Kao Yi-liang (高怡良) is a landscape architect who is registered and practicing in Berkeley, California. She’s spending the summer in her native Taiwan, at Treasure Hill Village, a selective artist’s residency.
On view now is her solo show of outdoor landscape art: sculpture-fitted village buildings and a garden landscape titled Rain Drum.
Rain Drum is a literal drum, an instrument activated when it rains. Kao had arranged recycled materials in an abandoned garden filled with wild giant taro. During storms, rain filters through the hackberry tree overhead and makes audible sounds against the giant taro leaves below, and on orange pipes topped with pieces of tire, old CD-ROMs and metal from cans.
Kao’s goal for the landscape is to get passersby to be more attentive.
“When people hear the sound, they will look for where it comes from, and anticipate the next sound, and their curiosity may bring them to pay attention to the natural cycle of water and issues related to it,” Kao said.
Rainwater is a precious resource that can be collected and filtered, but in cities it often goes to waste.
“If we can retain rainwater, then not only can we reuse the water, but we will also slow down urban runoff and reduce flooding,” she said.
ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS
Last week, Kao’s garden fell subject to an unexpected kind of attention.
On Tuesday, a village gardener noticed the plot and went in to clear it of weeds.
“The funny thing is that staff here told me the person had not done anything to this site for two years. Then he paid attention to it, so maybe my concept worked,” she said.
What’s left of the landscape now is assorted bright-orange pipes that rise up from the rocky garden bed at different heights.
What: Treasure Hill Humanscape & Rain Drum
When: Until Aug. 30
Where: Treasure Hill Artist Village (寶藏巖國際藝術村), 2, Alley 14, Ln 230, Dingzhou Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市汀州路三段230巷14弄2號)
On the Net: www.artistvillage.org
“I came in on Thursday and said, ‘Hm, what can I do to save it? But also, what would be the meaning of saving it?’” she said.
“If I tried to save it, a lot of what I put in would only be for decoration.”
Some art embraces purely visual flourishes, but not Kao’s. As it is, the denuded landscape continues to serve its function: It can still call attention to rain.
This approach to the garden is like her approach to professional landscape design.
For Kao, a successful landscape is able to meet budgetary, societal and ecologic goals at the same time.
In other words, landscape planning and design should work within a given budget, while providing the most functional benefit for users and be a minimal drain on environmental resources and energy.
For instance, plants chosen for a landscape shouldn’t simply be beautiful — they should also take up minimal human resources and create the least amount of environmental damage.
“An issue I have observed is that unsuitable plants are used [in riverside parks]. In public spaces, if the management team is constantly trimming or fertilizing the plants, we might want to review if the vegetation is a good choice for that specific site,” she said.
Kao said that cultivating a lawn is often not the ideal choice.
“I think France might be one of the few places that have successful turf [lawn] because they use native grass species.”
MAIN PROBLEM WITH PARKS
The ecologic goal of human-cultivated landscapes is often the most difficult of the three to meet. Today, building a recreational space often results in the mass devastation of local wildlife.
“Think of a park. Most of the parks I have seen have green grass and canopy trees — usually cultivated species. But a complete ecological community is not made up only of trees and lawn and a few birds,” she said.