Ziqiang (自強) night market, famous for its juice bar and street-style beefsteak, is about to get a new attraction. For five days next month, an ordinary food booth will offer live art shows on demand.
Night Market Theater is the latest public installation by award-winning British artist Joshua Sofaer. This week in Taipei, he’s been working with local artists to prepare about 40 unique shows that can be ordered a la carte.
You might pay NT$10 for a Make You Laugh Aloud, NT$30 for a Sour Romance or an extra NT$5 for Sugar Added. The menu is subject to change until opening day, although its priciest item — If Only I Had Known Earlier (千金難買早知道) for NT$1,000 — will probably stay on.
Photo Courtesy of Prototype Paradise
“That one will be very disappointing,” Sofaer said. “I think people will understand and won’t order it, but if they do, it will be a philosophical gift.”
Sofaer, an artist fellow of UK’s Clore Leadership Program and winner of the 2009 Bank of America Create Art Award, is critically acclaimed for his whimsical site-specific projects that engage audience participation.
His last show, The Rubbish Collection, enlisted the public in helping him sort and archive a month’s worth of trash from the London Science Museum. Viver a Rua, staged in Porto, Portugal, culminated in citizens naming a street after an unknown person of their choice.
THE MAKING OF NIGHT MARKET THEATER
Night Market Theater is a co-production with Taipei’s Prototype Paradise (原型樂園), which invited Sofaer to Taiwan in 2012.
It was his first stay, Sofaer said, and at the time he noted a strong local interest in food and how eating is fused with entertainment. The entertainment value of food was particularly visible at the night market, he said.
“Physically the stalls reminded me of the puppet theaters in the UK — it’s exactly the same shape, with the rectangle and a face in the window.”
This week in rehearsals, Sofaer and eight Taiwanese performers have been developing art shows based on elements of entertainment that can be found in night markets and in Taiwanese culture at large.
Elements include storytelling and jokey banter — sales-pitch practices used sometimes at food stalls — as well as massage and karaoke.
“They’re not necessarily artistic forms, but then you move them into an artistic realm,” Sofaer said.
One performer is working on a show inspired by a coin-pusher machine. Players are invited to drop coins into his makeshift machine. Inside, an arm lightly pushes a heap of coins, which may or may not fall off the ledge as a payout.
“But it is his actual arm,” Sofaer said.
“And you’re so aware of the absurdity. When you put a coin into a regular slot machine, you know you’re not going to get anything, but you’re hoping. With this, you’re dealing with a human person and you want to win him over.”
ART ON THE OUTSIDE
Are chances better or worse when dealing with a human instead of a mechanical arm? It depends on the individual player, and for Sofaer, it’s these kinds of questions that art can get the public to ask.
“Art shows you a thing you already know and gives permission to think about it in a different way,” he said. “I believe people should have access to that.”
Through his projects, Sofaer hopes to boost access by moving art outside of rarefied display spaces.
“I believe the problem with [art access] isn’t that the art is too elitist, but that it’s cordoned off,” he said. “You should deliver the best possible art to people, but keeping it in museums and galleries is unnecessary.”
Out in the public, though, there is the ever-present risk with art that no one wants to participate and the production cost and effort go to waste.
“In a way, it’s an experiment and we’re all entering it in that spirit,” Sofaer said.
“But you only need one person to say, ‘Oh, something strange is going on there. What is that?’”
What: Night Market Theater by Joshua Sofaer
When: Nov. 11 to Nov. 15 from 6:30pm to 10pm
Where: Ziqiang Night Market (自強夜市) at the intersection of Ziqiang and Heping Rd in Jian Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣吉安鄉和平路和自強路口)
Cost: NT$5 and up
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