borrowed, in which the worlds of artist's autobiography are explored and the concept of borrowed identity is examined. The trilogy contains Brown, Green and White.

In Brown Hou adopted his experience of being frequently asked why he's been living in the Flemish society for years and yet do not manage to speak the language. People often question his will to integrate based on his not speaking Flemish. So it made the artist wonder what would happen to him if forty years from now he still didn’t speak the language. Brown was his first attempt, as an artist, to challenge the traditional writing perspective of autobiography. Brown (and the entire trilogy) is very much a work that is both literary and artistic. For it transpires social issues by writing text, and creating visual works, that respond to the researched subjects.

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