Mon, Jun 15, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Art and nature together at last

An outdoor exhibition in Keelung that features on-site installations by artists from around the world aims to raise environmental awareness and remind visitors to take care of the ocean

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Firman Djamil, Living in Rompong (2015).

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

The port city of Keelung is surrounded by vast stretches of rocky green cliffs and clear blue oceans with waves that lap dramatically, rocking the colorful sailboats flimsily docked at shore. The scent of fried shrimp and shucked oysters permeates the air, and by nightfall, the moon casts a luminescent glow upon the rickety seaside houses, making them appear like strange, willowy figures inhabiting the ocean.

With an increasing number of travelers flocking to Yehliu Geopark (野柳公園) to the west and the mountainous old village of Jiufen (九份) to the east, Keelung is often overlooked as merely a small fishing community situated between two major tourist attractions. But if you’re looking to find some serenity this summer, Keelung has much to offer.

Walking along the coast a couple of meters away from the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology (國立海洋科技博物館) by Haikeguan Train Station (海科館車站) you’ll notice a colorful doll perched atop a tree branch. It has no face. Rather, its head, like its torso and limbs, are made out of cut-up plastic, old fishing nets and other junk. Strolling further up the coast, you discover another doll sitting on a signboard. And one more on a wall by a temple. There’s even a whole group of them resting on the rail of a bridge.

CONSTRUCTED PARADISE

The dolls are not coincidental. They were made by UK artist Sue Bamford and are part of an outdoor exhibition curated by Jane Ingram Allen in conjunction with the museum. This year, the first-ever International Environmental Art Exhibition was launched and nine artists from Taiwan and around the world were chosen to partake in a residency in Keelung. The only rule was that they had to use recycled materials to create on-site installations that blend with the natural scenery, especially the ocean, since the theme this year is Paradise: Sustainable Oceans. The exhibits are scattered around the coast, and while it’s possible to walk, the museum provides a free shuttle bus service.

Exhibition notes

What: Paradise: Sustainable Oceans

Where: National Museum of Marine Science and Technology (國立海洋科技博物館), 367 Beining Rd, Keelung City (基隆市北寧路367號)

When: Until Aug. 30

Admission: Free

On the net: artproject2015.nmmst.gov.tw/en.html

Getting there: Take the train from Taipei Main Station (台北火車站) to Ruifang Station (瑞芳車站), and transfer from Ruifang to Haikeguan Station (海科館車站)


Allen, who also curated the Chenglong Wetlands International Environmental Art Project (成龍溼地國際環境藝術計畫) in Yunlin County, says the Keelung project is two-pronged. Firstly, it is meant to raise environmental awareness. Secondly, the installations are meant to challenge popular misconceptions about the ocean being a dangerous place. Decades of martial law created a culture where the beach was associated with barbed wire and military drills, rather than fun family outings.

“Oddly, for a place like Keelung which is surrounded by beaches, there’s a lot of disassociation with the sea,” Allen tells the Taipei Times.

Originally from Alabama, Allen came to Taiwan in 2004 on a Fulbright Scholarship to study hand papermaking. She fell in love with the art scene and the natural environment and was inspired to find a way to combine the two. She has spent the last decade doing residencies and creating and curating site-specific environmental art installations in Taiwan and elsewhere.

“The problem with art is that we can’t solve all the environmental problems,” Allen tells me at the museum, a vast cluster of low-rise, geometric buildings with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that allow visitors to peek out at the tall, shady trees nearby. “We can only inspire others to do so.”

That being said, public participation is an important part of environmental art projects. Allen mentions that in Chenglong, it was easier to get the local community involved since the elementary school near where the exhibition took place has had a history of collaborating with artists. The museum tried to recruit local residents, but it was difficult because this was the exhibition’s first year. Nevertheless, even simple things like collecting shells from seafood restaurants to use in the art installations helped to spread word of the exhibition’s goals.

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