Fri, May 04, 2012 - Page 13 News List

It takes a village

Eight international artists have spent the past month in a small village in southern Taiwan putting together an art exhibition that dovetails with environmental awareness

By David Chen  /  Staff reporter

A sculpture made of bamboo by Indian artist Prashant Jogdand.

Photo courtesy of Jane Ingram Allen

Chenglong Village (成龍村) doesn’t sound like a likely place for an art exhibition. This small fishing village of around 1,000 people is located in one of the nation’s poorest areas, Yunlin County, and it lacks many of the modern conveniences of a city.

But this is what makes Chenglong interesting to American artist Jane Ingram Allen, who is the curator of the Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project (成龍濕地國際環境藝術節), an exhibition that opens in the village tomorrow.

“It’s almost like stepping back in time when you come here,” she said. “There’s no 7-Eleven, there’s no Starbucks, there’s no restaurant, there are no hotels. It’s a simple life, but the people seem happy.”

And it turns out that Chenglong is well-suited for an exhibition of “environmental art.” The village is home to the Chenglong Wetlands (成龍溼地), an area of land on Taiwan’s southwest coast that locals have been maintaining as a nature preserve.

Chenglong is also abundant in materials that have been “recycled” to create the six installation pieces that will be displayed outdoors in the wetlands area. Visitors will see works made out of clam shells (fish, shrimp and clam farming are major sources of income for the village), banana leaves, grassy reeds, bamboo, and even plastic bags.

The project that Allen is overseeing is part of a program by the Kuan Shu Education Foundation (觀樹教育基金會), a non-governmental organization devoted to environmental education. For the past three years, the foundation has been working with Chenglong Elementary School (成龍國小) to teach students about the wetlands and its preservation.

The school’s 77 students, along with a number of village residents, are also active participants in the Environmental Art Project, which is also in its third year. The students and some village residents helped the eight visiting artists to collect raw materials and construct the art displays. The Chenglong residents also had the chance to become well acquainted with the artists, who came from places as far flung as South Africa and India and stayed in the village for one month.

Event notes

What: Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project 2012: What’s for Dinner? (成龍濕地國際環境藝術節)

When: Opens tomorrow, until Dec. 31

Where: Chenglong Wetlands (成龍溼地), Chenglong Village, Kouhu Township, Yunlin County (雲林縣口湖鄉成龍村)

Admission: Free

On the Net:

Getting There: Buses run to Chenglong Village from Taiwan High Speed Rail’s Chiayi Station, but taxis are the most convenient way to arrive at the Chenglong Wetlands. The fare should be approximately NT$600. If driving, Chenglong Wetlands is located on Provincial Highway No. 17 at the 106km marker (台17線, 106km)

Allen chose the artists out of a pool of 180 people, partly based on their experience and interest in using recycled and natural materials. (Allen is a paper-maker and sculptor who focuses on environmental art in her own work).

The theme of this year’s exhibition is titled What’s for Dinner?

“We wanted to emphasize seafood production because it’s the main industry in this area,” said Allen. “[We want] to get people to think about where their food comes from and where it’s produced.”

Markuz Wernli of Switzerland and Madoka Yoshitomi of Japan created Food Chain, a mosaic mural made of discarded clam shells located at the roadway entrance to Chenglong Wetlands. The pair enlisted the help of fifth graders from Chenglong Elementary School to collect shells from local clam farmers, but some of the material came from Taipei. Before arriving, Wernli visited some night markets in the capital, passing out flyers that explained his work and asked people to send their empty shells to him. Several obliged, sending him shells by post.

Another work, Invasive Species by Isabelle Garbani, suggests a commentary on our excessive use of plastic bags. The Brooklyn, New York-based French artist, with help from local sixth graders and residents, collected plastic bags, cut them into strips and crocheted them (a stitching technique similar to knitting that uses a hooked needle). She and her helpers made hundreds of leaves, which cover an abandoned house and look like ivy invading a building.

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