Sun, Dec 19, 2004 - Page 19 News List

In search of Asian megacity man

Zhang Yao takes nice photos of Taipei without quite catching the city's spirit

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

Zhang Yao talked this week about his work at the Taipei 101 Page One bookstore.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

Ten months ago, Zhang Yao (張耀) approached bookstore managers at Page One in the Taipei 101 shopping mall with the idea of putting on an exhibition of his photographic works that has as its theme Asian megacities.

He also proposed to produce a book that would extend this idea and additionally provide advertising material for Page One in the form of a coffee-table book.

On Friday a small gathering in the Page One coffee shop took place to examine the results of the Chinese-born artist's labors: the transparencies that were hung over the windows of the bookstore, the images that were lit up on flat screen TVs and the prints that were hung on the walls or were draped from the ceiling.

Asked whether he was a commercial artist, Zhang readily admitted that he was. "I do and I play the game. I have a dream and I follow it consequentially and exactly ... I make a dream come true," he said of his working methods and his proposal to Page One. "My dreams are very visual and I follow my feelings."

Though born in China, Zhang has been living in Germany and has immersed himself in the country's language and culture. Formerly a literature student, he now works as a writer and photographer for German magazines.

"When I went to Europe, I changed my mind completely. I was damaged by my Chinese education, which was formal and [rigid]. When I first went to Vienna, I changed my mind by working in a different language. For six years, I did not write a word in Chinese and now that I have come back [to Asia] I have different ideas about [the region]."

Looking through Zhang's lens at Taipei, we are faced with big skies arching over concrete and neon, the colorful helmets of motorbike riders caught in traffic, wide-angle views of crosswalks or intersections, frenetic street scenes, restaurants, the blurred electrically-lit vision of the city from Yangmingshan and rooftops stretching toward hills in the far distance.

These are familiar images that reinforce our conception of the city in which we live: bustling, bursting at the seams, a collision of colors that fade to gray.

His book, Zhang Yao + 2 hours + taipei is dedicated to the "new generation in the fast growing, booming Asian megacities."

"We are young and well-educated from top universities in Europe, US, Japan or Taipei, high potential for anywhere urban in the world, financially independent (strong in mind, physically below average)," Zhang opines in the foreword to his book.

He speaks to the "multinational" city dwellers of Asia's cities, but he could equally be talking about anybody else in any other advanced metropolis in the world. "We talk about New York and Brussels as if it were our neighborhood, but we don't know the ... mountains behind our building, not interested."

But, of course, Zhang does see some differences. He contrasts Shanghai, Tokyo and Taipei in the book by simply putting contrasting images of them together on the same page.

"Taipei is a very traditional Chinese city, even if the people are not," he said. "From the point of view of a European, the society here is traditional, it is not broken, they [Taiwanese] keep the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chinese things. But China is very broken, there are many things that in China were broken."

As for the look of Taipei, Zhang says it's a mixture of America and Tokyo. "The look is square and there are big shapes which dominate and the avenues are straight. It is all lines."

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