Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Activism isn't all about movement. Individuals need a constant flow of information, group debate and thus reflection on their actions and ideas. A culture can be born of the fusion of the ideas from a dynamic group of people and a 'space' for constant interactions they can remain dynamic, constantly regenerating themselves to meet with oscillating circumstances.

Here eRenlai introduces you two bases of innovation, discussion and reflection. An activist factory and a platform for Socratean debate. Both serve coffee...

Go Straight Café (直走咖啡)

Go Straight Café was borne of the legacy of the Wild Strawberries student movement. After the movement was unsuccessful in its demands, they realized they needed a permanent space which would create the right environment to give birth to new ideas, relationships and energy. Two years later, Go Straight is not only the home of No Nuke Cultural Activism Group at the centre of the anti-nuclear movement, but has become a base and indeed the birthplace for many smaller social movements who may not have had the funds or the human resources to set up their own places.

As Yang Zixuan told me, "activists can't spend all their time on the streets protesting". There has to be something in between that. In between days of  protest, whether successful or not, there are constantly new laws, new injustices, new attempts to circumvent the regulations of democracy, the public must thus always remain vigilant. While this vigilance has become easier with the internet and the spread of social media it has also encountered new problems - for example it is easy to be extremely active on the internet, all the while being extremely inactive in the real physical world. This is somewhere Go Straight Café can help to translate vocal or blogger support into a more real activism. Here, hardened cafe activists, Yang Zixuan and Stef Pei discuss how Go Straight has facilitated activism since it was established in 2009 and how they personally have developed along with the cafe.

Go Straight Café can be found a five minute walk away from Taipower Building MRT at the following address: No.18, Alley 27, Section 3, Tingzhou Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City

Café Philo (慕哲咖啡館)

Although French philosophers, like Sartre spent hours a day frequenting a selection of café’s, turning and perfecting their ideas, it wasn't until 1992 that Marc Sautet set up the first of the cafés-philos in Paris. Although Taiwan's Cafe Philo is a space of debate above all, it has also become a gathering point for activists and NGO's, especially the Philosophy Friday held by the Youth Synergy Taiwan foundation (青平台 Qingpingtai). While other social enterprises directly manage social movements, Youth Synergy takes a more strategic role, providing a space (the Chinese translation is platform) and support to other movements. eRenlai interviewed Youth Synergy's Sean Hsieh, to find out more about what they were doing.

Cafe Philo's Philosophy Friday is a platform that touches on vary facets of society, a public think tank of sorts, where they provide the space and with it access to the information and involvement in debate to promote open data, open government and transparency in Taiwan. While they sometimes take on abstract philosophical questions, they also often take on issues of current affairs, inviting NGO's, social movement organisations and various legal and political experts. One of the main aims is to be able to communicate with the masses, so during these talks one of the organisers is always on site to rephrase any overcomplicated talk. Two Friday sessions that I attended were full of lively debate. Sean, told me that one of the things he was most pleased with was the participation of many older people in the debates, enjoying the chance to interact and share opinions with Taiwan's youth. To push for real societal change one cannot rely solely on one age group, nor can you rely simply on the more radical activists, that may be more present at places like Go Straight, who are directly involved in managing social movements. Thus opinions that are more radical than the society they are in, need a less radical platform in which they can communicate ideas. This is the challeange that Sean and the Cafe Philo team are trying to balance.

Café Philo can be found at No 20, Alley 60, Taishun Street (off Shida Road), Da an, Taipei

Both of these two 'spaces' have a different role to play in civil society in Taiwan. Over the last year they have both showed development into forces for social change. One thing for sure is that sometimes it's OK to sit back and have a sip of coffee with your social enlightenment.

(Photo: N.C.)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 17:46

Innovation in Anti-Nuke Protests

NoNuke Cultural Activism Group ("諾努客文化行動團隊" ) was set up in 2009 to protest Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant. In the following interview, Yang Zixuan and Pei Linong introduce some NoNuke cultural actions:

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 14:33

RadioARTivity

One thing that I couldn't brush from our eyes during the NoNuke preparation and enaction of the 4/30 anti-nuclear power demonstrations, was the formidable displays of innovation and DIY creativity. Following the conclusion of their first major manifestation on the 30th April, NoNuke understandably didn't want the momentum to slip. Within a week of the 4/30 manifestation, they held an exhibition combining ten works from different artists, divided up between and held simultaneously at three separate galleries. Once again it showed the incredible organizational skills of this young yet maturing movement.

Don't Brush off What You See (不可小覷) was a way of keeping the spirit of the movement alive, meanwhile documenting the efforts of the anti-nuclear movement over the past 18 months and allowing individuals participating in the movement resting time to reflect on themselves and let their creative spirits flow. For curator Esther Lu it was also an experiment,

"to weave artistic production into social movement to shift the sociality of art. Quite opposite to the form social intervention, it is a social practice of artists as citizens to participate in the ongoing social debates with their own artistic research and practice that address reality with different visibility. They may reshape and diminish the conventions and collective ideologies of a demonstration, and create dynamic flux in social movement."

While not necessarily the most visually enticing art exhibition I've ever been too, it was full of energy and creativity to change and influence the way people and society think about energy issues. It was clear that the artists had considered many facets of the nuclear question and were certainly not uninformed extremists. The exhibition was full of innovative concepts, combining performance art, design, cinematography, some conceptual inventions and even organic urban regeneration. For example, the Plum Tree Creek group presented a comprehensive urban re-planning for the Zhuwei community in New Taipei City. While this exhibition was perhaps fired off by the Fukishima explosions in March, the works as a whole did not simply enclose themselves in an oversimplified nor purely nuclear framework. Instead, they opened up a dialogue with the rest of society and between themselves in the movement, suggesting alternative ways of living, in order to tackle the imminent environmental and energy crises without the use of dangerous nuclear fuel.

The Nuclear Waste Terrorists, provided documentation of their performance art, in which they carried fake barrels of nuclear waste in downtown Taipei,  before having an 'accident' which they were left trying to contain. After securing the perimeter they proceeded to pour what one could only assume was iodine salts to bring the radiotion levels under control. This use of terror was certainly an effective way to make onlookers wonder - just how prepared are we to deal with nuclear waste disposal and nuclear leaks? This doubt was further backed up by the work 'We never expected this to happen' in which they made a model representation of a nuclear power plant which they filmed blowing up, they further invited the visitors to make their own model power plants. Another work was of the classroom science invention type, The Red Eyes of Tom Boy, showing how tomato juice could be use to power a home-made battery.

Being Taiwan, their had to be some cuter artistic representations - Wu Qiyu, with his work 'Number 1 and the Dog'. certainly met the requirements.  He used film to portray the demise of an alpha male dog, once with a body of steel, who sees his strength waning after eating infected fish from the waters nearby Taiwan's first nuclear power station. The dog first has a headache, then he feels nauseous, eventually he violently coughs up his brains, jaw and even his teeth.

One work, We Create Power really sums up the greater meaning of this exhibition. The work stipulates that all energy eventually stems from human creativity. Indeed, human energy creates possibilities; superhuman energy can create problems...

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