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Taipei Biennial explores interconnectivity between humans and nature

By Yali Chen
 
Taipei Biennial 2018 kicked off on November 17 at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), and will run until March 10, 2019. The four-month exhibition is showcasing a great range of excellent artworks by 42 participants and participating groups from 19 countries.
 
Apart from the exhibition, the TFAM also held a seminar between November 17 and 18. World-renowned speakers took part in this seminar that dealt with a wide variety of issues, such as “Re-naturalizing Citizenship” and “Democratizing Boundaries.”
 
Taiwanese artist Wu Mali and Francesco Manacorda, currently artistic director of the V-A-C Foundation and visiting professor at LJMU School of Art and Design in Liverpool, served as co-curators of the 11th Taipei Biennial in 2018.
 
Themed “Post-Nature: A Museum as An Ecosystem,” this year’s biennial focuses on the interconnectivity between eco-systemic structures, humans and nature. The objective is for the biennial to function as a platform for social experiments and generate new interdisciplinary possibilities for long-lasting, community-driven, and bottom-up synergies.

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Photo from TFAM
Left to right, the V-A-C Foundation Director Francesco Manacorda, Taipei Fine Arts Museum Director Ling Ping, and Taiwan’s artist Wu Mali announce the kickoff of Taipei Biennial on November 17, 2018.

In an effort to achieve this core curatorial vision, the two curators invited a diversified line-up of participants from visual artists to architects, video workers, non-profit organizations (NGOs), and social activists to enhance cross-disciplinary communication and exchange.
 
“For this year’s biennial, we adopted a ‘creative practitioners’ approach to select participants and to assess their final presentations,” said Wu.
 
In addition to the strong line-up of artists, this year’s biennial features outstanding artworks and projects. Under the theme of combining “post-nature” and “ecosystem,” the creations touch on the relationship between humans and environmental ecology. They explore the impact of alien species on local ecology, environmental issues, land and air pollution, as well as climate and environmental change.

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Photo from TFAM
Au Sow-yee’s installation work, A Love Story of Life and Death: Coconut Forest, Belle of Penang, and Intelligence Agent (2018), describes an unlikely romance between a missing intelligence agent and the “Belle of Penang” (Bin Cheng Yan).
 
A wide array of topics will be presented in the exhibition hall to invite an open dialogue that allows the TFAM to function as a platform for discussions and exchange of ideas. This is one way of responding to the curatorial proposition of “A Museum as An Ecosystem.”
 
“Conversations and exchange of ideas between participants and participating groups from different fields are at the very center of the biennial’s structure and methodology this year,” Manacorda said.
 
“Re-negotiating the interdependence between human beings and the natural environment is the backbone of this year’s seminar. We hope that through this biennial, visitors can be inspired to find new perspectives and solutions for a more sustainable future.”

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Photo from TFAM
Candice Lin’s installation work, La Charada China (2018), is composed of poppy flowers, sugarcane, poisonous plants from the Caribbean, and an anthropomorphic-shaped mound.

Highlights of this year’s biennial include Anthropocene (2018), created by Ruangsak Anuwatwimon (1975, Thailand). Anthropocene is a rolling landscape of twenty delicately-colored overlapping mounds of polluted soil collected from around Taiwan.
 
Anuwatwimon used his work to express the close link between land ethics and human morality. “Human civilization is less than a million years old. But chemical residues in every corner of the globe have been accumulated in layers of soil and may remain indefinitely,” he said. “I hope that human beings can solve the current problem and work for a long-term sustainable future.”
 
Au Sow-yee (1978, Malaysia) created a three-channel video and sound installation – A Love Story of Life and Death: Coconut Forest, Belle of Penang, and Intelligence Agent (2018). Set in the period of Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945 and re-creating the Southern Pavilion of the 1935 Taiwan Exposition as theater setting, the film describes an unlikely romance between a missing intelligence agent and the “Belle of Penang” (Bin Cheng Yan).
 
In the early twentieth century, the imperial Japanese government attempted to transform Taiwan into a base to make preparations for further expansion into Southeast Asia. Au’s work invites viewers to re-imagine the political and botanical connections between Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
 
Fan Chin-hui (1965, Taiwan) has been recording Taiwan’s natural soundscapes since the age of 7. Over the past few decades, she has developed more sensitive methods of listening to nature and land.
 
In 2013, she launched the “Silent Trail Project,” to promote the protection of natural soundscapes. Her Taipei Biennial presentation is “Yuanshan Sound Walk.” This is a sensory walk along the paths within the painting Scenery Near Yuanshan – a 1928 creation of Taiwanese artist Kuo Hsueh-hu. During this imaginative walking tour, visitors can open their ears and hearts and awaken their five senses to better perceive the small yet unseen changes in that environment.
 
La Charada China (2018), created by Candice Lin (1979, the U.S.), focuses on how plants are intertwined with human life. Lin’s installation work is composed of poppy flowers, sugarcane, and poisonous plants from the Caribbean. The center of her work is an anthropomorphic-shaped mound of soil with red clay and guano. During the exhibition, these plants will be watered every day to grow.
 
Lin used her work to trace how opium addiction was weaponized and how Europeans employed opium poppy as a bio-political means to gain trade advantages. This piece of installation refers to issues such as forced labor, immigration, and human trafficking that have been deeply embedded in social structures.

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Photo from TFAM
After visiting a tea plantation in the Lala Mountain in northern Taiwan, the Argentine-Swiss artist Vivian Suter adds the first impressions of Taiwan’s landscape into her works for Taipei Biennial 2018.

Vivian Suter (1949, Argentina) lives and works in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands. Her creations always use natural elements, such as rain, wind, mud, plants, and insects instead of pictorial landscapes or illustrative portraits. She portrays nature and expresses her intuitive emotions about the environment. Her creative style is deeply influenced by the four seasons and dramatic changes in nature.
 
For this year’s biennial in Taipei, Suter produced a series of paintings after visiting a tea plantation in the Lala Mountain in northern Taiwan. She spent several days making the paintings that express her first impressions of Taiwan’s landscape.

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Photo from TFAM
In Henrik Håkansson’s work, Inverted Tree (Reflected), a local tree is hung upside down and transformed into a sculpture to imply that humans have exploited trees and natural resources.
 
Located at the entrance of the Taipei-based museum is Henrik Håkansson’s (1968, Sweden) ongoing work – Inverted Tree (Reflected). A local tree hangs upside down and is presented as a sculpture. The artist used the Duchampian concepts of projection, chance, and metaphor to imply that trees and natural resources have been exploited by humans.
 
On one hand, Inverted Tree (Reflected) represents nature in an experimentally transformational way, both Manacorda and Håkansson said. On the other hand, it expresses how a tree strengthens the environment in which it grows. Double mirrors create the impression of infinite space where we find the dichotomy between life and death, concreteness and abstraction, organization and chaos. However, such contracts actually work towards coherence rather than opposition.
 
Founded in 2006, Taiwan Thousand Miles Trail Association is committed to protecting the beauty of Taiwan’s mountains, seas, and cultural heritage. Over the years, the association has held a series of walking tours and seminars. They hope to awaken people’s consciousness and have a good relationship with nature.
 
For this year’s biennial, the association not only showcases their plans for the future and the results of their research in the last few decades. They also have a number of walking tours and seminars during the exhibition.
 
Three walking tours are set to take place in December. The first tour includes “From Kuo Hsueh-hu’s Scenery Near Yuanshan (1928) to There’s a Paradise in Yuanshan (1987),” which explores the Jiantanshan Trail and Yuanshan Water Shrine. The second and third ones are “Saving Urban Ecological Islands” and “Going into Taipei City through the Century-Old Danlan Trail.”
 
The TFAM director Ling Ping said that this year’s biennial had turned its attention from identity recognition, political and global financial crises, advanced information, and technology developments to environmental protection and human survival.
 
TFAM is essentially the central nervous system of the Taipei Biennial. “Through experimental approaches, the museum has become a platform for cross-disciplinary discussions across professional fields. We believe that the biennial will continue to arouse serious and careful thought on environmental responsibility in the new era,” she said.