In January 2004, the respected Italian political thinker and philosopher Giorgio Agamben refused to give a lecture in the US because under his visa requirements doing so would mean giving up his biometric information. Even before the lecture, Agamben was a vocal critic of the US for implementing policies and laws, such as the Patriot Act, that he thinks strips the individual of their legal rights, a phenomenon he has come to call "bare life." The ideas expressed in his idea of bare life are akin to the tattooing that the Nazis conducted during World War II.
Known also as "state of exception" or "state of emergency" because of the exceptional circumstances or emergencies — such as 9/11 — which the state uses to justify the degradation of citizens' rights, the ideas expressed in "bare life" should resonate with many Taiwanese who lived through and experienced the martial law period. With 22 artists from Taiwan and throughout the world, the current exhibit called Naked Life (赤裸人) running at MOCA and curated by Manray Hsu (徐文瑞) and Maren Ritcher, picks up on these themes with intelligence and humor.
According to Ritcher, "[the exhibit] has to do with the Taiwanese situation, but we also wanted to raise awareness of the artists working in this field or dealing with those issues." With topics such as anti-terrorism and social surveillance, the Cold War and sovereign power, border, immigration, labor, and post-martial law and post-communism, the exhibit reads like a syllabus for a course in international relations. But the curators say this is the point as they want to raise awareness of these issues in a global context as well as showing how Taiwan shares these global experiences.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MOCA
Da Lun Wei Art Squad's (大崙尾藝術工作隊) installation The Other Side of the Straight (彼岸) investigates the pilots who defected across the Taiwan straight after the Chinese civil war and how the state used these "heroes" as propaganda. Jun Yang's (楊俊) Camouflage: Look like them, Talk like them (偽裝) is a video about illegal immigration and includes Grey guide, a survival manual for those living on the margins of Taiwanese society such as betel nut girls, illegal immigrants, hookers and runaway foreign laborers. Chang Chien-chi's (張乾琦) Double Happiness (囍) is a series of photos of Vietnamese women who, through marriage brokers, went on to be chosen by a group of Taiwanese men. The images and videos reveal in a humane manner segments of society that are often excluded and marginalized by the media and government.
Taiwan's sovereignty and political status in the international community interests the art group YKON, who in the past few years have worked with micro-nations around the world. Their M8 is based on a fictional summit of eight micro-nations held in Singapore and raises issues of sovereignty and autonomy in both a domestic and international context.
Issues of trust and protection are explored in In Search for the Suspicious by Marc Jijl in which the artist dresses up as a police officer and goes around questioning people on a Berlin subway. Jill Magid's Evidence Locker explores the idea of surveillance where the artist develops an intimate relationship with the security guards behind the ubiquitous cameras on a Liverpool, England, street. Both video installations raise questions about the contemporary issues of security, protection and personal rights. Magid's exhibit also offers a journal of her movements and who she is communicating with.
How to Start Your Own Country is one title found in Bik Van der Pol's traveling library called Loompanics, named after a now-defunct publishing house in the US that published what many saw as subversive texts. The "project" is a series of books by the publisher and covers a broad variety of topics that some see as subversive to the power of the state, thus raising issues of censorship. The manner with which the films and documentaries are made reveals how images on television and film can be manipulated.
Another artist who calls the honesty of the news into question is Abel Abidin with his exhibit Welcome to Baghdad, a video promoting tourism in Baghdad. As the narrator rhymes off the beauty of the Mesopotamian desert, images showing the ravages of the Iraq war are shown on the screen. The juxtaposition of the sugary narrative with the brutal images is at once funny and grotesque and reminds the viewer that all is not rosy in the oil-rich nation. A "tourist guide" for prospective travelers is also on offer complete with ironic warnings.
Like most of the exhibits, the relationship between texts, guides and manuals, which can be taken out of the museum, serves to create a dialogue that moves beyond the museum walls. This differs markedly from traditional ideas of an exhibit where one leaves with only a mental impression of the work. With Naked Life, the curators and artists want to move beyond the confines of the museum and bring it out into and the social landscape that we all inhabit.
PHOTO: NOAH BUCHAN, TAIPEI TIMES
What: Naked Life (赤裸人)
Where: Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA, 台北當代藝術館), 39 Changan W Rd, Taipei (台北市長安西路39號)
When: Until Feb 4, 2007
Contact: (02) 2552-3721 or visit www.mocataipei.org.tw for more information
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