Google Maps has become a staple of 21st century life, but it’s generally not used to plan transcontinental trips. But in 2010, when Yu-Wen Wu couldn’t afford the plane ticket from Boston to Taipei to visit her sick grandmother, she typed in the addresses of their respective homes and asked for walking directions.
“It actually gave me directions for 155 days to Taipei City,” Wu told Artnet News.
It was an impossible trip – the instructions included kayaking across the Pacific Ocean for about three months, with a stopover in Hawaii. It was also the start of an epic art project that would take Wu a decade to complete, turning the extravagant journey into a 20-foot-long collage in the tradition of a Chinese landscape scroll, stored in a traditional wooden box. .
“It’s a nostalgia trip in some ways,” Wu said. “It was only in my mind that I followed those instructions.”
To turn a Google problem into a work of art, Wu first printed the instructions, which she had saved as a PDF, on rice and mulberry paper. This turned out to be a happy decision, as she was never able to convince Google to suggest the fantasy trip again.
“He disappeared within seconds,” she said.
Wu cut each of the 2,052 steps from the directions into strips and glued them onto a 20-foot roll. To fully experience the work, the viewer must be prepared to stretch their legs, as each line runs the full length of the work.
“I wanted you, the viewer, to go the distance if you were going to read it,” Wu said. “I thought of it as a contemporary landscape and also as a data structure.”
The book, titled Walk to Taipei (2021) and on view with the Boston gallery and leading independent exhibitor praise the shadows at the New York Art Fair, is priced at $50,000. The hope is to attract an institutional buyer for the piece, which includes a custom-made table on which to display the scroll and a large acrylic panel to hold the exposed part flat.
Fortunately, a few months after his fateful Google Maps request – made on April 10, 2010, according to the PDF – Wu was able to visit his grandmother, who died shortly thereafter. But the image of a transcontinental voyage made on foot, crossing the ocean in a lone vessel, would stay with her for years to come, even as she struggled to complete the painstaking cut-and-paste the project required.
It is featured at the fair with a suite of sculptures and works on paper by Wu, including his “Intentions” series, Buddhist meditation bead chains made from bundles of golden Taiwanese tea leaves wrapped in red thread, suspended from ceiling to floor. Other works on paper are enhanced with gold leaf.
“It’s all based on my immigrant story,” Wu said. “When I arrived, I thought the streets would be paved with gold. I was seven years old, what did I know?
But even if they were, it probably wouldn’t be possible to use them to get back to Taipei.
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