Art in Taipei

It’s been great to be in Asia and see some exciting contemporary art. My previous destinations have a paucity of this, or it is suppressed.

Opposite Flipflop is MOCA and I was dismayed to find it semi-closed on my first trip. Second time around it is open with an exhibition of painting, photography, video installation fascinating collaborative art.

Particularly good was “Male Hole” by Hou Chun Ming. The accompanying video documentary really helped make sense of the multi-layered participatory paintings hung fluttering in a darkened room. Reminiscent of the tableaux of Gilbert and George but much less mechanical, of Jim Sander’s totems, but more personal and less naive, of political banners, of tombs. The work displayed shows 17 life size interpretations or subjective portraits of gay Taiwanese men. The artist recruited his subjects through Facebook and engages them each in face to face discussion about sex, body, sexuality, and through this they reveal themselves providing the substance for the paintings: Hou draws their outline then embellishes in a provocative colourful way that reflects the psychological frame of mind, personality, foibles, characteristics of each man. A study of the diverse personalities of gay man. The paintings are given over to the subjects who are outlined again on the reverse and are asked to represent themselves. They paint naked. Like animal, Hou narrates. The finished work is thus a 2-sided portrait: self-portrait and artist portrait. The works are hung flanked by texts that, I believe are transcriptions from the conversations. For me, who can’t read this, it reassembled the pairs of slogans hung outside doors to wish happiness or the confuscius analects imparting wisdom in temples and institutions.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum is a cool white concrete jumble of blocks near the curiously European timber framed Story of Taipei museum (which I didn’t go to, and am not going to write about!). I got there after some heavy rain holed me up at the Confucius temple and subsequent vege buffet. Totally unexpected the exhibition was themed around audience participation and in many cases becoming the art. A yellow cartoon like stage is set and lit, you borrow the props and the costumes, photograph yourself, share the pictures on the growing gallery wall. The work that I found most engaging was a video installation (see below). Video in white cube spaces formalizes and codifies the viewing experience, setting the audience apart from this intangible media, like CCTV. Watching but not touching. Video can be truly mesmeric and immersive when multiple surfaces are utilised and when there is no one privileged position. This poetic work that takes you into a forest, where rain falls heavily, autumn leaves cascade down and a brilliant moon rises, and it’s a forest into which you can enter. The video animation is projected onto multiple layers of fluttering white net fabric (oh, some relationship to the Male Hole here!), and find yourself lost in the dark forest at dusk. The space is quite busy, mainly with Taiwanese teens. It’s good to see their enthusiasm for art and that they get the immersive thing. Perhaps it is second nature to them, as they belong to the generation that thrives in virtual spaces, simulations and fictional worlds. I notice around the city the Chinese trend to pose model like for one another on street corners, in front of some ivy clad wall. They adopt a persona, they perform, they construct something other. Even selfies are a parade of rehearsed and forced poses and expressions. These art works are self-photo opportunities. I think the artists are conscious of this and this makes this kind of work so relevant,

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Hualien: street activity

As I’m cycling up the long straight Zhongshan rd (a common name in Taiwan) lined with vertical neon and navigated with civil respectful and kindly driving of scooter, bike, taxi, car, truck, I’m aroused by the childish jingle of an ice cream van. I glance over my shoulder eager to see how these icons of childhood manifest in Taiwan. Nothing to be seen. By the road locals are clasping bulging rubbish sacks and various junk. A yellow truck passes by, and slows as it passes these folk: on a step at the rear of the truck is an operative in helmet and yellow overalls hanging on by one arm snatching the rubbish sacks like the hook on an old fashioned mail train. It’s a refuse truck and the sacks are tossed by him into the perilously close crusher of the vehicle. In fact there are 2, and the second deals with recyclables. Outside a motor cycle accessory shop I see a woman toss into the crusher box loads of old helmets. Creepy to see them pulverised, these should protect heads. Like a kid in awe of a carnival I pursue this spectacle along the road.

Earlier on guolian 5th st the heat of the afternoon is intensified by blazing roadside braziers into which are solemnly tossed huge bundles, even boxloads of yellow paper “money”. I later learn that this is the day of ghosts. I am told this by a temple worker, outside which trestle tables under awnings which barely stifle the heat are being set up by enthusiastic volunteers with identically assembled bags of assorted staples: corn oil, doritoes, canned meat, fruits. These will be later be bought and left as offerings to the ancestors on temporary shrines constructed at the front of each house, often on the sidewalk, where prayers are said and incense burned. Later when I pass again a foursome of costumed old men playing a pipe and gongs finish a parade inside the same temple and fire crackers are let off.