Research Networking Lab 4 – Culture, Capital and Communication: Visualising Chinese Borders (CCC-VCB)

Time for the fourth research networking lab for the AHRC funded project ‘Culture, Capital and Communication: Visualising Chinese Borders’ (CCC-VCB), this time at the Institute of Creative Industries Design (ICID) at National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan. Read about the third lab here, which took place at Hong Kong Polytechnic University last week. I can’t believe how fast time is going on this trip! So many blog posts to write and things to fill you readers in on…including a very brief 26 hours in Taipei, Taiwan.

After a morning in the Anping district of the city, spent on the beach and visiting an amazing treehouse that sits in a banyan tree that for the past 70 years has grown over and throughout an old warehouse – blog posts to come on this – we started the lab with a networking lunch…well general chit-chat and comparing experiences about what we had seen earlier in the day. Participants for this lab included Beccy Kennedy (Principle investigator for the research), Kwong Lee (Director of Castlefield Gallery, Manchester), Siu King-chung (Associate Professor, Hong Kong Polytechnic University), Phoebe Wong (Co-founder of the Community Museum Project), Sophia McIntyre (curator), Lu Pei-yi (researcher and curator), Ming Turner (Assistant Professor, ICID, National Cheng Kung University), Eleanor Gates-Stuart (Professor of the Techno Arts program, National Cheng Kung University), Joanna Hsu (PhD researcher, ICID), Nicole Lai (Director of Arts Square Taiwan), Chu YinHua (researcher and artist) and Yu-Fang Shang (Director of Bywood (Kio-A-Thau Artist Village)).

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Coffee in hand, it began with an introduction to the research from Beccy Kennedy (principal investigator) and Ming Turner (project lead). The research project has a series of aims, where one of them is key for this lab – ‘To interrogate the differences between the promotion, communication, theoretical content and production of art and design practices in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong working under OCTS (One Country, Two Systems) via recorded laboratory based research, discursive exchange and research papers delivered at the symposium.’ We are looking artists that are directly involved with protests, artists that have migrated between countries seeing how this has affected their practice, more symbolic looking at their national identity in a less political way. It is about looking at borders in different ways where border studies is a popular topic in academia. Read about the previous lab sessions here. The fourth lab specifically asked the questions:

  • Do artists across digital borders communicate differently? – How do artists communicate what their artwork involves, for example in mainland China can’t use social media, and parts of rural China that don’t have the internet. How do artists market themselves via the digital?
  • What is “Taiwanese”?
  • How easy is it for artists across greater China to migrate across the straits to work? – What differences do you find in artistic practices and how are they conveyed on the market? More of a focus on diasporic artists.

4 labs, 1 conference, 4 nations(?)…from the four labs, the themes that have emerged so far include:

  • Sites of/for protests (Umbrella Movement and Sunflower Movement)
  • Desire to Occupy (more) (urban) space
  • Rural to urban migration, mainland to Hong Kong
  • “Hong Kong-ese-ness” and “Taiwanese-ness” and comparisons between the two (?)
  • Not anti-China, anti Communism – stipulated by Phoebe Wong who was part of lab session 3…restrictions of the communist government, is it anti-communism.
  • Also anti-neoliberal capitalism (Sunflower Movement) and the increasingly unequal distribution of property and (surplus) value
  • Recurring artists and new ones
  • Protest objects – ‘Disobedient Objects’ at V&A, London…should we be more involved in the objects of everyday citizens, how photographs are a wider part of this visual culture in art
  • Socially engage practice
  • Artist co-ops – many commercial galleries and art spaces appearing in China without infrastructure or knowledge
  • Fast-track, low knowledge commercial art spaces and art markets

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Beccy went on to speak of materials that she found during our recent research in Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan, including an Umbrella Movement poster in Wooften space, Hong Kong…

Beccy Kennedy CCC-VCB lab 4

The logo for Taipei Contemporary Art Center (TCAC) is a loudspeaker symbol. In Hong Kong this means protest…the original meaning of TCAC is against institution, an institution of critique. They had a symposium last year involved with the Sunflower Movement that included the Manchester artist Jen Wu who investigated occupying spaces, partying in those spaces, until they were moved on. It is more of a co-operative space. Is this made possible because of the people/space that it is?

TCAC Taipei

In Hong Kong, Siu King-chung spoke of the new frontier between the new territories and China and the various artists that had made artwork about it including John Choy (on show at the Fringe Club)…remnants of the past in this area when borders where present in the 1950s.

She also referenced Phoebe Man’s project ‘ Erosion of home?’ as part of the exhibition ‘In the Name of Art – Hong Kong Contemporary Art Exhibition’ at MoCA Taipei here representing conversations around anti-capitalism by getting the public to respond to the question ‘To buy a brink house, did you have to give anything up?’…artworks at Treasure Hill Artist Village by Sheu Jeryu…C&G Artpartment…zines by Small Tune Press as a form of protest and voice outside of usual mechanisms. These are all places where artists enable themselves to be freer in their practice and occupying space.

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Phoebe Man

Sheu Jeryu

The first speaker was Sophie McIntyre…the relationship between art and politics in Taiwan, looking at both the production of art and the museological representation of art, specifically representations by the Taipei Art Museum. Her talk was titled ‘Globalisation, the rise of China and questions of identity and place in contemporary art from Taiwan’. In the 1990s, identity issues were at the forefront. While acknowledging that most countries in the world adopt the one China principle (that there is one China and Taiwan is a province of China), she pointed out that Taiwan’s government still does not accept this principle. She cited the occupy protest movements in Taipei and Hong Kong, where she considers the Sunflower movement to have influenced Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement. In the 1990s, there was a need to discover and claim its identity and cultural heritage after a period of rapid economic change. Establish a Taiwanese distinct from a Chinese identity…such as the work of Mei Dean-E, Yang Mao-lin – emblematic of the Taiwanese Consciousness Movement defining himself as a Taiwanese nationalist…most artists have moved on and are exploring global rather than national identity issues.

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Exhibition-Image-Mei Dean-E

Yang Mao-lin

There was a re-writing of Taiwanese history at this time, addressing its indigenous history. Interested in the ways the artists engaged with these identity issues and where they are now. She cited the first Taipei Biennale to be curated by Taiwanese curators, still regarded as a turning point in terms of this embrace of Taiwanese art and “Taiwanese-ness” whatever that is…I still don’t know even after writing a PhD. It is how artists interpret and respond to these issues. Another important exhibition is Taiwan’s representation in the Venice Biennale in 1995. When we are talking about borders, the politics of naming is a border in itself. ‘Face to face: Contemporary art from Taiwan’ curated by Sophie at Gold Coast City Art Gallery in Queensland in 1999. How artists were exploring identity in personal contexts such as Chen Chieh-Jen who places the self within his images, questioning the grand narratives of history and their construction also Taiwan’s relationship with China…Chen Shun Chu’s work ‘Family Parade’ and Yao Jui-chung’s ‘Recover Mainland China’ (1997) and his investigation of national identity issues specifically “territory take-over”.

Yao Jui-chung's 'Recover Mainland China' (1997)
Yao Jui-chung’s ‘Recover Mainland China’ (1997)
Chen Shun Chu's work 'Family Parade'
Chen Shun Chu’s work ‘Family Parade’

She spoke of waishengren (外省人 wài shěng rén) meaning Mainlander although implies Mainland China, and benshengren (本省人 běn shěng rén) native Taiwanese or “this province’s person”.

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Sophie finished her talk by presented her most recent show, INK REMIX: Contemporary art from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong’, a group exhibition of 14 artists at Canberra Museum and Gallery. It explicitly looks at borders and the ways in which artists are crossing borders in different ways…reframing ink tradition in a contemporary and critical way…including the work of Yao Jui-chung who critiques the orthodox of the tradition in the Taiwan context the increasing presence of China through media and museums. China has always been the authority of the ink tradition retaining the language however, Hong Kong and Taiwan have these traditions too. When we are talking about borders, they might not be physical, thy might be tensions in relation to language, naming and cultural politics and important issues to address. Borders, boundaries, geo-political aspects of identity…very much the focus of Taiwanese and how it is represented in the international forum. These are difficult borders to transcend. She concluded on the work of Chen Shaoxiong and ‘Ink History’ and ‘Ink Media’ animation/video and how problematic this piece was to show…there are the politics of representation, the ways in which it is interpreted by local and international curators and the naming of this art. Also the work of Wilson Shieh‘s work on the influence of China’s presence on Hong Kong’s urban architecture,  and Qui Zhijie…the ways in which they are approaching landscape from different perspectives and border crossings in different ways. In the exhibition, she was interested in exploring politics in a more subtle context in relation to the ink tradition often seen as Chinese, but what is “Chinese”? Who defines the borders? Who defines where the civilisation is? Taiwanese artists moving to China…crossing borders…they are facing bigger challenges with collectors visiting China rather than Taiwan. Artists are trying to capitalise on this and find a balance between the economic benefit of being in China versus the feeling of being marginalised in that cultural context and retain an identity and freedom that they have in Taiwan.

Chen Shaoxiong
Ink History by Chen Shaoxiong
Tallest Buildings Hong Kong by Wilson Shieh
Tallest Buildings Hong Kong by Wilson Shieh

The next speaker was Yu-Fang Shang (Sunny) who spoke of the work of Bywood (Kio-A-Thau Artist Village). She gave a brief history of Taiwan, citing how it was previously called ‘Taijowan’ citing various artists including Chang Yao Hsien, who were attempting to protect land in Taiwan from being developed. One success story is the KAT (Kio-A-Thau) Sugar Refinery in Kaouhsiung, Taiwan, since 1901 the first industry area in Taiwan, now a heritage area protected by communities. Festivals also raising the cultural profile include the Boat Burning Festival, or the Donggang King Boat Ceremony, a well-known religious ceremony that happens once every three years. Originally this tradition was done to rid the area of disease and evil spirits, but has recently become an activity of praying for health and a peaceful life. The construction of the king boat starts about 2 years before the ceremony, because of the elaborate decorations and high quality of the wood. This is the largest ceremony is in Taiwan and lasts for a total of 7 days, with the burning of the boat occurring on the 7th day.

Focussing on the importance of religion and family in Taiwan and the influence of Zheng Chenggong on Taiwan, a dissident from China, pirate leader of the Ming forces against the Manchu conquerors of China, known for establishing Chinese control over Taiwan. 

Yu-Fang, then cited the development and contemporary projects at KAT (Kio-A-Thau) Sugar Refinery and the gallery spaces, educational projects and artist residency programmes…including two artists who came to KAT to work in the community. She designed and created a wooden hut structure for these artists to practice their work. Called the ‘Formosa Wall Painting Group’, it travelled across Taiwan to different locations and to Venice and Japan. It is a museum, artist and painting together.

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”Formosa Wall Painting Group’ has been legendary because of its boundless energy, mobility and penetration to develop “Off-Site Painting Projects”, “Community Painting Projects”, and “Urban Guerrilla – The Formosa Wall Painting Group Expo” in Taiwan and further bring “Off-Site Painting Projects” to Ishinomagi, Japan and to Venice, Italy. ‘Formosa Wall Painting Group’ can be regarded as a visual art movement in Taiwan contemporary art. Autonomic assemblies are set up without specific invitation nor via open call. All the participating artists are willing to manage themselves and cover expenses of project realisation out of a direct incentive to devote incorrigible passion and determination for arts to people and earth in this country. “Lift the drink and sing a song, for who knows if life be short or long!”, a line from Cao Cao’s A Short-Song Ballad which is quite an illustrative analogy of artist’s unconstrained spirit and affection to homeland. So do drink and sing with Formosa Wall Painting Group to be immersed in its fiery vitality!

“Taiwan is not a dragon, it is a fish, one fish in the Pacific Ocean (part of Taiwanese consciousness)” – Yu-Fang Shang


The next speaker was Nicole Lai, who introduced her arts organisation, Art Square Taiwan…a studio explicit to exchange and residency programmes since 2012, international exchanges since 2014 and exhibitions, talks, performances and more. Tainan is becoming a more economic and capitalised city bringing more tourists. The change of the city is really interesting, where so many artists have become more interested in working in Tainan, instigating artist residency programmes. They do not come throughout the year…rather they respond to a theme in relation to the city for 2 months or so, then having a one month exhibition, however they do not have an exhibition space, only an office/studio space within a cafe. Through collaboration with different art spaces for exhibition…to communicate with the local community and use offsite spaces in conversation with the city itself.

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In 2012, it was more of an experimental time then, in 2014 opening up to more thematic proposals with Chu Yin-hua, Chi New-York, Yan Kai-Ting, Matti Isn Blind. They consider themselves a cultural project foundation. She spoke of the recently curated project ‘Urban Legend’, which worked with seven artists who responded to the theme, completing research in Tainan, where the final exhibition took place at Absolute Space for the Arts X Howl Space X Chuan Men Theater X Art Square Taiwan. Artists included Ho Ming-Kuei, Chen Po-I, The Post-Theatre, Kaori Tazoe, Sexy Young Little Pig, Tseng Po-Hao, Huang Yen-Ying. How contemporary legend is constructed…originating from conversations online.

‘The content or material of urban legends points to the stories once happened or said to have happened, like an invisible force in our culture, life and society, somehow influencing and forming the habits and rituals of the modern world. According to the analyses, urban legends were constructed with three distinctive features: 1. passed down or spread around by oral narratives/word of mouth, which is true even in the modern world nowadays with all the technology and digital development we have; 2. constructed between fictional and non-fictional stories; 3. these legends have become a cultural symbol, some of them full of educational epigram messages, representing, forming the vision and value for the world that the people believe in. The theme of 2015 Artist in Residence Program this year is “Urban Legend”, seven individual/groups of artists were invited to explore and imagine those urban legends and stories which are passed down from mouth to mouth, with a common imagination in the memory of the urban residents, and one which flowed between the different spaces.’

Urban Legend Arts Square Taiwan

She finished by talking about ‘Lost in the Mobius’, a regional exchange and dialogue between Taiwan and Macau. ‘Their histories show similarities and differences that allow the nations to look differently at themselves. It is talking about the idea of doom and rebirth in society. The main idea to look at the two spaces are from decolonisation, Disneyisation of the city, and contemporary myth. We think that the government is trying to maintain the environment, yet at the same time they are trying to destroy it. This is a mobius band…no end to this circulation. It’s more than a regional comparison. Different cities will reflect different ideas and different problems.’

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The final speaker of the day was researcher and artist Chu YinHua. She began by explaining her methodology for explaining the “imagined city”. She spoke of ‘Mail Project’ (2006), four cities she researched including London where she studied (insider-outsider), Taipei (insider), Tokyo (outsider-insider) and Paris (outsider). Everyday when she lived in London, she took a snapshot on a digital camera, sending it to her future self as the insider in Taipei…when she got to Taipei, she responded to the photos by taking another photos.

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“It is about the idea of virtually travelling between different cities – everyday I am in a time machine.” – Chu YinHua

 ‘Tracing Memories’ (2010) is about personal experiences…we translate what we see to what we know. What is the idea of landmark? Different people have different feeling about what is landmark in the city.  ‘Travelling Home’ (2011), using a slide viewer to create a relationship to place and the cities/homes she has had before when she was travelling or living abroad. She found it difficult to answer, where are you based and where are you from?

Chu Yin hua

‘Once upon a city…’ translates into Chinese as “city without a space”…the space in between and the physical space. ‘Encoding Memories: Tainan’ (2012)…somehow the discussions are always about food. What is the public image of this city? A greek friend said that when you taste something delicious it’s like Mom’s cooking.

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From this translation, she asked two questions and following actions:

  • What is the particular food of Tainan that is most associated with your memory? Please draw a map
  • What is the look of a “Tainan native”? Please describe.

She was trying to investigate the space between the public image of the city and how people interpret this public image. Through this public realm research and work on the streets it felt like a Monopoly game. ‘It’s chance and luck as to what you will encounter and see.’ As a photographer, she sees the camera as stopping feeling, it is the in between. How different people interpret the public image of the city. At the end of the project, she created an artist’s book in a limited edition of 300.

Chu Yinhua

‘Hopscothing Tainan’ (2013) is a site-specific installation as a toy box using 400 pallets. She began by researching hopscotch playground games where different cultures have different hopscotch pattern. Her pattern was based on the real map on Tainan. Using 400 pallets to construct the site and placing blackboard on the ground, participants are invited to enter this pop-up toy box, play the hopscotch game and view the images in 3D view-masters. These images are street scenes of different locations which are made out of photographs and papers. Through viewing these strangely familiar images, viewers are stimulated to interpret the Tainan map through their subjective imaginations and memories. The space became a theatre where the participants went on stage. The models weren’t always seen as created, some people thought they were real…coming back to an individual’s perception of where they live versus becoming a collective map. She used a viewmaster as you don’t really know what they are looking at…similar to memory, as memory is a very individual thing. It is also a toy for the public and community to engage with. Is it a game? Is it a toy box? She finished on her current ongoing work ‘Moving Maps’ looking at Macau and the old maps of Macau.

“Mapping is about power and is a very political thing.” – Chu YinHua

Hopscotch Tainan 1

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Chu Yin Hua 1

The day concluded with a Q&A session opened up by Beccy looking into the original research questions, and aims for this lab session…

Lu Pei-yi: When we are talking about identity, we look at the land, the history and find our roots in this place. It is quite different identity shaping than in Hong Kong…that place is China, this place is Hong Kong. In Taiwan, in 1990s we have very strong idea of localism, the nativism movement in the 1990s. In 2000, this idea is put into practice in the last five years, the younger generation of artists and people have come to Tainan to support this city and create their own space within this city and create their own relationship. It is put into practice. Before, it is about the contrast between the local and international. It has been more about the local and global. Right now, we have more idea about Taiwan in the global map not only in China.

Sophie McIntyre: This has characterised debate in the arts in Taiwan, positioning Taiwan in the global context. The ability to locate Taiwan within the international sphere…politically it can’t. The borders aren’t geographical, they are political that demarcate, it’s about naming…Taiwan does not conform to the OCTS principle and it’s not regarded as a special administrative region. It floats in between. It’s one of the key issues in Taiwan that artists have really struggled with…up against colonisation and a an ambiguous national identity. How do you locate Taiwan in the international sphere? It comes down to UN and diplomatic recognition. It is a very ambiguous status for Taiwan to be recognised culturally as well as politically.

Nicole Lai: As a person living in Taiwan we look at our own identity. We always think there is a clear border between Taiwan and China. When I go to Macau, the borders there could change any second. The idea of borders can be influenced by political change and economic capital. We reflect back to our own situations in our own Eastern region or in the global context. Looking at the others, to reflect and think about ourselves is important.

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Chu YinHua: I found a globe from when I was a child…from Taiwan. It was written Republic of China, Nanjing. We are all from similar generations…the border or geography books showed us that we were in China. Borders are shooting all the time, it depends who has the power.

Lu Pei-yi: The power of education (through maps) for the next generation.

Beccy Kennedy: This relates to Atlases of the former British Empire showing how much of a strong country they were…it is represented through maps and atlases. Is there anyone in China who would be embarrassed about Taiwan being included in China on the map?

Sophie McIntyre: Photographer Yang Yongliang from Shanghai did a residency in Taipei. In this cross strait exchange, he produced ‘Bowl of Taipei’, a series that looks at the ways in which China has erased some of its histories…a specific reference to the past in a nostalgic way.

Yang Yongliang

Beccy Kennedy: Is Tainan seen as more traditionally Chinese than Taipei?

Ming Turner: Yes it is. It shows a different part of Taiwan. Southern part of Taiwan is seen as the northern part of England.

Lu Pei-yi: Tainan is seen as the cultural capital.

Nicole Lai: It is seen as the first city of Taiwan. People come here to see the original point of culture in Taiwan.

Sophie McIntye: Politically in the South, it is pro-independence – Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Politically, southern Taiwan has traditionally been more pro-independence. Taipei has a more “blue”, greater connection with pro-Chinese. Southerns tend to be proud to be Taiwanese, in the North it is more ambiguous politically…When you talk abut borders and boundaries it is about citizenship, identity. This has grown stronger since the Sunflower movement and Umbrella movement.

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Discussion unfolded into artists from Hong Kong coming to Taiwan and vice versa, rural arts movement and migration in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, and Taiwan’s strict immigration policy.

Kwong Lee: Where does Taiwan feel they are similar to culturally?

Lu Pei-yi: If you asked 1980s, they’d say Japan. If you ask the younger generation, they’d mix things and contexts…Japan-America…

Phoebe Wong: I think it’s Japan. Here is one of the few places where they translate texts from Japanese into Chinese in Business and Sociology. It is that attachment to a place through translation.

“There’s is ours, but ours is ours.” – How China views Taiwan? Discuss.

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