This year's Taipei Biennial recently opened at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and runs to Feb. 25. Its provocative and elusive title, Dirty Yoga, created much discussion among viewers over the opening weekend in trying to pinpoint a direct definition. Do we interpret the words literally, singularly or together? Effective exhibition titles whet the appetite, raise questions and psyche out the viewer.
One third of the world's biennials take place in the Asia Pacific region and the Taipei Biennial is one of the more respected and prestigious as it is international in scope. Dan Cameron, the senior curator of the New Museum paired up with artist Wang Jun-jieh (王俊傑) — who had exhibited in the 1998 Taipei Biennial — to curate this, the fifth version. They brought together 34 artists from around the world with a high number of female artists and artists from under-represented areas. With a limited budget of NT$20 million (small for a biennial), the exhibition takes place within the museum confines with only 13 site-specific works. Despite these budgetary limits, the video, photo, painting, sound, and sculpture on show allow for reverie and demonstrates that a biennial does not need deep pockets.
In planning for the Taipei Biennial, the museum used the same system that was initiated in 2000, whereby a Western curator is selected first by the museum and then comes to Taipei to choose a Taiwanese co-curator. This paternalistic system has been criticized as a remnant of colonial thinking and unrepresentative of globalization.
The art on view is fun, visual, some of it political, and some of it personal, such as Nari Ward's tar snowman, Regina Silveria's footprints all over the museum's facade, Jonas Dahlberg's eerie video, El Perro's skateboard video and Kazuna Taguchi's riveting photo portraits.
What: Dirty Yoga: 2006 Taipei Biennial Where: Taipei Fine Arts Museum,181 Zhongshan N Road, Sec 3, Taipei (台北市中山北路3段181號) Telephone: (02) 2595-7656 When: Through Feb. 25, 2007 On the Net: www.tfam.gov.tw and www.taipeibiennial.org
Cheang Shu-lea (鄭淑麗) is back in town with her London-based collective TAKE2030. The group has an interactive workshop where design students help sew attractive slings to carry wireless equipment allowing the wearer to transmit wireless messages as one way to create open access to Taipei's citizens. Ironically though, Taipei's main promoter of a wireless capital Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was most notably absent at last Friday's gala opening.
Taiwanese artists not often showing here have been given exposure, such as taxi driver/painter Chou Ming-te (周孟德) who is showing his paintings of Taipei's night life and bar scenes. Cartoonist VIVA offers manga-like panels of his military experiences filed away in cabinets.
E Chen's (陳逸堅) installation of common objects such as a mail box, cinder blocks and plants are all made from knitted yarn, and as each day of the exhibition passes, a little bit of the knitted installation becomes undone so that in the end there will be nothing left except for a pile of yarn. This work pessimistically looks at Taiwan's traditional industries such as the textile industry and how it has been unraveled by the onset of globalization.
Political messages abound. The most poignant, relevant and perhaps controversial project is the site-specific one by Cao Fei (曹斐). The site is not that of the museum, but of Taiwan and its ambiguous relation with China. To push the point, there is a documentary video airing anti-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) views. Cao Fei, who is gaining recognition in the West as one of China's hot young art stars, invited her father Cao Chang-en, a notable sculptor, to create images of Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙). One of his bronze sculptures is on display at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China, is admired on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. This ode to fathers — the father of China and the artist's father — is deeply moving.