IN 1997, Taiwan's community was eagerly awaiting the opening of the country's first international artists village, hoping it would position the island alongside other countries that use such facilities as platforms to promote international arts exchange and settings for artists in which to work.
Sponsored by the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA, 文化建設委員會), the village, which was to be located in scenic Nantou County, looked ready to break ground until it was unceremoniously dumped by the incoming DPP government last year in favor of a decentralized policy to convert idle land and buildings into art spaces.
Under the new policy, responsibility for establishing artists villages was shifted to local governments and the private sector. The planning office for the Taiwan International Artists Village (藝術村籌備處), which oversaw the Nantou project now functions as a resource center to support smaller local projects.
One off-shoot of the scrapping of the arts village is a program of international arts exchanges called the Artists-in-Residencies Sponsorship Program (視覺藝術人才出國駐村創作交流計劃), which is designed to gain a better understanding of the operations and functions of arts villages and to give local artists greater international exposure.
After three years as head of the planning office for the scrapped Nantou project, CCA's director Yang Shiuan-Chyn (楊宣勤) is nevertheless enthusiastic about this pioneering program.
"We are sending artists into the world first, to experience various well-established arts villages and give us feedback," Yang said.
The artists-in-residencies program, with an annual budget of NT$3 million kicked off last year with 10 artists heading to five art villages in the US and one in the UK. The program is intended to supplement a Ministry of Education program, begun in 1991, which sponsors three artists each year at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris.
The new program has proved very popular, with more than 70 people applying for the 10 available spots last year.
Not just a holiday
For Chen Long-bin (陳龍斌), who selected the 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica, California, it was like "arriving in paradise." Chen was the oldest artist among the first batch to be sent abroad and already had international experience and some commercial success in Taiwan.
Chen is best known for his sculptures in which he takes books, magazines or even phone directories, stacks them, and sculpts them into a human face. His work seeks to explore the relationship between books, the mind and culture. Returning from his trip, his work has taken on more monumental proportions and a more relaxed and humorous tone.
Works by the 10 participating artists from last year are currently on exhibit at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Chen's work on display is a book sculpture expanded into a multimedia and performance project titled Reading Room -- Dr Gorilla Show. In the piece, Chen can be seen on a video recording dressed as a gorilla, in a mockery of intellectual hypocrisy.
"The international art village experience helped me to expand the scope of my art," Chen said, adding that Dr Gorilla was inspired by the film studios and the make-up shops he visited in California.
Lee Yi-chuan (李宜全), a local artist still in graduate school, also found inspiration from his experience last year at the Art Omi International Arts Center, located at a farm outside New York. He found it rewarding being in an international environment where he could interact with artists from around the world.