Chen Chieh-Jen has always concentrated on those communities which have suffered from violence and thus prepared or mounted resistance in Taiwan. This work has been of profound significance for the development of his creative concepts and video projects. First, he combined his own story with that of his father’s and set them together in a political context. Secondly, the people who joined the project were closely related to the historical context that the artist intended to trace in terms of their political and economic structures. Moreover, some members of the production team were underprivileged laborers. Thirdly, restoring the historical setting and scenery for the video shooting can be regarded as a response to the real political and economic environments on the one hand and the self-archiving of this provisional community on the other. Western Enterprises, Inc., is a powerful incarnation of the politics of United States during the Cold War, acting in the name of free trade yet in fact aiming at the control of Taiwan’s political, economic and military development. In this video, Western Enterprises, Inc., is a vast place lying in ruins, and in these historical ruins and archival vacuum there are today victims of political persecution, unemployed workers, displaced workers and protesters. They have been cast adrift in space and time like ghosts. The artist has liberated artistic production from systemic professionalism and brought it back to individually-based labor characterized by interpersonal relationships.
The inspiration for Empire's Borders II – Western Enterprises, Inc. came from the experiences of Chen Chieh-jen's father, who was a member of NSA. When he died in 2006, he left behind a partially fictionalized autobiography, a paper listing NSA soldiers lost at sea in a raid on the Mainland, an old military uniform and an empty photo album. This photo album had once contained pictures of Chen's father and NSA soldiers being trained by Western Enterprises, but at some point Chen’s father had burned them.
In this video, Chen uses a poetic dialectic to transform the building that housed Western Enterprises, a place full of imperialistic overtones, into a symbolic labyrinth embodying sixty years of post-war Taiwanese history and a wasteland reflecting the amnesia of the Taiwanese people.
Although the existence of the Western Enterprises headquarters is historically factual, there is no photographic record of the building. The building used in the video is actually a chemical factory that was active in the 1950s during the period of U.S. aid. Scenes meant to symbolize various historical periods were created by Chen, actors and workers using objects left in the abandoned building.
Chen Chieh-Jen was born in 1960 in Taoyuan, Taiwan, and currently lives and works in Taipei, Taiwan. Chen employed extra-institutional underground exhibitions and guerrilla-style art actions to challenge Taiwan's dominant political mechanisms during a period marked by the Cold War, anti-communist propaganda and martial law (1950 – 1987). After martial law ended, Chen ceased his artistic activity for eight years. Returning to art in 1996, he began collaborating with local residents, unemployed labourers, day workers, migrant workers, foreign spouses, unemployed youth and social activists. They occupied factories owned by capitalists, slipped into areas cordoned off by the law and utilized discarded materials to build sets for his video productions. In order to visualize contemporary reality and a people’s history that was obscured by neo-liberalism, Chen embarked on a series of video projects in which he used strategies he calls “re-imagining, re-narrating, re-writing and re-connecting”.