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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anyone for culture?

T'aichung (Taichū) 台中, for some reason, likes to call itself a "city of culture". Anyone who has spent some time in Taiwan's third-largest city might be surprised to hear that, considering the number of shady businesses that can be seen in almost all areas of the wannabe metropolis. T'aichung's current mayor, Jason Hu (Ko Shikyō) 湖志強, has been working to make the city live up to its nickname, unlike his predecessor Chang Wen-ing, who spent the last year of her administration handing out permits to virtually anyone who wanted to open a pachinko パチンコ parlor (and there were many!). Unfortunately, he's been wasting his efforts on futile attempts to land local branches of well-known museums or spending large sums of money on white elephants like opera houses, when the money instead could be used to combat T'aichung's crime rate (the highest of any city in Taiwan), or improve unglamorous but necessary items like sewage systems.

In one respect, however, T'aichung does have something to be proud of in the culture department. There may not be many galleries around town, but there is the excellent National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, which I visited this afternoon in lieu of going hiking. On show is Viewpoints & Viewing Points - 2009 Asian Art Biennial, featuring 56 artists, art groups and film directors from 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The 144 works on display cover a wide range of media, ranging from standard paintings to video installations. Best of all, it's free of charge:

Like many exhibitions, the displays tend to be hit or miss, but most were interesting, if not always successful in their stated ambitions. Photography wasn't allowed, and the heavy-handed presence of attendants in each room stopped me from sneaking any shots, but here is a brief listing of some of the installations that had me stopping to take longer looks:

"Some Memorial Flags" (Louisa Bufardeci, Australia) combined statistical data about things such as internet access and political affiliations to create new national flags for a grouping of countries that included Turkey and Kyrgyzstan;
"Bloated City and Skinny Language" (Hung Keung, Hong Kong) was a fun installation that had 漢字-like symbols following an image of the viewer projected onto one wall of a small room;
"Last Riot-Last Riot 2" (AES+F, Russia) had disturbing scenes of beautiful young people threatening each other with samurai swords 日本刀 and baseball bats against a computer-generated background of changing scenes, in beautiful HD video and set to music that sounded much like gagaku 雅楽 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gagaku;
"The Edge of the Heaven" (Lin Jia-an, Taiwan) was a collection of large black-and-white photographs showing industrial scenes of Taiwan;
"Paramodelic-graffiti" (Paramodelic, Japan) is one to keep the kids away from, not because it may be too disturbing, but because it's a floor-to-ceiling and all four walls-installation of toys cars, race tracks, plastic farm animals and erector sets. One child couldn't resist while I was there, much to the consternation of one of the attendants;
The paintings of Taiwanese artist Lien Chien-hsing were interesting in their blending of idyllic nature scenes and wild animals in unexpected ways;
"Religion Space" (Qu Yan, China) was a series of photographs of the interiors of makeshift Christian churches taken in rural Chinese villages;
The installation by Yang Mao-lin of Taiwan combined traditional Buddhist sculptures with modern pop icons like King Kong and Gigantor 鉄人28合;
"CU:Clesthyra's Undoing" (Tim Gruchy, Australia) sounded pretentious, but actually was a 360-degree screen showing changing scenery such as beaches and Chinese cemeteries;
"Double Happiness" (Chang Chien-chi, Taiwan) was a print and video documentary on Vietnamese brides and the Taiwanese men who pay for the privilege of meeting and marrying them.

The exhibition runs until February 28, 2010, and did I mention it was free? Upstairs, and being held concurrently with "Viewpoints & Viewing Points", is another show called "Mind Topology - the Phases of 2009 Korea" that looked worthwhile as well. Unfortunately, time was running short and there were some errands that needed to be done, so I had to leave. I did, however, take a walk through the Museum Art-park Way, which begins across the street from the art museum. The long, narrow park located on a meridian between two small roads, is in an area that's home to some of T'aichung's more aspiring cafes and Western eateries, as well as upscale Chinese and Japanese restaurants:
Eventually, it was time for the ride back to Fengyuan (Toyohara) 豊原, a city that has a culture center, but not much culture to put in it.


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