Even though he was born and raised in Tugou, Su said that he has difficulty persuading elderly residents to participate in community-based projects.
“We went to the squares in front of temples and started talking to people. If they were home, we went to their front yards for a chat over tea. We had to develop the ability to tackle criticism and questioning,” he said.
The director believes the main reason behind their success is the association’s open and transparent operation, which “respects everyone’s opinion and makes public all details of each undertaking.”
To Lu, communication is the key, and the association plays an important role in connecting the students with local residents.
“In school, we would use terms such as ambience, site and dimension. Here, when you ask a farmer how he wants the window of his cowshed done, he would say ‘like the size of my TV,’” Lu explained. “The most important lesson I have learned from working here is that if you want to communicate, you have to speak a language that other people understand.”
Chen Yu-liang (陳昱良), one of four former TNNUA students who chose to stay in Tugou after graduation, echoed Lu’s sentiment. Responsible for creating many large-scale installation pieces in the village, Chen points out that their works at Tugou can be epitomized by a couple of mosaic couches standing next to a paddy field in Jhuzihciao.
“It took me three months to place all the small pieces of colored stones onto the couches. But through this process local residents came to recognize and accept what we do here. What is important is not the finished work, but the process of our making it,” Chen said.
“We don’t talk big words. Everything we do is as simple as making chairs for old farmers to sit, chat, appreciate the landscape and be proud of their village,” he added.
Life as art
Over the years, the young architects and artists have made efforts to incorporate their works into local life. For example, the images of Chinese hibiscus painted on the walls by the roadside recall the bygone days when the plants were used by locals as fences. The construction and completion of the mosaic settees were deemed successful only when villagers started to come to rest on them.
To both Lu and Chen, their works over the past 10 years are meant to help local residents regain confidence in what they do and find beauty and value in their rural way of life.
“Every day I see old farmers in their 70s and 80s ride their old rusty bicycles to work in the field. They keep farming because they don’t want their ancestors’ lands to lie fallow and deserted. We want our works to be part of their life, to make it dignified,” said Chen, who, like Lu, has run an architecture and design firm in Tugou for several years.
A decade of work
To Su, the biggest change over the course of the past 10 years is how residents’ perception of the village has changed.
“Before when the farmers saw visitors from outside, they thought they were silly to want to come to this godforsaken place. Now they volunteer to introduce visitors to their hometown,” he said, adding: “Before young people came back once a year. Now they come home once every month or even every week, bringing friends to visit.”