GROWING GREEN ART

Taiwan

EDITOR’S NOTE

PART I  IS THE FIRST OF THREE VIEWS on contemporary emerging ecoart in Taiwan.

Jane Ingram Allen is an American ecoartist, curator, and festival organizer who lives and works in Taiwan. She arrived there in January 2004 as a Fulbright Scholar.  Part I is Allen’s personal reportage on Taiwan’s changing eco art landscape—what she saw, did and continues to do there.

Concurrent in this issue as a “review,” American curator and ecoartspace founder Patricia Watts shares her commissioned analytical catalog essay for the 2010 Taiwanese ecoart exhibit, “Going Green,” curated by Allen.  Sponsored by the Taipei Cultural Center in New York City, the show traveled to four U.S. venues.

Part II, coming this fall, is an indigenous survey by Taiwanese public art innovator Wu Mali (introduced here by Allen) and her students.  Collectively the three articles build a rich portrait of emerging Taiwanese ecoart.

 

AN UNAPPROACHABLE SHORE, Ping-yu Pan, Gaundu International Outdoor Sculpture Festival, 2007

 

INTRODUCTION


TO BE CALLED ENVIRONMENTAL OR  GREEN ART, I think the art must do more than just show us that nature is beautiful.

When I first came to Taiwan, I would talk to people about environmental art, and they thought I meant landscape paintings or photos of nature and wildlife. Until recently few Taiwanese artists used natural materials or made works in nature.  This is changing.  Artists are beginning to see the environment and humanity’s relationship with the natural world as a growing problem for Taiwan and addressing this in their art.

For me,  “Green art” is a broad category that includes environmental art or ecological art (often shortened to “eco-art”) as well as Earth Art, Land Art, and Art in Nature. This art is usually site-specific and uses materials that do not harm the environment. Sometimes it is temporary, ephemeral or changing over time; or designed to improve or remediate the environment.  It often involves collaboration and the participation of local communities.  Greenmuseum.org defines environmental art, in short, as “… art that improves our relationship with the natural world.”

In Taiwan, over the last five years, art festivals, exhibitions and international art projects with an environmental or “green” theme have been on the rise.

 

BACKGROUND


SINCE 1987 TAIWAN  HAS A NATIONAL government agency–EPA/ Environmental Protection Administration, and since 1966 a political party called the Green Party, as well as a growing number of NGOs that aim to protect and preserve the environment.  It is only recently that Taiwan’s artists have begun to address environmental issues.

Taiwan Today News, July 21, 2009:

“Since the 1990s, more and more Taiwanese artists have become interested in eco-art, not just in painting but also in other forms of expression such as photography, sculpture and video documentaries.”

Digital art and video art continue to be the dominant media in contemporary Taiwanese art.  Art university training and the general cultural emphasis on high tech industries and technological development encourage electronic art.

Until recently Taiwan artists focused on issues of identity, reflecting Taiwan’s complicated political and social history, and the varied cultural roots of Taiwanese people. A 2004 article A Quiet Revolution in Taiwan’s Art by Trista di Genova states:
Taiwan’s artists today are searching to express both a Taiwanese identity and the real culture of Taiwan.  While Taiwan questions and explores its Chinese roots, Taiwan’s youth are entranced by Japan’s comic book art and animation.  What will Taiwan’s artists, infused with the technical expertise and frenetic energy of the West, do now?  They cannot totally give up their native, Fujian-Chinese roots, their Japanese training and now their Occidental influence…”(http://www.amcham.com.tw/content/view/666/307)

 

I.  SOME TAIWANESE GREEN ARTISTS

 

 


 

WHILE THE WEST HAS DEFINITELY influenced Taiwan’s contemporary art, new environmental art from Taiwan does present a uniquely Taiwanese point of view.

Mali Wu is one of the foremost contemporary Taiwanese artists who, since 2006, have focused her work on environmental or “green” issues.  Wu is a university professor in the field of public art.  Her environmental artwork includes curating and organizing collaborative public art projects that involve groups of artists working with local communities. In the 2008 Taipei Biennial held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum she presented an interactive and collaborative art project working with a Taipei-based environmental organization, titled Taipei Tomorrow as a Lake Again. This installation focused on the effects of global warming on the Taipei area and resulted in an organic garden growing in the museum.

In By the River, on the River, of the River, 2006, Wu worked with students from several community universities to trace the four rivers surrounding Taipei to bring public attention to the environmental issues surrounding water and Taipei’s polluted rivers in the face of urbanization.

Art as Environment—A Cultural Action on the Tropic of Cancer, done in 2005-07 in Chiayi County, another community-focused project organized by Wu included 30 artists working in Chiayi communities to raise public awareness and focus attention on local environmental issues.

 

II.  GUANDU INTERNATIONAL OUTDOOR SCULPTURE FESTIVAL


AFTER DOING PART OF MY FULBRIGHT project at Guandu Nature Park in 2004, I realized it was the perfect site for an international environmental art festival.  The Guandu Nature Park staff had the vision to see its potential and the ability to carry it out. In 2005 I proposed an outdoor green festival to the Park staff.  Contemporary artists from Taiwan and other countries would be invited to create sited installations to raise awareness about environmental issues.

In 2006 the first Guandu International Outdoor Sculpture Festival at Guandu Nature Park in Taipei took place.  I consider it one of Taiwan’s first truly “green” outdoor sculpture exhibitions. It uniquely entailed the cooperation of scientists and nature educators with artists to present contemporary art in a nature preserve and to highlight the importance of conserving wetlands and natural areas in Taipei’s very urban environment.

The Guandu Festival continues as an annual event sponsored by Guandu Nature Park and the Wild Bird Society of Taipei, and supported by the City of Taipei and the Council for Cultural Affairs (since 2007).  Corporate sponsors and community volunteers also contribute greatly to this Festival. The Festival has gathered increasing national and international attention with articles and reviews about the exhibition published in Taiwan’s newspapers and art magazines as well as coverage on TV and radio and in international art magazines such as SCULPTURE and PUBLIC ART REVIEW.

The 2006 call to artists received 86 proposals for the first Guandu Festival. Four foreign artists (myself included) and one Taiwanese artist were invited to the Nature Park to create environmental art using natural materials and working with local volunteers in the Park.  In 2007 the call to artists all over the world using various Internet sites received 270 entries from artists in 57 countries.  For 2007 ten foreign artists and two from Taiwan participated. In 2008, 165 international proposals came via email, with six foreign artists and two Taiwanese artists participating. In 2009 238 entries from 48 different countries led to the selection of six foreign artists and two Taiwanese.  The number and quality of proposals from artists in Taiwan increases each year as more learn about the Festival and see the artworks produced during the two or three week residencies at Guandu Nature Park.

The success of the Guandu Sculpture Festival has spawned an increasing number of “green” art exhibitions in Taiwanese museums, nature preserves and other organizations interested in nature and the environment.

 

 

III.  GROWING  VENUES


 

Yi-chun and local children build her installation LISTENING, Photo by Jane Ingram Allen, Cheng Long Wetlands International Art Project, 2010

 

IN 2009 I CURATED AN INTERNATIONAL ART exhibition about marine environmental issues titled  Turning the Tide at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Pingtung County with support from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education.  Artists Thierry Godet from France, Karin van der Molen from the Netherlands and Ya-chu Kang from Taiwan created site-specific installations in the Waters of the World pavilion at the Aquarium to raise public awareness about environmental issues related to the world’s oceans.  Turning the Tide was on view at the NMMBA through January 2010.

In April 2010 I initiated the Cheng Long Wetlands international environmental art project at Cheng Long Wetlands in Yunlin County, Taiwan.  Cheng Long village is in rural southwestern Taiwan and one of the poorest areas in Taiwan.  The Wetlands were created by natural disasters and human errors and are now home to many birds and other wildlife.  The art project hopes to encourage locals to appreciate and protect the wetlands and the wildlife.  It is sponsored by the Kuan Shu Educational Foundation and supported by the Taiwan Forestry Bureau, Cheng Long Elementary School, local governments and other sponsors. Three international artists and two Taiwanese artists came to live and work in Cheng Long for two weeks to provide environmental art education and cultural exchange, working with local elementary school children, adults and volunteers to create their site-specific environmental installations in the wetlands.  The exhibition remained on view through July 2010.

 

LISTENING, Yi-chun Lo, photo by Jane Ingram Allen, Cheng Long International Environmental Art Project, 2010

 

In November 2010 at Ping Ling Farm in Shuangshi Township, Taipei County, the first “green” art exhibition in a private nature preserve was supported by Ping Ling Farm and the Forestry Bureau.  The art project at Ping Ling Farm involved myself and two other international artists (Roger Tibon from the Philippines and Yi-chun Lo from Taipei) living and working at Ping Ling Farm for ten days to create installations using local natural materials to raise awareness about environmental issues. It included educational programs for local elementary school children and community adults about art and the environment.

 

IV.  SHOWING TAIWAN’S ECO ART IN AMERICA


AFTER ORGANIZING THESE GREEN ART exhibitions in Taiwan and seeing the growing focus of contemporary Taiwanese artists on global and local environmental issues, I wanted to present this art in America to promote cultural exchange about art and the environment.

In 2010 I was invited to curate an exhibition of new environmental art from Taiwan for the Taipei Cultural Center in New York City. The exhibition traveled to four sites that year:  Queens Botanical Garden in NYC; Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia; Accident Gallery and the City of Eureka, Eureka, CA; and Art and Design Gallery of the University of North Carolina, Pembroke.

 

TREE WITH ARTERIES, Su-chen Hung, GOING GREEN: New Environmental Art Taiwan, 2010

 

Going Green: New Environmental Art from Taiwan was conceived as a multi-media, multi-venue exhibition that explored how Taiwanese artists are responding to a rapidly changing environment and the gathering crisis of environmental degradation. This exhibition featured the works of 16 contemporary Taiwanese artists, eight of whom came to America as visiting artists and created site-specific environmental art installations at the four cooperating venues. The traveling gallery exhibition displayed at all four venues consisted of works on paper, photographs, video works and small sculptures along with photo and video documentation of previous site-specific environmental art installations the artists created in Taiwan and elsewhere. The exhibition Going Green – New Environmental Art from Taiwan, organized by the Taipei Cultural Center in New York City and supported by Taiwan’s Council for Cultural Affairs, spotlighted this new green art movement in Taiwan and introduced it to American audiences.

These “green” art exhibitions in Taiwan and the USA have continued to attract attention to environmental art in Taiwan, including green architecture.

 

 

V.  2011 GREEN ARTS EXPAND THE FIELD IN TAIWAN


SIGNALING THE RISING INTEREST GREEN architecture in Taiwan, an exhibition titled Green Adventure Exhibition was held in Taichung at TADA (Taiwan Art Design and Architecture Center) from February 19 – March 5, 2011.  The exhibition, organized by Tunghai University’s Department of Architecture, featured environmental sculpture installations by 3 contemporary artists and art projects by Tunghai University graduate architecture students exploring ideas about architecture and sustainable living.

The number of Taiwanese art events with an environmental theme continues to rise, and several “green” art projects are in the works for 2011.  Environmental art exhibitions in Taiwan during 2011 include the 2nd Cheng Long International Art Project Children and Artists Dream of Greener Wetlands that will take place again in Cheng Long Wetlands, Cheng Long Village, Yunlin County, Taiwan.  Five international artists will be working in Cheng Long from April 8 – May 2, 2011, to create site-specific environmental art installations in the wetlands with children, volunteers and community people.  The artists for this year’s project are Firman Djamil – Indonesia, Rumen Dimitrov – Bulgaria, Karen Macher Nesta – Peru, Julie Chou – Taiwan and Hsin-yu Huang – Taiwan.  The show opens on April 30-May 1 with participatory public activities, and the artworks will be on display through July 30, 2011.  For more information and photos of the art project in Cheng Long, visit the Blog at http://artproject4wetland.wordpress.com

In 2011 Taiwanese artist and curator Mali Wu is developing a new project with Bamboo Curtain Studio, Taipei, called Trekking the Plum-Tree-Stream Project. Plum Tree Creek is a small stream that originates in the mountains just outside Taipei where it runs wild and free and comes down into the city’s Danshui area at Zhuwei community, going underground and becoming polluted with sewage as it drains into the Danshui River.  Many of the urban dwellers may not even be aware of this creek and its ecological problems.  The stream banks were once known for having many beautiful plum trees. The local community has again planted plum trees along its banks so that the children can see these baby trees grow up as they attempt to change the environment of this area.

The Plum Tree Creek art project is a year-long community art project with a team of multi-disciplinary Taiwanese artists including Mali Wu, Margaret Shiu, Jui-Mao Huang, Hui-Li Chang, Pei-Jin Hsin, Shu-Hwa Rong,Ting-Ya Chang,Yi-Fong Chang and Hsuan-Pai Chen. These artists led by Wu, a long-time resident of the Danshui area, have a strong interest in involving the local community and especially school children in the green art project. The project uses art as a tool to raise community awareness and spur action on a local level and hopes to transform the Plum Tree Creek area into an eco village in the future.  The project, a partnership with Bamboo Curtain Studio located in Zhuwei community, has received funding from Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Foundation for one year.  The project begins in March 2011, and will conclude with exhibitions in Spring 2012 as well as the publication of documentation about the project. Some of the plans for the project include sculptor and environmental artist Margaret Shiu working with 5th and 6th grade students at the local elementary school to produce a collaborative art exhibition about the creek and environmental issues; another artist, Hui-Li Chang,  who specializes in using plants for art will do some natural dyeing art with local people and produce a collaborative exhibition; and another artist, Shu-Hwa Rong,  who is teaching at Graduate Institute of Arts and Humanities Education, Taipei National University of the Arts,  will collect stories about the Plum Tree Creek from local people and produce a collaborative theater performance.

Other “green” art projects planned for 2011 in Taiwan include the 6th annual Guandu International Outdoor Sculpture Festival scheduled to open on October 1 at Guandu Nature Park in Taipei.  It is the 10th anniversary of the founding of Guandu Nature Park, and this year’s sculpture festival will be part of the 10th anniversary celebration. Plans are to invite back five or six artists from the previous five years of the sculpture festival.  The invited artists, both foreign and Taiwanese, will work in Guandu Nature Park from September 15 – October 1, 2011, making environmental sculpture installations with the local community.

 

VI.  THE FUTURE

 

 

EVERYTHING IS BUDDHA. Chao-chang Lee, photo by Jane Ingram Allen, Going Green: New Envionmental Art From Taiwan, 2010

 

 

TAIWAN’S NEW “GREEN” ART CONTINUES to develop and gain strength as more exhibitions and more contemporary artists address issues about the environment.

Taiwan’s status as a small island country that has gone through rapid industrialization and extreme urbanization along with re-occurring fierce natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons, flooding, landslides and such, makes it a sort of microcosmic example of global environmental problems.

Taiwan faces acute problems from rising waters and global warming; air, water and land pollution; loss of bio-diversity; and other developing environmental crises.

Green art, or environmental art, is being seen as a useful tool to raise public awareness and promote action that can help to solve these problems. This exciting new art movement in Taiwan celebrates our connection to the natural world, stimulates the imagination and promotes the role of art in the creation of a more sustainable world culture.