2016 X-site: “Floating” – more than a temporary installation
By Carol Hsieh
“I remember those times in my childhood days, When people flied kites in the meadows by the riverfront, On aAn ordinary afternoon, Weaving floating colors and light that come withon the wind.” In the sun-lit plaza in front of Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), sits a dazzling white, square-shaped construction, its knitted-fabric top fluttering in the wind. A couple of children, sandals off, climb onto the broad, hill-like white base, feeling the warm, rough texture pressing against their feet while the adults hurry them to pose for a photo amid the shadow and light.
This image nicely defines the creative piece titled “Floating”, the winning entry for this year’s TFAM X-site Program. Initiated in 2014, the X-site Program seeks to combine architecture with art and exhibitions, examining the “intersections between architecture and contemporary art from the perspective of publicness in public space”. Each year, TFAM makes an open call for entries and selects a temporary architectural installation to be erected by the front entrance, where it will serve as both exhibit and backdrop to art events such as TFAM Nights. Several specially designed events have been held at the site this year, including a performance by the musical group House on opening night, six choreography sessions since April, and a performance art show titled “A Nameless World: Writing Poetry with Sound and Body”. TFAM has also hosted a panel discussion open to the general public on the topic of architectural installations. In an interview with Hsu Yan-Ling, the museum guide coordinating the X-site program, Hsu explained, “The word ‘site’ in X-site means an architectural space.” The “X” indicates an unknown, like an X that marks the spot on a treasure map. The name has added resonance because “X-site” has the same pronunciation as “excite”, Hsu added. “Floating” shows how a simple structure can present complex ideas, serve multiple purposes, and be aesthetically pleasing. Comprising more than 300 plain-white box kites installed above an elevated convex island, the work combines the traditional Chinese pavilion with a reflection on childhood memories of kite flying. Lead designer and architect Shen Ting Tseng, founder of the Taipei-based Shen Ting Tseng Architects and a college lecturer, said an inspiration for the design was common childhood memories of delightful summer afternoons with people flying kites and spending time with their families.
“We found that there is quite a strong wind at the TFAM plaza,” Shen said. “When we tried to connect our design with the most abundant natural element there, the image came up of flying kites as children.” Kites that glide and dance in the sky are soothing and delightful, and “we wanted to bring that memory and vitality into the square,” he said. Instead of reinforced concrete, a common building material, the artwork uses nylon fabric, carbon fiber, plywood, and steel, arranged to form a square pavilion in a way that is softer and more welcoming. This is what TFAM hoped for: it wants the design to “entice passers-by to stop for a while”. The artwork’s massive base is shaped like a rolling hill, holding up a ceiling of kites that appear to float off the ground. The idea is that visitors can take a moment’s rest and enjoy the space in between: they can lie down and look at the sky through the numerous kites, sit and meditate, or wander around taking photos. The concept behind the artwork evokes a theme that has been common to the program since 2014—the “meeting point”. At this site, strangers can meet and interact with the artwork and with each other. Visitors can also venture into the spherical space hidden beneath the hill, an intimate space that stands in sharp contrast to the open public square. The theme for next year’s X-site program is still unknown at this moment. The unconventional structure of the artwork, with its fluttering kite ceiling and bulging base, posed an interesting challenge for the construction crew. Great care was taken when designing the kite frames and joints, since these could easily be damaged by the source of their inspiration, the wind. “The wind was our inspiration but also our greatest challenge,” Shen said. “It’s interesting because we need wind but we don’t want it to be too strong.” Interacting with wind is an ongoing process for the team. “Throughout the drafting phase, we kept wondering how the wind might damage the work,” Shen said. “But it wasn’t until the piece was completed that we knew the actual effect the wind has on it.” To avoid wind damage, the team has since made adjustments to the piece. The innovative artwork has been well received, and visitors have interacted with it in surprising ways, according to Hsu and Shen. “We expected that the curve of the slide-like hill would attract children, but we never thought they would be so curious about the work and have so much fun actually climbing on and sliding off,” Shen said. At first, climbing on the exhibit was forbidden, but later, during the concert at the opening ceremony, visitors were tentatively allowed to climb onto the hill. “Children seem eager to explore it,” said Shen. “But really we pictured the interaction as being more static.” After observation and intense discussion, TFAM and the architects decided to allow visitors to climb on the work. “Floating” has inspired more interaction than the winning pieces of the previous two years, and TFAM and the architects found that “the best way to appreciate the piece is to go up there and sit down or lie down,” said Hsu. Shen and Hsu both admit safety may be an issue, as the extent of visitor interaction with the artwork has exceeded expectations. A TFAM employee is now posted close by during opening hours to make sure that visitors do not do anything dangerous.
The response to the artwork, and the fact that both children and adults alike are drawn to the design, has made the team think about how they could continue to use the concept behind “Floating” even after the end of this year’s program, Shen said. While the work itself cannot function as playground equipment, the team is thinking of applying the concept by creating an unconventional outdoor playground for people of all ages, especially as many outdoor playgrounds in Taiwan are all alike. If they can find a balance between safety and features that arouse curiosity, the resulting artwork could be educational and fun at the same time. “The point is to create a recreational space that strikes a chord,” he said. Shen believes that “the installation should be more than a temporary construction”. The team is in discussion with TFAM regarding the possibility of using the kites, once the piece has disassembled after the program’s end, for a kite-flying event or something else that will continue the theme of childhood memory.
Contemporary art exhibitions in recent years have targeted architectural installations that highlight human interaction, personal experiences, ecological sustainability, and artistic expression. Through the X-site Program, a platform for sharing ideas, TFAM hopes to encourage emerging architects and artists in Taiwan to come up with more innovative concepts. According to Hsu, the project has gained positive feedback from local emerging professionals, architects, and even academia. Each piece is unique and presents different ideas to the world. But there can only be one winner per year, so Hsu hopes the program will continue for many years, maybe even in different forms, so that it can help produce and spark many more new ideas for years to come. “Floating” is on exhibit until July 3. For more information about the concept behind the piece and the art events that took place there, please visit the TFAM website at http://www.tfam.museum/index.aspx?ddlLang=en-us.