Erasing boundaries

This year’s Huashan Living Arts Festival seeks to break the boundaries separating art and recreation

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 - Page 12

Taipei has arts festivals aplenty these days and for the arts savvy, you can put your money down for a big-ticket imported act or an off-the-wall experimental production pretty much any time of the year. But for those less familiar with the ins-and-outs of the arts scene, finding something to watch can be a bewildering exercise.

The Performing Arts Alliance (表演藝術聯盟), which is the organizer for this year’s Huashan Living Arts Festival (2012 華山藝術生活節), has fixed on this the disjunction between art and ordinary life as the concept for this year’s festival, and through the design of the month-long festival, it aims to sweep aside boundaries between the artistic and the recreational.

“People queue up for May Day concert tickets,” said to Lin Pei-rung (林佩蓉), a staffer with the alliance said. “The audiences are definitely out there.” The challenge is to bring them in, and to this end the talents of two well-known designers have been sought to create the best possible environment to encourage engagement with the artistic life.

Boundaries swept aside

The logo for the festival this year is a huge windmill, which designer Akibo (李明道) told the Taipei Times represents the churning together not just of all kinds of arts, but also of all kinds of people. Akibo, who has created the visual design for the festival since its inception in 2010 said: “As this is the third year of the festival, and people are familiar with the festival, I felt we could focus on the conceptual element. A fan represents a drawing together of arts and people.”

The main festival street in Huashan was designed by architect Kung Shu-chang (龔書章), who has created a central avenue of kiosks that look outward to the warehouse buildings on either side. As a result, the information and ticketing booth are both turned away from the main entrance, a result that, according to Lin, is fundamental to the desire of the festival organizers not to reinforce artificial boundaries.

“In most theaters and the like, the box office faces the main entrance. It can be quite intimidating,” Lin said, suggesting that this kind of set up almost seemed to demand to know what your business before letting you through. “With this design, you are inside the environment already,” she said.

The box office does not bar your entrance, and in fact is as much an information kiosk as a sales counter, with videos of upcoming performances on the wall, folders with information about shows and artists, as well as a list of discounts for people buying tickets directly at the Huashan venue. Offering discounts at the venue, as opposed to online, goes directly against the current trend, but again is aimed at drawing people into the Huashan environment and its many other artistic temptations.

Take a punt on a show

“Being in this environment, with so much information available, people might be a bit more willing to take a punt on a show,” Lin said.

In addition to a wide range of shows for which tickets must be purchased in the conventional manner, there is also a huge range of free activities at Huashan to warm people up to the joys of art.

Walking on past the box office, there is a theatrical souvenir shop that contains books, videos, CDs and memorabilia from over 200 of Taiwan’s theatrical groups. It is also the venue for a variety of games that PAA is experimenting with. Public participation in these activities is encouraged through the offer of various free gifts.

Visitors can choose to select various potential activities that they might wish to participate in with artists, ranging from joining the artists for a beer to joining a expressionist workshop. “We will tally the results after the festival,” Lin said “and will present the results to the performance groups for them to consider.” According to Lin, this might open new avenues for artist/audience interaction rather than just the formal one that takes place in a theater.

Something for the kids

The installation created by Kung also has a mini maze created like a series of tunnels that children can clamber through. The surface of the maze is textured like rock, and the twists and turns make children move in ways that are not so different from dance. There is also a light and sound game box in which children are directed to make movements to touch points surround them, creating dance-like movements. This only operates on the weekends, when teachers from the Cloud Gate Dance School (雲門舞集舞蹈教室) are available to provide some direction.

Then there is the graffiti wall, a Perspex wall on which children can draw. Being transparent, this “wall” allows interaction between children on both sides, and Lin said was one of the most popular items in the set up.

Static displays in the Silian Building (四連棟) are also worth checking out, as it provides a tasting menu of the diverse arts that are now being created in Taiwan. There are listening stations which provide a huge range of audio content from contemporary local groups, and video stations that offer archive material of performances by Taiwan’s top artists. Videos are also projected onto screens in another area, and on weekends, mini theatrical events are performed, with time left over after each performance for the public to ask questions.

Outside performances

Best of all, every weekend there are lots of outdoor performances in which people can sit on the lawn, children and dogs can wander about, while anything from traditional puppet theater to acrobatics and contemporary dance are performed on stage. The evenings usually wrap up with a film screening: also usually something to do with the theater. Tonight there is Mao’s Last Dancer, with Hairspray tomorrow. On Oct. 27, check out the screening of Pink Floyds’ The Wall.

The festival runs through to Nov. 4, with three more weekends worth of activities. Detailed English program information about the festival is available at www.hlaf.com.tw.