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Taipei Arts Festival explores the impact of the pandemic on our lives

By Yali Chen
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many summer art festivals around the world to be postponed or cancelled, but the Taipei Arts Festival is an exception and will run from July 31 through September 13.
Thirteen productions, including nine ticketed shows, have been created by multidisciplinary artists from Japan, France, the Philippines, China, Thailand, Canada, and the U.S. working with Taiwanese artists at the invitation of Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), Taipei Culture Foundation (TCF), and Taipei Performing Arts Center (TPAC). Tickets can be bought from the National Theater Concert Hall at www.artsticket.com.tw.

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Photo from TPAC
Left to right, Singapore-born independent curator Tang Fu-kuen, TCF Deputy Executive Director Yang Shu-ling, DOCA Deputy Commissioner Chen Yu-hsin, TPAC Director Austin Wang, and Berlin-based Singaporean artist Choy Ka-Fai at the press conference of Taipei Arts Festival on June 17.

Now in its 22nd year, the festival features dance, drama, circus, multidisciplinary arts, and multimedia performances taking place at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall, Wellspring Theater in Taipei (水源劇場), Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (空總C-LAB), Shezidao (社子島), and Taipei Backstage Pool (臺北試演場).
“We are very fortunate to be able to hold this festival despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” said DOCA Deputy Commissioner Chen Yu-hsin (陳譽馨) at the press conference on June 17 in Taipei. “It will be very exciting for performing arts groups and Taipei residents to take part in this year’s event. Come and join us this summer.”
“This year, we’ve tried to pique the audience’s curiosity about art by opening up new possibilities for the festival,” said TPAC Director Austin Wang (王孟超). “For example, we’re combining online and offline activities, which will be a new experience for our audience.”
With many international artists confined to their homes by city lockdowns, the festival organizers convened a video call on the June 17 press conference.
Human obsession with control

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Photo from TPAC
Manila Zoo – work-in-pandemic-showing
by Filipino choreographer Eisa Jocson.
Singapore-born independent curator Tang Fu-kuen (鄧富權) has served as artistic director of the Taipei Arts Festival since 2018. As the theme for this year’s festival he chose “Super@#$%?”, which is intended to express the human pursuit for transcendence as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea of the “super” is about humans always wanting to control and transcend everything, Tang said. Overconsumption is a key part of this concept of “super”. Our rapidly growing consumption of resources is causing severe environmental damage, and the pandemic has led us to a “post-super” stage.
“During the coronavirus pandemic, we should think about the consequences of inappropriate human behavior,” the curator said. The characters following the question mark in the theme “Super@#$%?” are meant to indicate that we have ask ourselves what will happen in the future if we continue to pursue the “super”.
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Photo from TPAC
Is(o)Land Bar: Single take (Cloudy)
by Paris-based artist River Lin from Taiwan.
Many cinemas, theaters, museums, and galleries around the world have had to shut down at least temporarily owing to the pandemic, and many festivals, performances, and concerts have been canceled. City lockdowns have led to artists and musicians streaming their concerts and performances on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.
“I still hope that theaters can be brought in line with new public health regulations and continue to function as important meeting places for everyone,” said Tang.
This year’s festival consists of three series: the “Pandemic Program” (疫起策畫), “Main Program” (核心節目), and “Think Bar” (共想吧). The 13 events include six productions from Taiwan and seven international collaborations.
The “Pandemic Program” includes five international productions: Dances for Wu-Kang Chen (攏是為著・陳武康); Manila Zoo – work-in-pandemic-showing (馬尼拉動物園); The Past is a Foreign Country (過往即他鄉); Is(o)Land Bar: Single take (Cloudy) (島嶼酒吧:如果雲知道(無碼)); and Sun Moon Lake is a Concrete Box (日月潭是一個水泥盒). All but the last—which is a free outdoor performance—are ticketed shows that can be viewed both online and offline.
The Show must go on

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Photo from TPAC
Sun Moon Lake is a Concrete Box by Taiwanese artist Xia Lin plus Canadian artists Sheryl Cheung and Liam Morgan.
Following his dance piece The Show Must Go On (非跳不可) at the Taipei festival in 2019, French contemporary dancer-choreographer Jérôme Bel worked again with Taiwanese dancer-choreographer Chen Wu-kang (陳武康) to launch their new piece, Dances for Wu-Kang Chen, which will be staged from July 31 to August 1 at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall.
Two years ago, as a way of expressing their concern for the environment, Bel and his dance team gave up all air travel. This gave the dance creator time to choreograph a new performance. Last year, he mounted a truly satisfying Skype performance of The Show Must Go On with an all-Taiwanese cast and co-directors Chen Wu-kang and Yeh Ming-hwa (葉名樺).
Bel continues to compose solo dance pieces. Meeting the actual performer is not strictly necessary. He was in the middle of creating a dance when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and sped across the globe. With theaters worldwide forced to shut down, Bel had to quickly find a venue to perform his dance.
With curator Tang Fu-kuen, Bel decided to bring his creation to the Taipei festival, which they believe is perhaps the only summer platform that remains open in this exceptional year. Bel thinks that Chen Wu-kang is the ideal interpreter of this new piece, which needs a very skillful and daring artist.
Manila Zoo – work-in-pandemic-showing by Filipino choreographer Eisa Jocson is expected to be one of the highlights of the festival. This will be her third Taipei Arts Festival.
De-Disneyfying Happiness

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Photo from TPAC
CosmicWander: OnGon+NeZha by Berlin-based Singaporean artist Choy Ka-Fai.
Accompanied by songs in English, Jocson’s new dance piece is a critique of Disney’s “empire of happiness” and a follow-up to her last year’s production Princess. The piece looks at the Disney standard of happiness through the eyes of Filipinos who work in theme parks around the world.
This time, Jocson worked with German electronic musician Charlotte Simon and four Filipino dancers. Although the pandemic means the performers will not be able to attend the festival in person, the audience can watch their shows through Zoom video conferencing. Manila Zoo will be presented at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall on August 28 and 29.
The Past is a Foreign Country is a storytelling vehicle by artists Jun Yang (楊俊) and Michikazu Matsune (松根充和), who have lived all around the world and use kamishibai, a centuries-old Japanese storytelling tradition, to present their work. The production explores political conflicts that started in the 17th century in East Asian countries. It also introduces some milestones in world history, such as the 1969 moon landing and the 2018 summit between North and South Korean leaders. The Past is a Foreign Country will be staged at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall from August 31 until September 2.
Working from home has become the new norm in many parts of the world, with schools, bars, and shops closed and movement restricted. Concerns have arisen about the effects of lockdown on mental health. More than ever before, people are finding themselves alone, deprived of the companionship of others, of touch and human connection. “Social distancing” has become the new normal.
Rethinking the meaning of relationships
In his new work Is(o)Land Bar: Single take (Cloudy), Paris-based Taiwanese artist River Lin (林人中) looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped relationships.
Lin stayed home for more than 50 days while in lockdown in Paris. His production is an exhibition-in-theater with 12 performers and a 6-screen installation. Six performers livestream their lockdown experience and enjoy a cocktail online while others appear at the same time on stage at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall.
By using online technologies to tell his isolation stories, Lin asks the audience to rethink the meaning of personal and social relationships in modern society. Is(o)Land Bar: Single take (Cloudy) will be presented from September 4 through September 6.
Sun Moon Lake is a Concrete Box is a free outdoor show running from July 31 until August 1 in the outdoor square around the Taipei Backstage Pool. Taiwanese artist Xia Lin (林亭君) worked with Canadian artists Sheryl Cheung (張欣) and Liam Morgan to create their new co-production. The artists will lead the audience on a walk exploring the idea of social distancing and imagining the future of humanity.
Other shows include CosmicWander: OnGon+NeZha (超自然神樂乩), No. 60, Transhumanism: A Fair (新人類計劃:園遊會), The Grandmother Paradox (祖母悖論), and Disappearing Island (消逝之島).
Launched in 2018, the Think Bar functions as a platform bringing together new artists from Taiwan and other Asian countries to create a wide variety of artworks. This year, the organizers selected Siang-Tshe-Kong (工尺鼓詩), SHE, and The Library Tapes (圖書室錄音). Admission to the three new productions by Taiwanese artists is free and open to the public.