Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - Page 12 News List

The art of slow walking

A French artist is traversing Taiwan’s east coast in an effort to better understand the local culture before starting his residency in Pingtung’s Aboriginal community

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Etienne Allaix, Infra-Verkehr (2009).

Photo courtesy of Etienne Allaix

When Etienne Allaix bid farewell to me in a cafe in Xinyi District (信義), he asked if he could take my picture. Not of my face, but of my feet. The Berlin-based French artist stopped by Taipei on his month-long walk, from Taoyuan to Sandimen (三地門) in Pingtung County (屏東), and wanted to remember all the journalists, artists, curators and translators he met on his journey.

“We’re just too over-burdened by images of people’s faces,” he tells me.

He took out his compact Sony digital camera — a gadget which I hadn’t seen since 2005 — and snapped a quick shot before we parted ways.

When Allaix was invited to do an artist residency for the month of October at the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Culture Park (台灣原住民族文化園區) in Sandimen, he thought, why not arrive in Taiwan a month early and trek down the entire east coast?

“I’ve seen too many bad examples of artists being invited to a residency overseas and not immersing themselves in the local culture,” Allaix says.

A part-time tour guide in Berlin, he’s used to walking and has walked for six to eight hours a day before — in cities as busy as Cairo and Los Angeles. Naturally, walking seemed like the ideal way to become more acquainted with Taiwan’s people, environment and culture.

“By walking, you can see so many layers of society,” he says.

Part of the joy of walking is stumbling across situations that you wouldn’t normally encounter traveling by car or train. At the beginning of his journey, for instance, Allaix made a wrong turn and ended up in a convention for Buddhist monks.

For Allaix, walking and thinking are very similar since you need to constantly make decisions. At the same time, he also finds walking to be very therapeutic.

“It’s the rhythm of the body, not the machine — the simple pleasure that comes from having your feet on the ground,” he says.

BEYOND SUPERFICIAL

The residency, which is co-organized by the culture park, the French Institute in Taipei and La Maison Laurentine in northeastern France, aims to foster relations between the two countries. While Allaix will be living and working with Aborigines in Sandimen, two Aboriginal artists will be heading to La Maison Laurentine.

Allaix will be the only artist from abroad, although there will be other Taiwanese artists taking part in the residency. He will be staying with a local Aboriginal family, where he hopes to learn more about their lives and the issues affecting their communities.

“My hope is that it won’t stay superficial,” Allaix says. “I don’t want it to be a show of happy Aboriginal people doing their traditional crafts.”

Rather, he wants to have deeper conversations about topics such as the displacement of Aboriginal tribes. While Allaix has yet to decide what his project will be or if Aboriginality will be a predominant theme, he was moved by the work of another French artist whose work touched upon the relocation of Aboriginal tribes to Sandimen after typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan in 2009.

What’s known for sure is that this year’s participants in Sandimen are required to work with photography for the exhibition opening on Oct. 30. Instead of printing his photographs though, Allaix is considering having them projected on a screen.

“I like the feeling of immateriality,” he says.

It’s a safe bet to say that his final product will touch upon some sort of social issue inspired by his observations and encounters in Taiwan since his previous work doesn’t shy away from such commentary.

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