During our time in Taipei in 2012 we were fortunate enough to be in town for one of the cultural highlights of the Taiwanese year – The Taipei Biennial.
Organised by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture and with support from leading international art collectives such as the Goethe Institut and the British Council, the Taipei Biennial has been a stable part and leading event of the growing Asian arts community since it’s inception in 1998.
Finding The Right Location
The festival (for the most part) is hosted at the large multi-floored Taipei Fine Arts Museum, a structure built in the early 1980’s, it’s a forebodingly large brutish building that I would have been more likely to have seen in former Eastern Bloc countries, perhaps just like the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art.
On the inside the complex is a combination of large open spaces, multi-room tall ceiling rooms and corridors that feel tight around you decorated throughout with art.
The building feels dark throughout, even with the traditional whitewashed walls and large windows for drawing the sunlight in. Even the largest room, the foyer, feels dark, dreary and unnerving.
But something about it just feels right. Now, I won’t lie and say the building is perfect, but something about it works. Of course it’s no Tate Modern, but there’s something to be said for the attempt to make something strong and free of complexity so that we can focus on what really matters – the art
’Death and Life of Fiction’
The title and theme of the biennial in 2012 was the idea that Chinese people now live in relation to the past, that they live in the shadow of a fiction of life built by those aiming to control or suppress, that people spend their lives in fear of the fiction of others and live their lives by them. The fiction can be the laws set by a powerful master or a all-knowing omnigod. Also, the talk about the path of modernity, that people are driven by compulsiveness and the purchase of commodities, that they are led by what others tell them they should be interested in and that art has it’s part to play.
Walking through the corridors with this understanding was evident in the artists and the work they chose to bring in for the arts festival.
National and International Interaction
In total there were works from more than fifty artists or artist collective groups at the museum scattered across all three floors of the complex and it would be wrong of me to say I loved them all, in fact, such was the diverse nature of the project and the wealth of work from the Taiwanese and internationally praised artists that finding yourself without feeling for some and loving others was an inevitability.
There were, however, plenty to love and we both found ourselves standing, staring and contemplating over for some time. The most notable of which were the works of Hannah Hurtzig who constructed ‘The Waiting Hall, Scenes of Modernity 2012’ which was a lighting and shadow set-up in the main foyer.
Another interesting piece was that of London-born and Berlin-based artist Simon Fujiwara. Titled ‘The Museum of Incest’, the work is part parody and part dedication to the architectural work of his father. Here he brings parts of the unused drawings of his architect father and ideas that the birth and ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ go hand in hand with incest, that the practice was a necessity for the growth of our race.
The artist’s work who we were both drawn into the most was the work of English-Ghanaian John Akomfrah, a screenwriter and film director who through works such as the Black Audio Film Collective with the aim of giving a voice to a generation of African and Asian people who moved to Europe during the 20th Century and were never truly represented in the media and history of the times.
Striking A Chord
Akomfrah’s selected work was a large three-screen film titled ‘The Unfinished Conversation’. The piece is structured as a biography of the formative years of the Jamaican theorist Stuart Hall who moved to the UK sometime in the 1950’s to attend Oxford University at a time where waves of people from former British colonies (now recognised as Commonwealth countries) we arriving in the United Kingdom to seek work and a new life.
This piece really struck a chord with me as I’ve grown up in the UK long after these days have passed (I was born in ‘85), but I’ve seen with my eyes just the kind of lives people and members of my own family have crafted for themselves through hard work and much strive. I see the large multi-cultural communities of not just my town but the entire UK, I see a melting pot of great people coming together and I think sometimes people forget just how hard things were for foreign nationals coming to the UK for the first time.
Beneath is just a small trailer to the 30 minute film that I would recommend to every Brit or interested party on the possibilities of multi-culturalism and of the man Stuart Hall. The video spoke to me in film more than any story ever has about that period of the UK’s history and of the great cultural theorist Stuart Hall is and has been all his life.
What’s In A Name?
As you may or may not have been able to tell by now, the use of cameras wasn’t really permitted for us to use and with us yet to snap up any press access to cover on the blog we couldn’t cover the exhibition as we might have hoped, however, there were a few occasions where we could snap one or two of which you’ve seen already in this article.
There was one more, however, and that is the next picture.
I loved this piece so much that I forgot to make a note of who created it and for all my searching I just can’t seem to track down the artist. Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to hope to see it again and make sure I make a note.
Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Address : No.181, Sec. 3, Zhongshan N. Rd.
Zhongshan Dist., Taipei City 10461, Taiwan,R.O.C.
View ‘Taipei Fine Arts Museum’ in a larger map
Adults (18 years plus): 30NT / £0.65 / $0.99 / €0.75
Students with Valid ID: 15NT / £0.32 / $0.49 / €0.37
Children and over 65’s: Free
I personally don’t think there has been a better value for money experience from our time in Taipei or at any art museum during our travels, and if you consider the magnitude of the collection and the organisation that must have gone into such one of the most notable art biennials of the Asian arts calendar, it’s unbelievably cheap.
”Would we go there if it was just the regular collections?”
Good question, and one we would both say yes to.
The size of the collection against the tiny size of the entry fee make it a great few hours activity for both the week’s holiday tourist and the budget conscious traveller. Not only that, the chance to see the fruit of such a concentrated effort by local Taiwanese artists to help make art more accepted in the community, to see how art and artful expression is growing, is unmissable.