Taipei Biennial 2014: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

Hammock and tea at the Taipei Biennial 2014

Curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, the Taipei Biennial 2014 was held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum 臺北市立美術館 in Zhongshan District 中山區 from September into the early part of the new year. The theme is “art in the age of the anthropocene”, the current geophysical epoch defined by humankind’s enormous impact on the natural world. From the curator’s notes: this exhibition is organized around the cohabitation of human consciousness with swarming animals, data processing, the rapid growth of plants and the slow movements of matter. I am no serious critic but I certainly appreciate thought-provoking art when I see it. Since I haven’t any expertise in this area I’m mostly going to let the photos speak for themselves, however incomprehensible that might be. Much like the Xu Bing retrospective it was an inspiring experience so I’d like to have a record of it here on my blog.

Hongshulin Whiteloft 紅樹林白厝

A skeletal outline in the riverside park

Yesterday I seized an opportunity to combine two of my passions, the exploration of abandoned places and appreciation of underground electronic music, at a one-off techno party titled The Whiteloft 白厝. From the event description:

The Whiteloft was originally an abandoned villa where only wild dogs go to sleep. Buried deep in silver grass, just alongside the Golden Waterfront of Hongshulin, Taipei, the building hovers the Interzone between metropolis and mangrove jungle. Humdrum pedestrians seem oblivious of this colossal fortress: its skeleton rusted and exposed, leftover building materials strewn astray. Despite its shroud of mangrove leaves, the building appears raw and naked. We tried to find historical records about this building, but found nothing but total blankness, hence the name The Whiteloft.

In the Realm of Primitive Senses

In the realm of primitive senses

Sunday afternoon in the mountains of Shilin District 士林區, not far from Yangmingshan, about 200 people gathered for The Forester’s Party 牧神的遊戲 at Siu Siu 少少原始感覺研究室, a lab of primitive senses built on a steep south-facing slope. The aesthetics of the space: slate grey walls, wooden planks underfoot on the dance floor, a round black mesh canopy overhead screening the forest without impeding the flow of fresh mountain air. Clean, modern, minimal, but also rustic—an exceedingly comfortable combination of form and function. The finest in dub techno wafting out of the speakers, one particular song selected by Al Burro capturing the mood of the afternoon with perfect ease, Nthng’s 1996.

Mazu Mania in Changhua City 媽祖繞境

The big guns come out for Mazu

My last night in Changhua City 彰化市 was surprisingly eventful thanks to a fortunate accident of timing. Earlier in the day I had noticed an unusual uptick in the amount of activity on the streets while cycling around. Banquet tents had been setup on major thoroughfares, police were standing at major intersections, scooters flying yellow banners were buzzing around like angry hornets, and the air was filled with a palpable sense of expectation and excitement. After an early supper next to a coffee shop I often work at I approached to one of the staff (who speaks passable English) and asked, “What’s going on?” Their answer, “It’s the…” Trailing off, hands aflutter, obviously searching for the right word—and then: “Mazu!”

Remember the Sunflowers

The dawning of the Sunflower Student Movement

A year ago the Taiwanese people stood up to their elected government and halted the passage of a controversial free trade agreement by occupying the Legislative Yuan. This act of mass civil disobedience was soon christened the Sunflower Student Movement. I was living in Taipei 台北 when it all went down and visited the protest on several nights to watch history unfold. I am not a professional photographer, political observer, nor journalist, so please excuse the poor technical quality of the images and lack of elaboration in this gallery. It is my hope that these pictures capture something of the spirit of those wild, uncertain nights when anything seemed possible.

Sunrise at Niushan Huting 牛山呼庭

Wave mechanics

I spent a night at Niushan Huting 牛山呼庭 in Hualien 花蓮 a few months ago for an electronic music festival, Organik 2014. After having been up all night (and playing what was probably my lousiest DJ set in Taiwan) I wandered down to the shoreline, still hearing the distant echo of music over the pounding surf and the sound of pebbles rolling back into the sea after every crashing wave. It was not long after sunrise and a most serene quality of light filled the air, illuminating the rocky, windswept coastline with a majestic ambiance. I wet my feet, letting the ocean wash over me, and did my best to capture the magic of this primal scene.

Xu Bing Retrospective in Taipei

A Book From The Sky 天書

In March of 2014 I went to see the Xu Bing 徐冰 retrospective at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum 台北市立美術館, easily my favourite gallery space in Taiwan. Xu Bing is a Chinese artist working mainly with representations of language, particularly in the context of interactions between East and West. I first discovered him through an article about character amnesia that discussed A Book From The Sky 天書, a work that continues to capture my imagination.

I should warn you: I’m not an art critic and these photos were shot on my cruddy smartphone. If you’d like to peruse something much more informed and professional about this exhibition I recommend perusing the curator’s statement, English language reviews here, here, and here, or this virtual tour. What follows are a few fleeting impressions of my own from a few hours in Xu Bing’s world.