Sat, Feb 06, 2016 - Page 8 News List

‘Monkey gourd’ symbolizes Ko

By Nicholas Yu 郁良溎

A few days ago, the Taipei City Government unveiled the centerpiece lantern for this year’s Taipei Lantern Festival. The “Good Luck Monkey” lantern has inspired a lot of discussion on the Internet, with a large majority of people calling it “shocking.” However, another view is that this year’s principal lantern, as offered to residents of Taipei by the marketing team for Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) administration, is actually an amazing design that carries special significance this year, when Taipei is hosting the World Design Capital event.

Illuminated by ever-changing projections, the gourd-shaped centerpiece lantern illustrates the city government’s true nature — namely that, as the saying goes, you can not tell what kind of medicine is inside the gourd. Similar metaphors appear in various segments of the light sculpture, such as Sichuan opera face-changing, white lottery balls in place of colored ones and so on. A good example of the kind of behavior that is possibly alluded to is the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner’s retrograde step from open and transparent iVoting to obscure closed-door internal decisionmaking.

Following all the noise that was made about coming to grips with the “five major scandals,” now it looks as though even the controversy over the Taipei Dome is going to be wound up on the dubious grounds that “not demolishing it is an established consensus.”

The same is true of the policy proposal for preserving cultural assets that Ko set out before he was elected, namely to make an inventory of idle spaces for young people so that they can be used as “cultural dream factories” where “the new can coexist with the old.”

A year has passed since then and Ko seemed to be suffering from amnesia when he raised the same notion afresh during his recent fact-finding trip to Japan. The “Good Luck Monkey” lantern is adorned with pictures of a goldfish on one side and a peach on the other, bringing to mind the two-faced character that Ko’s city government team demonstrated when handling the Nangang Bottle Cap Factory, where it put on a show of goodwill by inviting civic groups to take part in forming an ad hoc group to review the matter, while at the same time it did all it could to encourage opponents to obstruct possible solutions.

Around the base of the monkey lantern, models of buildings, which seem to be playing supporting roles, form a map of Taipei that can only be seen from above. Is that not a metaphor for the Taipei City Government’s “No. 1 department,” the Department of Urban Development led by Commissioner Lin Jou-min (林洲民), with his notions about what constitutes “real” cultural creativity and the way it keeps producing impressive models of its visions for urban development?

These models, which can be reassembled and stuck together at will like children’s building blocks, seem to reflect the way in which Ko, who is always repeating his slogan of “the new and the old coexisting,” has proposed major relocations of edifices, such as the Kuzitou Well the old Xinbeitou Railway Station and the Mitsui Warehouse. It brings to mind Ko’s creative destruction of integral zones, like the Nangang Bottle Cap Factory and Jiahe New Village, leaving only a few buildings standing, and his government’s plan to implement urban renewal by erecting tall buildings at the Taipei Railway Workshop, a nationally listed heritage site, and in place of a building that was originally occupied by the Tatsuma company and in 1947 was the scene of an important protest during the 228 Incident.

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