by Yin-Ju Chen

I would like to talk about three influential movies that have spurred my artistic practice in recent years. They are 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), For All Mankind (1989), and THX 1138 (1971)

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey 

The first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey was during an unbearably hot summer in Taipei in 2000. I inserted the VCD into my computer, and the long black intro with weird music was the first thing that struck me. After the intro and title card, for 20 minutes, all I saw were apes. I immediately lost interest and moved on to the next movie. I did not think about this movie anymore.

10 years later, because of my new interest in making science fiction videos and installations, I picked up this “bible” again. I projected it onto my studio wall, and this time it completely haunted me. Except for chapter two “TMA-1” and the scary infant (star child) at the end, I was totally enthralled. While watching For All Mankind, I learned that 2001 was made before the moon landing, and this made me admire the movie even more. I went back and checked every single space shot in 2001, to double-check that I actually did not see any “blue planet” images in the movie. Because I was born way after the moon landing, the image of the blue Earth was naturally installed into my brain system. I “thought” I had seen the image of the earth in 2001, but I actually did not.

After watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, my interest in space exploration and astronomy officially took off. I often projected space footage or animations from NASA for fun.

There are many images from 2001 that I will never forget -- the famous jump cut from the bone to the spaceship, the mysterious monolith, the mind blowing space scenes, the evil Hal 9000, the time traveling, seeing one’s future and past, circular time, etc. Every now and then when I am thematizing my own chaotic thoughts and complex ideas into a single artwork, I think about this movie.

2001’s sound design is also masterful. I especially appreciate the silence and static sound effects in outer space. 2001’s ending also reminds me of Rashomon’s – the beginning of a new life cycle -- it is very Zen.


Some remarkable classic scenes:


a. The 2 minute and 52 second long, pure black intro with music, before MGM logo even shows up:

When I lived in San Francisco, I saw many crazy and weird experimental/underground movies. But 2001’s odd beginning still impresses me a great deal. To me, it’s like Kubrick’s artist statement.


b. The classic jump cut from a flying bone to the spaceship

A leap of a thousand years of civilization.


c. Encounter with the mysterious monolith

The monolith is always watching us and guiding us.


d. The Infamous Hal 9000

When I watched Her, I thought about Hal.


2. In 2011, my artist friend Emre said:

“Have you seen For All Mankind”?
“You should check it out.”

So I did. While watching it, I had to keep on telling myself repeatedly -- “it is a documentary, and it is real (well, supposedly).” The images from this 1989-made documentary seemed too surreal and too real, even though cinema technology is far more advanced now.

Because I took the image of the “blue marble” for granted, I did not realize how important it was for the Apollo 11 astronauts to see the Earth for the first time from space. Only later, when one of the astronauts said, “the Earth is shrinking,” did I comprehend how important it was. This idea of perspectives informed my 2012 work One Universe, One God, One Nation – a project that presented the universe’s POV of the Earth and its contemplation of human history.


The view of the blue marble from Apollo 11:


I would like to bring up a topic that is usually unmentioned on this website -- astrology. I am follower of astronomy and a fan of astrology. I trust science, but I also admire the scientifically unprovable.

According to the astrological tradition, the moon represents our inner or feminine self (what C.G. Jung called “animus”), our deepest personal needs, our unconscious, and our mothers. One can read one’s compatibility with others with one’s moon signs. In Greek mythology, the lunar goddess is “Artemis,” or “Diana” in Roman mythology.

I guess it makes sense that the humans landing on Artemis would use a spacecraft named after her brother. It’s as if I rode a futuristic flying lotus to India to investigate Gautama Buddha’s bones under the Bodhi Tree.


Caption: Apollo and Artemis


3. Back in 2010-2011, one of my advisers from the Rijksakademie recommended a movie I had not yet seen. It was THX 1138.

I had been studying the concept of the collective conscious and unconscious. I had also been thinking about power structures, groupthink, and control. Although these topics have been addressed in many sci-fi movies, I appreciate THX 1138 the most for its simplicity, aesthetics, and editing.

It was the automated confessional that first caught my attention. THX mumbles the prayer:

Masses for the masses. One for all, all is one. Masses are what we are. We are the masses. But all in all, we are masses. For the Party and for all, masses are what we are.

Throughout THX’s confession, not only does the Unichapel not comfort its son at all, at the end comes its conclusion:

You are a true believer. Blessings of the state. Blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine, created in the image of man…by the masses, for the masses. Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard. Increase production. Prevent accidents. And…be happy.

This is a very apt description of my own country with its many mindless followers (“mindlock” is the term from the movie). The words and the film set are so simple and straightforward. This is the aesthetic simplicity I appreciate.


Click here to watch: THX 1138 confession room.

When the Unichapel is speaking, the movie cuts to a back room where the priest’s voice is being played back by a tape machine. We then see a weird lizard-moth creature in a jungle of cables. It is lovely.

The bathroom mirror & taking pills.

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

Whenever someone opens a medicine cabinet to pop some pills, the mirror with a camera lens will keep on asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” Everything is controlled and monitored. This is a continual theme in sci-fi, and it never seems to get old. It rings truer everyday.

4. To me, science and pseudoscience complement and supplement each other, so I am continually combining them in my practice. With every project I learn about science facts, pseudoscientific mythology, fables, mystical readings, occult interpretations, and superstitions. This is all knowledge. In my works, science and pseudoscience cannot exist without the other. One can have faith in science and physics, and one can also have faith in the cosmos and astrology. Perhaps faith and knowledge are not so different.


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