Shu Lea Cheang, 3x3x6, mixed media installation © Shu Lea Cheang. Courtesy of the artist and Taiwan in Venice 2019

Taipei Fine Arts Museum presents 3x3x6 as Taiwan’s representation at the 58th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2019. The exhibition features artist Shu Lea Cheang’s brand-new commissioned project 3x3x6, curated by Paul B. Preciado.

Soon after the World Wide Web was made available for public access in 1990, artist Shu Lea Cheang, embarked on a journey to expand new media beyond known functions of digital communication, connecting virtual networks with spaces in the real world. Internationally recognized as an Internet art pioneer, Cheang explores the changing relationships between technology and body politics in the age of late capitalism and globalization.

For Taiwan’s collateral presentation at Venice Biennale 2019, with the history of the exhibition venue in mind, Cheang creates a new work named 3x3x6 in reference to today’s standardized architecture of industrial imprisonment: a 9-square-meter prison cell constantly monitored by six cameras. Related to ten cases of imprisonment due to gender, sexual, and racial nonconformity, both past and present, 3x3x6 questions the legal and visual regimes that have formed sexual and gender norms over time. Specifically, Cheang’s exhibition looks to the conditions of nonphysical yet increasingly omnipresent imprisonment in this new digital age.

3x3x6 spans four rooms of the Prigioni with an immersive, multidimensional installation. Departing from the architecture of the panopticon invented by Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century, Cheang constructs the exhibition around a rotating and inverted surveillance tower: a 3-D camera surveillance system. From the moment the visitor elects to enter the exhibition they become implicated within the system—their faces are scanned and their image later modified. Here, gender and racial morphing become queer digital strategies to disrupt the tradition of colonial and anthropometric identification techniques. Connected to the Internet, 3x3x6 in turn allows visitors to send selfies and images to the exhibition system. The exhibition visitors are thus inside the total surveillance apparatus.

Cheang has also developed 10 short trans punk fiction films. To produce these digital videos, Cheang conducted research on ten case studies. Making use of legal documents and historical reports as well as metaphors, fake news, myths, and fantasies, Cheang short-circuits linear time and brings into the conversation characters from different eras and cultures. Normative notions of gender, race, and sexual identity are also challenged—the actors have attributes that differ greatly from the characters and so question preconceived biases and existing conventions.

At the end of the exhibition visitors are directed into a control room where imagery and data converge. By revealing the mechanisms behind the work, Cheang asks us to examine the distance between surveillance and desire—when an individual experiences pleasure and voluntarily participates in observing another, are they not too being exposed to surveillance?

Shu Lea Cheang states: “With this exhibition we explore the possible strategies for resistance against highly controlled societies, the self-affirming dignity against repression, and the variable versions of self-granted pursuits for (un)happiness.” Through her works, Cheang bridges queer/transgender activism and hacktivism—seemingly divergent and unrelated strategies—and by pushing the boundary that defines normality and anomaly reimagines a brand new practice of liberation.

On view at the Palazzo delle Prigioni (Castello 4209, San Marco, Venice, Italy) from May 11 – November 24, 2019. Guided tours will be available twice a day during opening hours from May 11– August 27, 2019.  

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