Dear João Onofre,

Hi, I’m an artist, like you. Is that the right way to start? Or is this like learning a few guitar chords and then saying to Eric Clapton, “Hi, I’m a guitarist too.”

Now, the reason for writing to you, an artist I greatly respect, is that not so long ago I plagiarized one of your works, Vulture in the Studio. I also exhibited it in a national museum, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (and before that, I sold it through a gallery). First, please don’t think I’m a forger. And please be patient and read the rest of this letter.

The first time I saw Vulture in the Studio was in the exhibition “Dans les Collections du Centre Pompidou” at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. When I saw a massive vulture charging around in an artist’s studio, it gave me an unbelievable shock. Even though I work for the Discovery Channel, I couldn’t help but be surprised at seeing a vulture appear in a human environment. It’s very difficult to explain, but the shock I received wasn’t just as simple as that. Perhaps my reaction wasn’t as exacting as that of an art professional, but for a few simple, practical reasons, I still believe your Vulture in the Studio was absolutely the best work in that exhibition.

At first, however, I couldn’t tell where my feeling of shock was coming from. After viewing the exhibition, several friends (other art types) and I started talking about your work and throwing out all sorts of academic language to explain how awesome it is and how much we loved it. This included the catalog’s mention that this was an “homage to Bruce Nauman” (though what does your doing an homage to anyone have to do with me?). My friends thought they could see “an image of one’s self,” that “you could look at it without needing any reason to do so,” and a few other things that I found it difficult to grasp. Not that it matters. These kinds of statements were never intended to be understood by anyone else. They were just another way of praising the work.

Later, I realized that the shock came from the gap between you and me. Well, not just you and me. I should probably say the gap between you and me and the environment that produced me. I was really interested in what that vulture meant to you. A natural marvel? Like if I simply used a vulture, would it be enough to constitute such a marvel? Or is it that the vulture had to appear in an artist’s studio, so in the end you stuck the vulture in there? Does it bite? But it’s not just that. As far as I’m concerned, that the studio looked “just like normal” was also a marvel. There was nothing common about it! That space had been suffused with intellect and taste. It had a dark hard wood floor, jasmine-white wooden walls and an old mother’s-milk colored door with frosted glass. There were volumes of books and documents on the walls and in the bookshelves. There was simply nothing extra. For me, this was an absolutely ideal and perfect world. To tell the truth, in Taiwan I’ve never seen a studio like it.

What was so unbelievable to me about this work far exceeded a vulture flying through your studio and flapping around in your stuff.  On the contrary, it was “that vulture” and “that studio.” It was those two elements that gave me a shock beyond measure.

It makes me a little embarrassed to realize, in Taiwan, where can you go to find a vulture? And where can you go to find this kind of studio? This is really colonialist thinking, isn’t it? It also implies the size of the gulf I would need to cross in order to achieve a similar effect. The distance between this work and me isn’t a problem of art. The problem comes long before artistic problems arise.

In order to solve this problem of closing the distance between you and me, I had to turn my shortcomings into an advantage. So I thought long and hard about what animal in Taiwan might be able to match your vulture. There’s one. It’s the sparrow. In Taiwan we call them “corner nesters,” because they like to build their nests in the eaves of roofs. These are birds with a very sensitive disposition. As soon as you get within a couple meters, they fly away. So I guess that if you can get really close them, might they also seem to be natural marvels? These most familiar of strangers? What’s more, sparrows and vultures have really similar coloration.

As far as the studio went, I didn’t have the money to build one that’s exactly the same. But due to the magic of video, I could spend only a tiny, tiny amount to create a model that was virtually the same. In that model studio, one miniscule sparrow could seem gigantic. On video, the proportions could make it look just like Vulture in the Studio. Can you imagine it? A massive sparrow.

Indeed, I did it. But I also knew in my heart that there was no way to truly bridge the gap between us. So in writing you this letter, the best way for me, one of your biggest fans, to express myself is simply to state the distance between us clearly. This is me, an artist far removed from the problems of art.

Oh, right, the result of my plagiarism is a work called Sparrow in the Studio. The next time you exhibit in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, as far as this goes with me, this little fucker, you will never receive another homage this cool or this personalized.

So with all due respect, I am attaching a photo of Sparrow in the Studio.

Kindest regards,

Su Yu-shien