To abide by the precept of “not putting anything in the natural preserve that can harm [wildlife],” artists use only natural materials available in the local environment such as clamshells, bamboo, reeds, wood, mud and stones, as well as recycled materials gathered from the seashore or nearby recycling centers.
The title of this year’s exhibition is On the Table — Aquaculture and the Environment, which focuses on fish, shrimp and clam farming, the area’s main industries.
Visitors are encouraged to see the sculptural installations by the six international artists that are spread across the wetlands.
“People need to come close to the wetlands to see it, experience it and start to appreciate it as a beautiful place,” Allen says.
Italian-born, Belgium-based artist Giorgio Tessadri creates Element, a sculptural installation composed of three parts made with salvaged and new bamboo. To echo the close connection among different elements in nature, the organic-shaped sculptures will lie separately on land, in the water and inside the bird-watching tower formed by recycled shipping containers painted in vibrant colors.
Michele Brody from the United States uses bamboo, driftwood, oyster shells and other natural materials to create a teahouse where people can rest, contemplate and discuss the environment. The work is partly a meditation on Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on New York in 2012.
On the marsh, landscape artist Johan Sietzema of the Netherlands uses bamboo to create large fish traps and fish shapes hung on tall bamboo poles in the wetlands as a way to “show the steps of catching, selling, preparing and eating fish like the footprints people leave on the ground.”
Some artists try to incorporate natural sources of energy into their installations. Taipei-based artist Kang Ya-chu (康雅筑), for example, harvests sunlight by making images on tablecloths through the technique of cyanotype, a photographic printing process made possible by ultraviolet light.
She says the biggest difference of working for the community-based project is that artists have to “think about others.”
Kang’s view is shared by Chiu Kuo-chun (邱國峻), an associate professor teaching in the Department of Visual Communication Design at Kun Shan University (崑山科技大學), whose sculpture is the skeleton of a huge fish mounted on a round table made with bamboo. The inspiration comes from the Chinese tradition to leave some parts of the fish at the Chinese New Year table to make sure there will be enough food for all the year to come.
“What’s important here is the process. You can’t be a lone artist minding only your own art. You are constantly learning things from local life. You have to adapt your work to the environment, trying to reach coexistence between the two,” Chiu says.
“[The art project] also emphasizes artists’ participation and engagement with the community. For example, we are teaching schoolchildren English this year.”
For Allen, the biggest change is villagers’ attitude and perception of the community, the environment and themselves.
Over the years, the wetlands have become a thriving home to more than 85 bird species. Locals have begun to grow vegetables in their gardens and to beautify the community with murals and other decorative art works. An experimental, eco-friendly fish farm project has been established by the foundation this year with local residents’ support, and is built to use sea water rather than groundwater.