Tag Archives: art

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,

Day 3: 10 January, HK

Today I go to the congee shop on Kings Rd for mandarin and red bean soup for breakfast and plan my day. I intend to take in some alternative culture and head for the Cattle Depot Artist Village in Ma Tau Kok near Hong Hom on Kowloon. I get there by ferry from North Point. The terminal lined with golf with stalls full of tanks of freshly caught sea creatures and fish. The sun is shining, I almost wish I had my sun glasses. I take a wrong turn and end up on a foot bridge on which a homeless woman has hung her clothes to dry. Beneath the bridge is a cluster of religious icons: bud has, virgins etc. I walk alongside the roaring East Kowloon Corridor which cuts like a canyon through the forest of high rise and disappears into a lengthy tunnel.


The Artist Village is a turn of the century listed ex-abbatoir, complete with concrete troughs and hitching rings. I’m looking for the base of Videotage but they are closed up. There are various artist’s workshops housed in the peripheral buildings. A sculptor surrounded by old domestic appliances, plastic and metal junk welding a new masterpiece. I look at an a couple of exhibitions: one tacking community and living space, the other the fruit of a series of workshops with teenagers.  I watch a documentary filmed in Shau Kei Wan market. I’m disappointed at how little I find and how uninspiring it is. It’s time to walk. The side streets are high and narrow and are populated by car workshops, and lines of washing hung out of faceless windows. Around one corner is a demolition site, the face of a lowly 2-storey house is all that remains of what once was there.

I follow To Kwa Wan Rd a little way, many of the buildings are peeling and date from the 1960s. This is not space age shiny new Hong Kong. There is a workshop in which Lambourghinis and Ferraris are being fixed. Along a less busy road I come across a throng queuing to get into a restaurant, politely being pestered by both pro and anti-Falun Gong.


I’m searching for a place to eat. The one I’m hunting for is closed and I head further west and into the district of Hok Yuen, a strange mist-mash of shiny new malls, low-rise scruffy streets full of recycling depots, where men are sorting metals, crushing and bailing them, then loading trucks. One small street is lined with fancy elaborately decorated vast restaurants. The street is festooned with red lanterns and christmas stars. At mid afternoon, the street is empty, the restaurants empty. I am intercepted by a woman from the office that manages this private street, and have to account for what I’m photographing. “Not people, not you…really…just the nice decorations…” haha. I eat something unmemorable in a little vegetarian eatery. There is a boy, a college student I guess, who I find quite fascinating.

I end up accidentally walking to the Whampoa. This seems to be a huge luxury private residential development. At its entrance stands the incongruous weirdness of a shopping centre in the shape and form of a ship. Once around Whampoa I am at the harbourside at a steel and glass Harbour Grand Kowloon. Smart bellboys and doormen attending to visitors drawing up in scruffy red HK taxis. I decide to walk in, fully expecting to be stopped, but the doors are open for me. The warmth of the sun over the water fills the lobby through its glass walls. I loiter, linger, look at the cakes in the cafe-bar and watch guests, certainly not moneyed business people, arriving. There is some kind of group thing going on. I catch the ferry from Hung Him back to North Point. It might have been that evening that I went to the buffet restaurant. I can’t remember now.

Guilin day 12

Well it’s a tourist town with a busy main drag that crosses numerous bridges and a couple of islands. There no acres of tower blocks and life is quite informal. Motorbikes seem to have priority over pedestrians on the pavements, a lot of hoiking and spitting. Motor cycle taxis. Thousands of Chinese tourists, hardly any English signage, abundance of fruit stalls. I can’t deal with the Chinese only train station to book my tickets for next week, and it’s just as well as I change my plans later in the morning when I check whether Kk will be free next week or not. Guilin is quite disorientating, I don’t seem to find anything easily even with a map and gps. I do manage to get to the most glorious nengren temple vege buffet restaurant. It’s quite well appointed and busy with large groups of quite old Chinese sitting around communal round tables. It’s a bargain at 28 rmb, and the food is so amazing that I have to fit my plans around getting there again.  
I’m not sure if this is a river or one of the lakes. Under the shade of trees on the banks elderly play cards, younger men are sleeping by their motorbikes. Now I’ve found the rong lake. This would have been idyllic with villas on the banks and Qing era painters and writers drawing inspiration from the waters and the karst peaks in the near distance. Little bridges and pavilions on the water proliferate. At night these and the trees on the shores are lit red green blue green. It’s actually not too gaudy. At the second lake there are some anglers. Standing proud in the lake are the twin pagoda towers of the moon and the sun. A spectacular tourist sight indeed. I’m accosted by a local guy who offers me a cigarette, then asks me how much my watch cost. He wants to show me his, which has a window on its reverse that shows its mechanism. Our conversation goes nowhere. I would like to speak to people but I want to know their political views and perceptions of society, and not to ask how old are you and where are you from. This will never be possible. Soon I’m joined on a bench by liu tang, who has faltering English but is engaging. He turns out to be master painter who has travelled China painting and teaches at uni. I let him take me to his and his friend, Robert, little gallery stall. His work is exquisite and very atmospheric. He paints in s traditional style, water colour landscapes. Liu has to excuse himself as his wife needs him. I spend a long time with Robert talking about art. He tells me that Liu is quite famous and very respected. He has work in the Sheraton hotel and in the national museum. Robert’s paintings are figurative and not nearly as evocative. He tells me that they sell their work here to raise money for orphaned kids. He shows me some antique calligraphy and illustrative paintings, some textiles from various minority groups, and tells me how he is influenced by wild swans, which is banned in China. He has it there hidden under a pile of stuff. He tells me he is keen for foreigners to appreciate and share his culture. There is no pressure, and we hit it off, and so I have bought one of liu’s works.Walking back a guy chats to me as I’m trying to cross the road. He tells me he has studied tea production..and is very informative about my destination tomorrow, and suggests things I might be interested in. But I don’t want to go on a group trip to the rice terraces, or go to the theatre.
Sunset over the lake is pretty, and the coloured lights somehow enhance it. Over the lake from the pagodas some out of tune singing comes from a little open air performance area. Nearby a woman plays a triangular ceramic pipe. On one of the bridges a threesome of boys of about 20 play very well performed melodic rock. Next door is the pitiful sight of an old man with a grey whispy beard in a wheelchair, crooning over some old Chinese pop playing from a crackly portable speaker. The Chinese listen exclusively to Chinese music. Strolling along the river both young and old play music through the tinny speakers of their phone. This apparent inability to enjoy the pleasures of being outside reminds me of the phenomenon I witnessed each Sunday in Italy of men walking the countryside or standing ion street corners with little transistor radios clammed to an ear, listening to a live soccer match.