Mon, Dec 03, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Art and science intertwine at the Taipei Biennial

This year’s biennial positions the museum as an ecosystem where humans and nature meet

By Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Chang Ting-tong, Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains (2018).

Photos: Sherry Hsiao, Taipei Times

If you thought action on climate change was dead, think again, because the artists, activists and scientists at this year’s Taipei Biennial have something to say.

That’s right — scientists. Over a third of the participants at the 11th edition of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s (TFAM) expansive exhibition are not artists in the traditional sense. Instead, they come from various circles including writing, filmmaking and non-governmental organizations. Most of them have hyphenated professions, and they have set up their journals, specimens and diagrams inside the museum.

Curated by artist Wu Mali (吳瑪利) and veteran Italian curator Francesco Manacorda, Post-Nature — A Museum as an Ecosystem (後自然:美術館作為一個生態系統) involves 42 individual and group participants and their personal explorations within the natural environment.

Land of Hard Rain (苦雨之地) by Wu Ming-yi (吳明益) — whose novel The Stolen Bicycle (單車失竊記) was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize this year — is a series of vintage-style scientific illustrations of plant and animal species that one might find in a cabinet of curiosities, which Wu drew to accompany his collection of short stories that shares the same name. Wu’s penstrokes are as poetic as his words. “To a tuna, not to swim is suicide,” he writes in one description. “Every tuna’s body is a massive symbol of the restless struggle for existence.”

One of the installations sure to be popular with both adults and children is the interactive Neo Eden — Solar Insects Vivarium (新伊甸園 — 太陽能昆蟲生態箱) by a team led by Professor Chen Chu-yin (陳珠櫻) from Paris 8 University’s Department of Arts and Technologies of Imagery. When you shine a flashlight on the bionic creatures, the solar panels on their backs trigger a noise that sounds partly like a metal detector and partly like a cricket. It was fascinating to see how easily people accepted an imitation of nature, and then jumped at the chance to control it with their battery-powered tools. If wires and electronic parts can replace insects, what could replace humans?

Next door, the sense of humans observing from on high heightens with Ingo Gunther’s Worldprocessor. Over 30 years, the artist-journalist-researcher has used hundreds of illuminated globes to map out everything from global wine consumption to migration to New York City. Gunther’s work appears to be a commentary on our need to analyze and categorize everything on our planet.

Despite at times feeling like an aesthetically-charged science convention, the exhibition is at least as nostalgic and sensuous as it is analytical. In Scenery Near Yuanshan: Silence and Commotion beside the Keelung River (圓山附近:傾聽基隆河畔的寂靜與喧囂), Laila Fan (范欽慧), who founded the Soundscape Association of Taiwan in 2015, recreates the soundscape of Taipei’s Yuanshan area in 1928, when artist Kuo Hsueh-hu (郭雪湖) painted Scenery Near Yuanshan (圓山附近).

Perhaps the most intimate moment at the biennial is created by Zheng Bo’s (鄭波) Pteridophilia (蕨戀). Tucked away in the innermost room of the basement, the three-part video series explores the concept of “ecosexuality” with scenes of performers making love to ferns.

Of course, no discussion about the impact of human activity on the environment would be complete without addressing the exploitation of Aboriginal peoples and their land, past and present. The slogan “No one is an outsider” has since been adopted by advocates for other issues, but it originated from an ongoing protest against new government regulations that diminish Aboriginal land rights stipulated in the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法).

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