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Burning Down the Biennials: Reports from Gwangju, Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei

The year 2014 may come to be known as the year of Asian Biennials. During the second half of 2014, no fewer than six major exhibitions of international contemporary art were staged in Asia: the Yokohama Triennale (August 1–November 3) opened towards the end of the summer, followed by Media City Seoul (September 2–November 23), the Gwangju Biennale (September 5–November 9), the Taipei Biennial (September 13–January 4, 2015), Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (September 6–November 30), and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 12–March 29, 2015). All eyes turned eastward, including our own, as C-MAP Asia Group embarked on a two-week-long trip to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan in September 2014. Our first stop was the Gwangju Biennale, whose theme, Burning Down the House, with its emphasis on the notions of change and renewal through destruction, might even be applied to the present system of biennials and triennials. While these big shows have much to offer, they sit astride particular art scenes with distinct histories and characters. We explored these as much as possible through meetings with local artists and curators.

The vivid memories of the scents and tastes of East Asia have stayed with us long after the trip. We enjoyed delicious dishes prepared by artist Siren Chung for the Chuseok holiday in Seoul, quaffed magic water consecrated by the father-in-law of Japanese artist Wada Masahiro, at the Yokohama Triennale, enjoyed the best tofu while talking to Lee Mingwei about exquisite Taiwanese snacks in a restaurant near the Tokyo Tower, and sipped amazing hibiscus tea infused with sun-dried tangerine peel in the company of artists Lee Minghsueh and Tseng Yu-chin at IT Park in Taipei. It is incredible how food connects people and how many times we chatted over food and drink with art professionals. At such moments, life and art are inseparable.

Two weeks are of course barely enough to take the pulse of the dynamic art scenes in three countries. Numerous galleries, studios, museums, restaurants, and cafes slipped out of our intense schedule. Here we present highlights of our visit, and invite you to share your thoughts with us about creative projects and shows you’ve seen recently in the places where we stopped.

Author

Screen shot 2014 09 30 at 11.51.54 am

Stuart Comer

Chief Curator, Media and Performance Art The Museum of Modern Art Stuart Comer is the Chief Curator of the Department of Media and Performance Art at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. He oversees the department’s program of special... Read more »
Yuchieh li

Yu-Chieh Li

Former Andrew W. Mellon C-MAP Fellow at The Museum of Modern Art Yu-Chieh Li was the Andrew W. Mellon C-MAP Fellow for the C-MAP Asia group from October 2013 to September 2015. At the Museum, she was a co-editor of post and organized... Read more »
Eva respini portrait

Eva Respini

Curator, Department of Photography The Museum of Modern Art Eva Respini is the Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA/Boston. She was previously Curator in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art and organized... Read more »
Jenny schlenzka id

Jenny Schlenzka

Associate Curator MoMA PS1 Jenny Schlenzka is Associate Curator at MoMA PS1, principally in charge of live programming. Previously, she was Assistant Curator at PS1. Prior to that, from 2008 to... Read more »
Suzuki headshot

Sarah Suzuki

Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints The Museum of Modern Art Sarah Suzuki is Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Museum of Modern Art. At MoMA, Ms. Suzuki’s exhibitions include Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second... Read more »
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Burning Down the Biennials: Reports from Gwangju, Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei MAP

Burning Down the Biennials: Reports from Gwangju, Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei

The year 2014 may come to be known as the year of Asian Biennials. During the second half of 2014, no fewer than six major exhibitions of international contemporary art were staged in Asia: the Yokohama Triennale (August 1–November 3) opened towards the end of the summer, followed by Media City Seoul (September 2–November 23), the Gwangju Biennale (September 5–November 9), the Taipei Biennial (September 13–January 4, 2015), Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (September 6–November 30), and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 12–March 29, 2015). All eyes turned eastward, including our own, as C-MAP Asia Group embarked on a two-week-long trip to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan in September 2014. Our first stop was the Gwangju Biennale, whose theme, Burning Down the House, with its emphasis on the notions of change and renewal through destruction, might even be applied to the present system of biennials and triennials. While these big shows have much to offer, they sit astride particular art scenes with distinct histories and characters. We explored these as much as possible through meetings with...

Show More

The year 2014 may come to be known as the year of Asian Biennials. During the second half of 2014, no fewer than six major exhibitions of international contemporary art were staged in Asia: the Yokohama Triennale (August 1–November 3) opened towards the end of the summer, followed by Media City Seoul (September 2–November 23), the Gwangju Biennale (September 5–November 9), the Taipei Biennial (September 13–January 4, 2015), Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (September 6–November 30), and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 12–March 29, 2015). All eyes turned eastward, including our own, as C-MAP Asia Group embarked on a two-week-long trip to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan in September 2014. Our first stop was the Gwangju Biennale, whose theme, Burning Down the House, with its emphasis on the notions of change and renewal through destruction, might even be applied to the present system of biennials and triennials. While these big shows have much to offer, they sit astride particular art scenes with distinct histories and characters. We explored these as much as possible through meetings with local artists and curators.

The vivid memories of the scents and tastes of East Asia have stayed with us long after the trip. We enjoyed delicious dishes prepared by artist Siren Chung for the Chuseok holiday in Seoul, quaffed magic water consecrated by the father-in-law of Japanese artist Wada Masahiro, at the Yokohama Triennale, enjoyed the best tofu while talking to Lee Mingwei about exquisite Taiwanese snacks in a restaurant near the Tokyo Tower, and sipped amazing hibiscus tea infused with sun-dried tangerine peel in the company of artists Lee Minghsueh and Tseng Yu-chin at IT Park in Taipei. It is incredible how food connects people and how many times we chatted over food and drink with art professionals. At such moments, life and art are inseparable.

Two weeks are of course barely enough to take the pulse of the dynamic art scenes in three countries. Numerous galleries, studios, museums, restaurants, and cafes slipped out of our intense schedule. Here we present highlights of our visit, and invite you to share your thoughts with us about creative projects and shows you’ve seen recently in the places where we stopped.

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01. Gwangju Biennale: Okin Collective Intervention in the Exhibition Space

It would be difficult to miss Okin Collective’s intervention in the exhibition space at the Gwangju Biennale. While we were touring the show, a cheerful, amplified voice broke in unexpectedly throughout the day and in a pleasant cadence started giving instructions in English and Korean for performing lung exercises.

Hi everybody. We’re Okin Collective.

Now, it’s time for lung exercises.

Now, it’s time for lung exercises.

No lung, no art.

Your lungs, our power!

Guards in the exhibition space took part in the performance, by performing the gymnastics, to encourage visitors to participate. The sound piece For the Beloved and Song (2014) was broadcast with exercise instructions at irregular intervals over the PA system in and around the exhibition space, its background music adapted from “March for the Beloved,” the official song commemorating the Gwangju uprising of 1980. The lung exercise is presumably beneficial for general health, but it can also potentially protect practitioners during social and political emergencies. Lungs power the song that recalls the past and prepares for the future.

The political implication of the piece was not perceived quite as directly as this description suggests. As is typical of Okin’s work, the call to exercise was mostly taken at face value. In the exhibition space and on the Biennale Plaza, we saw members of the public performing Tai chi-like movements to the broadcast. Spontaneous participation of this kind diluted the work’s heavy intent.

02. Gwangju Biennale: Yamashita Kikuji

Sometimes a work is so good or so strange or so unexpected that it will stay with me for days. Such was the case with Yamashita Kikuji’s 1968 painting Season of Change, installed at the 2014 Gwangju Biennale. As I’ve familiarized myself with the art of postwar Japan, I’ve been fascinated with the surrealist tendency present in some of the work. You can certainly see it in the etchings of Chimei Hamada. Born in 1919, Hamada studied art, and upon graduation was immediately drafted into the military. His first-hand knowledge of the horrors of war reverberated in his work for decades to come: his dark, forceful etchings of the mid-1950s depict the tragedy and absurdity of war while revealing his artist’s eye for composition and his ability to use abstract forms to convey horror.

Yamashita (1919–1986) was also drafted and fought in China. His paintings from the postwar period, which drew on his battlefield experience, suggest the hallucinatory, nightmarish paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, in which animals, demons, and humanoid figures interact in scenes of horrific depravity. A pointedly political allegory, Season of Change addresses the power dynamic between the United States and Japan after World War II. Having seen just a few examples of Yamashita’s work before, notably in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), this strange and haunting picture left me curious to know more.

03. Lionel Wendt at the Gwangju Biennial

Biennials offer plenty of opportunities to make discoveries. My favorite discovery at the 2014 Gwangju Biennial was not a hot new young artist, but rather an artist who was at his prime in the 1930s and ’40s—the Sri Lanken Lionel Wendt (1900–1944). About halfway through the maze of galleries presenting works (many of them in large installations) by artists active today, I stumbled into a beautiful gallery with approximately 25 modestly sized black-and-white photographs. A closer look revealed that many of the pictures were solarized and montaged, techniques that are hallmarks of photographic experimentation that took place in the 1920s and ’30s. Indeed, the label revealed that Wendt was working in Sri Lanka during the waning years of colonial rule. I was fascinated by the variety and beauty of the pictures, ranging from a handsome portrait of two men in turbans, with its silvery patina from solarization, to a doctored seascape, a photomontage of a boat at sea collaged into a frame reserved for decorative art works. A quick Google search revealed that Wendt was also a musician, critic, and cinematographer and that there is an art center in Colombo dedicated to his legacy. Surrounded by contemporary art, Wendt’s works seemed utterly fresh and surprising, and they held their own in an elegant and quiet way. Since leaving Gwangju, those pictures have made an indelible impression on me. Perhaps a trip to Colombo is in order to learn more?

04. The Belated Funeral as Performance: A Dialogue with Minouk Lim

The opening performance of the 10th Gwangju Biennale, a powerful piece by Minouk Lim, took place on a rainy afternoon. A helicopter hovered over Biennale Square, where ambulances and buses converged, carrying high school students, relatives of civilian victims of the Korean War, and members of the May Mothers' House, who lost children in the Gwangju uprising. Remains of civilian victims from the Korean War were carried from an ambulance by blindfolded family members to shipping containers on the square as the May Mothers and high school students looked on. A mourning ritual was enacted in front of one of the shipping containers, surrounded by reporters and Biennale visitors. Spectators were silent; sounds of camera shutters and rainfall dominated the scene. The performance was streamed live both in the exhibition space, where it was shown as a two-channel video installation, and on the website of OhmyNews. The shipping containers holding the human remains were left on the square until the Biennale ended. The next day was sunny. We were amazed to see the square empty and the two containers standing under the blue sky. The bright image presented a striking contrast with the gray scene of the day before. We had loads of questions for Minouk, with whom we had a fifty-minute talk rather than a formal interview. It ended up being a great time for sharing thoughts.

Click here to read the transcript of the dialogue.

05. SeMA Biennale Mediacity

Seoul is a bustling metropolis with lots to observe: high-tech screens beeping and flashing everywhere, hyper fashionable teenagers, K-Pop blaring in all directions, and, of course, tempting flavors from street-food vendors, all clamoring for attention. It wasn’t easy to stick to our packed schedule, but luckily the Mediacity biennial, held at the Seoul Museum of Art, turned out to have its own worthwhile sensations. Founded in 2000, the biennial was intended as a reflection on the media and technology frenzy that is at the heart of Korea’s booming economy.

Whereas former iterations reportedly focused mainly on new-media art works, the 2014 edition included some sculptures, installations and two-dimensional works that gave the...

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Seoul is a bustling metropolis with lots to observe: high-tech screens beeping and flashing everywhere, hyper fashionable teenagers, K-Pop blaring in all directions, and, of course, tempting flavors from street-food vendors, all clamoring for attention. It wasn’t easy to stick to our packed schedule, but luckily the Mediacity biennial, held at the Seoul Museum of Art, turned out to have its own worthwhile sensations. Founded in 2000, the biennial was intended as a reflection on the media and technology frenzy that is at the heart of Korea’s booming economy.

Whereas former iterations reportedly focused mainly on new-media art works, the 2014 edition included some sculptures, installations and two-dimensional works that gave the exhibition some breathing space and made for a stimulating walk-through. According to his catalogue statement, this year’s artistic director, the artist/film director Park Chank-yong, chose to focus on Asia and aspects of its history that continue to inform the present, though often in forgotten or overlooked ways. The theme of invisibility is hinted at in the biennial’s title Ghosts, Spies, and Grandmothers, three key words through which to look at Asia’s “experiences of intense colonialization, the Cold War, rapid economic growth and social change in such a short period.”

The biennial presented 42 international artists from 17 countries. Haegue Yang’s Sonic Rotating Ovals (2013), which were installed at the beginning of the exhibition as well as on the top floor, are playful sonic sculptures covered in countless small metallic bells that, triggered by visitors’ movements, make an enchanting sound reminiscent of spiritual or religious rituals. The night before we had had dinner with the artist, who had just moved back to her native Seoul after a long and professionally successful stay in Europe. She told us about her feelings of exhilaration regarding Seoul’s cultural and economic boom mixed with a slight frustration at its slow shedding of the old political and social systems, which make life in Korea more complicated and restricted than she had hoped.

The video SeaWomen (2012) by the young Anglo-Greek artist Mikhail Karikis is an impressive portrait of a community of elderly female sea laborers called haenyeo, who live on a South Korean island and make their living by diving for pearls and seafood. The immersive soundscape of the installation is composed of so called sumbisori, the traditional breathing technique. The sound resembles seabird screams and invokes a sense of the danger these women face in their daily work. None of the laborers in the video seems younger than 50, which leads one to wonder about the sustainability of this ancient matriarchal and communal profession in times of globalization.

Another room featured an extensive archive of the Japanese avant-garde group Zero Dimension, led by Kato Yoshihiro and Iwata Shinichi and active from the early 1960s to the early 1970s. Most of the photos and flyers on display carried images of the group’s so-called “rituals” and “art terrorism,” which the members often staged in public spaces, dressed in costumes and equipped with props. Their activities climaxed with the anti-Expo movement in 1970, captured in the documentary White Rabbit of Inaba (1970). Unlike the Japanese avant-garde artists who got involved in the international mega-exhibition, Zero Dimension protested with rituals in and around Osaka against art’s participation capitalist consumer culture.

A whole chapter of the biennial focused on Shamanism, once the official religion in Korea and still practiced widely today, albeit in reduced form. My favorite contribution, Ba Ba Bakuhatsu (Grandma Explosion) Series (1969–70), was by the photographer Naito Masatoshi, whose portraits of elderly Japanese women shamans are taken at night with a flashlight as the women speak to their deceased husbands and sons, conduct nocturnal prayers, mourning ceremonies, and dances. The vitality and intensity in the women’s expressions, heightened by the lighting, makes one believe in their ability to communicate with the afterworld.

06. Seoul: Soo Sung Lee at Audio Visual Pavilion

Audio Visual Pavilion is an art space that feels like a secret garden hidden in the hustle and bustle of the Korean capital. With traditional tile roofing, a simple residential interior, and plain exhibition rooms of various sizes, it is an anomaly among Seoul’s sophisticated galleries. We saw an exhibition by Soo Sung Lee, who merged his works with the architectural setting, filling every space with light colored, minimalist sculpture, including a pool placed in the yard. The entire pavilion was incorporated into the artist’s work.

07. Yokohama Triennale

What happens when an artist curates a biennial? Our group had the opportunity to find out on our first day in Japan, when we traveled 30 minutes by train from Tokyo to the busy port city of Yokohama. The 2014 edition of the Yokohama Triennial was directed by the esteemed photographer Yasumasa Morimura, who is known for his performative recreations of iconic images from art history, from Duchamp’s gender-bending alter ego Rrose Sélavy to Cindy Sherman’s centerfolds. The triennial’s title, Fahrenheit 451: Sailing into the Sea of Oblivion, took as its inspiration Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, later adapted to film by François Truffaut. A newbie curator, Morimura stated on the Triennial’s website: “The future is unknown. But a ship...

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What happens when an artist curates a biennial? Our group had the opportunity to find out on our first day in Japan, when we traveled 30 minutes by train from Tokyo to the busy port city of Yokohama. The 2014 edition of the Yokohama Triennial was directed by the esteemed photographer Yasumasa Morimura, who is known for his performative recreations of iconic images from art history, from Duchamp’s gender-bending alter ego Rrose Sélavy to Cindy Sherman’s centerfolds. The triennial’s title, Fahrenheit 451: Sailing into the Sea of Oblivion, took as its inspiration Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, later adapted to film by François Truffaut. A newbie curator, Morimura stated on the Triennial’s website: “The future is unknown. But a ship has set sail from Yokohama Port, and to be completely honest, the journey is likely to be risky with me as the captain. Being an artist, I’ve never had the chance to serve as the artistic director of any international exhibitions. I'm taking the wheel for the first time and the ship has already left port without my having had a chance to learn how to steer.” Armed with this information, we set off to view the triennial, which filled all the floors of the Yokohama Museum of Art as well as a large, airy pier on the water, reachable by bus in 10 minutes. Free to explore as he wished, Morimura included a wide range of artists working in all mediums, hailing from all over the world, from the past and the present. Smaller than previous iterations of this triennial, the 2104 show offered a window onto Morimura’s many interests, from the performative photographs of French provocateur Pierre Molinier to the drawings of Japanese artist Chiyuki Sakagami. A discovery for many in the group, Sakagami’s intricate (verging on obsessive) drawings were like little jewel boxes, each seeming to contain a universe, a whole cosmology of new biomorphic forms. Another crowd favorite was Belgian conceptualist Marcel Broodthaers’s Interview with a Cat, a recorded interview from 1970 that provided comic relief for the group. We ended the tour with a trip to the pier, where we witnessed the performative unveiling of a mobile stage for Japanese artist Miwa Yanagi’s theater piece Nichirin no tsubasa (Wings of the Sun), based on a text by Kenji Nakagami.

08. Tokyo: Mori Art Museum

For me, no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Mori Art Museum in the towering urban complex known as Roppongi Hills. Sure, the view is a draw but more important are the memorable exhibitions I’ve seen there: big midcareer surveys of Lee Bul and Mokoto Aida; projects with emerging artists like Meiro Koizumi and Tsang Kinwah; in-depth investigations of historical moments, such as Metabolism: City of the Future: Dreams and Visions of Reconstruction in Postwar and Present Day Japan, held in 2011; and Roppongi Crossing, the museum’s biennial exhibition of new art that always yields fresh discoveries.

On this visit, we arrived between shows as construction and planning were underway for Lee Mingwei and His Relations. The...

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For me, no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Mori Art Museum in the towering urban complex known as Roppongi Hills. Sure, the view is a draw but more important are the memorable exhibitions I’ve seen there: big midcareer surveys of Lee Bul and Mokoto Aida; projects with emerging artists like Meiro Koizumi and Tsang Kinwah; in-depth investigations of historical moments, such as Metabolism: City of the Future: Dreams and Visions of Reconstruction in Postwar and Present Day Japan, held in 2011; and Roppongi Crossing, the museum’s biennial exhibition of new art that always yields fresh discoveries.

On this visit, we arrived between shows as construction and planning were underway for Lee Mingwei and His Relations. The galleries might have been empty of objects, but they were full of deep thinking, conversation, and planning by the artist and the museum staff. Lee Mingwei’s work is not primarily object-based but instead is often centered on ideas of interactivity and participation. Over the last 20 years, his projects have involved dining, mending garments, conversing, and letter writing. This kind of experiential art can be challenging to show in an institutional context and is further complicated by a retrospective presentation in which multiple works are activated at once.

We’ve faced similar challenges at MoMA while installing Rirkrit Tiravanija’s landmark installation untitled 1992/1995 (free still) and Superflex’s CopyLight Studio. One of the key opportunities of travel is the chance to engage in in-depth dialogue with colleagues around the world about institutional issues like these and the varying strategies we employ to respond to them. In the past, I’ve had the pleasure of discussing the challenges and complexities of reinstalling Gutai works from the phenomenal collection of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art with curator Koichi Kawasaki. On this trip, we had the honor of talking with the Mono-ha artist Kishio Suga and hearing his views on reinstalling and recreating sculpture made of ephemeral materials. Lee Mingwei described to us his aim for a multipronged approach at Mori, including experiences that visitors would have to register for in advance, and others that could be encountered by chance in the galleries. Conversations like these are crucial. They suggest new approaches and new answers to questions that we’re all asking. Alas, I left Tokyo without getting to experience Lee Mingwei and His Relations for myself, but I look forward to another conversation about it on my next trip to the Mori.

09. Taipei: Chen Chieh-jen’s "Realm of Reverberation"

On a warm and humid afternoon we strolled from The Cube Project Space in the Gongguan area through the streets teeming with snack bars to Chen’s studio, situated in an apartment building in the Wenzhou Street area. Located opposite National Taiwan University, the neighborhood is a labyrinth of cafes and bookstores but smells more like a rainforest.

Chen Chieh-jen was a leading performance artist in Taiwan in the 1980s. In the 1990s, after an eight-year pause in his career as an artist, he started to address Taiwan’s colonial history using the moving image. We had the privilege of seeing his almost-finished film Realm of Reverberation before its debut at the Asia Triennial Manchester 2014.

The film takes the Losheng protest as its...

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On a warm and humid afternoon we strolled from The Cube Project Space in the Gongguan area through the streets teeming with snack bars to Chen’s studio, situated in an apartment building in the Wenzhou Street area. Located opposite National Taiwan University, the neighborhood is a labyrinth of cafes and bookstores but smells more like a rainforest.

Chen Chieh-jen was a leading performance artist in Taiwan in the 1980s. In the 1990s, after an eight-year pause in his career as an artist, he started to address Taiwan’s colonial history using the moving image. We had the privilege of seeing his almost-finished film Realm of Reverberation before its debut at the Asia Triennial Manchester 2014.

The film takes the Losheng protest as its starting point. The Losheng Sanatorium for Lepers was founded by the Japanese Colonial Government to forcibly house and quarantine people suffering from Hansen’s disease. In 2002 the sanatorium was demolished by Taipei’s Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) over vehement protests by residents, scholars, lawyers, engineers, and documentary filmmakers.

Chen showed us the second section of the film, which depicts the visual narratives of the inmates and takes the viewer on a tour of the ruins of the sanatorium. Like many Taiwanese films, Realm of Reverberation is slow-paced. With much modesty and shyness in his smile, Chen kept telling us, “This passage is almost over. But let me know if you want me to fast-forward.” On the contrary: we were deeply moved by the tranquil beauty of the lepers’ faces—the images still linger in our minds.

10. Taipei: Yao Jui-chung and his archive

Yao Jui-Chung’s 18-year-old cat Moca kept wanting attention from us as we pored over the artist’s portfolio and archives in his studio. Yao is also an art critic and an enthusiastic collector of newspaper clippings, ephemera, and photographs of art events. Such documents fill his studio and are the basis of his pioneering works Installation Art in Taiwan 1991–2001 and Archives on Performance Art in Taiwan, 1978–2004.

Yao might well be described as a modern literati figure, but his projects are concerned with political and social issues rather than his own emotions. He has never concentrated on a single medium at any one time. His latest work, Ruins Series, a photographic project documenting unused public buildings that were originally intended as exhibition spaces in Taiwan, was shown in this year’s International Architecture Exhibition in Venice. Unfinished landscape drawings made with ink on paper were also on view in his studio. From afar they look like traditional ink scrolls, but up close the brushwork is idiosyncratic and tumultuous.

11. Taipei: IT Park

IT Park is perhaps the oldest artists’ space in Taiwan. Founded in 1988 by Chen Hui-chiao, Liu Ching-Tang, and Tsong Pu, it is an exhibition space, a place where artists’ archives are preserved, and, even more importantly, it is a center for artistic exchange and a place to socialize and hatch ideas.

Lee Ming-Hsueh’s brilliantly-installed solo show largely comprised conceptual prints and found objects: dust brooms joined with dust pans, sculptures made of contact lenses, lighters attached to the wall and combined with graffiti. The highlight was the watermelon/knife. I was surprised at how these readymades went so well with the gallery space. Everything had a minimal, casual beauty.

IT Park captures the persistent energy behind Taiwan’s relatively slow-paced lifestyle. In fact, I find that much Taiwanese art does just that.

12. Taipei: Yu Cheng-Ta’s "Practicing Live"

Yu Cheng-Ta’s new three-channel video is a send-up of the contemporary art world. The plot is woven from the dialogues of a fictional family of art professionals portrayed by renowned artists, curators, art critics, and gallerists from Taiwan, Japan, and the UK. The actors play alternate versions of themselves: for instance, the gallerist Chi-Wen Huang plays a museum director. Their conversation centers on the rules of the global art world and their plight as art professionals. Well-known maxims from philosophers and cultural theorists pop up in mockery of the overuse of quotations in art criticism.

The story culminates with the arrival of the news that son, David Yu, deemed by his family to be an unsuccessful artist, has won the Turner prize. It is also revealed that he has two other identities - famous artist David X and collector Skyban. With a story woven around an artist with multiple identities, this film throws a question to the global art system—How do you survive today as a contemporary Asian artist?

13. Taipei: Stray Dogs at the Museum: Tsai Ming-Liang Solo Exhibition

“Before Tsai Ming-liang’s films appear, we actually did not know what ‘slowness’ is.” – Chang Hsao-hung. “Slow Walk in Museum.” (from the brochure for Tsai Ming-Liang Solo Exhibition at MoNTUE)

We left time in the afternoon of our last day to slow down with Tsai’s award-winning film Stray Dogs presented in an unusual way, in an unconventional setting. In recent years, Tsai has identified himself more as an artist who works with moving images than as a film director. When entering the Museum of National Taipei University of Education (MoNTUE), we had to walk between heaps of tree branches to reach the screening places. The film was shown in several locations and scales: beneath staircases, on walls, and in a cozy space furnished with...

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“Before Tsai Ming-liang’s films appear, we actually did not know what ‘slowness’ is.” – Chang Hsao-hung. “Slow Walk in Museum.” (from the brochure for Tsai Ming-Liang Solo Exhibition at MoNTUE)

We left time in the afternoon of our last day to slow down with Tsai’s award-winning film Stray Dogs presented in an unusual way, in an unconventional setting. In recent years, Tsai has identified himself more as an artist who works with moving images than as a film director. When entering the Museum of National Taipei University of Education (MoNTUE), we had to walk between heaps of tree branches to reach the screening places. The film was shown in several locations and scales: beneath staircases, on walls, and in a cozy space furnished with floor cushions where it was projected on two facing walls. Visitors were free to orient their cushions any way they wished.

In the brochure to the show, Tsai explains how he’d like to challenge the traditional idea of cinema as a temple-like place.

In my childhood, the cinema was usually a single-building architecture, like a big box surrounded by barbed wires outside, also like a temple with more than one thousand seats…All family would see the movie together, too. At that time, going to the cinema was like a pilgrimage. It happened during the 1960s and 1970s….Now the cinema has become a shopping mall... It is composed of small halls and frequent showing sessions. You can go to see them at any time.

The artist defies conventions of big-box cinemas and multiplex warrens by isolating fragments of the film and projecting them in corners as independent installations. The magic of Tsai is his ability to create drama by showing unremarkable slices of ordinary life—people eating, walking, sleeping in real time and suddenly introducing a disturbance. By decontextualizing these sequences, he opens them up to new and different readings.

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