Erenlai - Nick Coulson (聶克)
Nick Coulson (聶克)

Nick Coulson (聶克)

I was born in sunny Torbay on the south western coast of England's green and pleasant lands. I'm prowling the streets, parks and ruins of Taiwan hunting for absurdities and studying the sociology of the underground. Furthermore with our nomadic arts and action space "The Hole" we attempt to challenge rigid and alienating structures.


Saturday, 08 March 2014 00:00

After the Bomb…The Next Memory

On entering the no.4 warehouse in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park for the originally named Taipei Original Festival 2013 (原創基地2013), one is informed that they are about to be taken on a journey back to ‘La Belle Époque’. La Belle Époque was a time supposedly full of optimism and joie de vivre in late 19th and early 20th Century France, when there was a relative peace between turmoil and war and the arts were brought into everyday urban life. Technological advances were numerous: automobiles, motion pictures and neon lights were invented, vaccinations were developed and radioactivity was discovered, all leaving legacies which have shaped modern life. This year’s City, Play Stage (城市‧遊‧戲台), curated by Meta Hong (洪雅純), borrowed the idea of La Belle Époque to refer to the period since democratisation in Taiwan. The songs of local rock band Mayday (五月天), love tracks such as Love, Love-ing (戀愛ing) and Peter and Mary (志明與春嬌) were chosen to represent the era, alongside the legacy of the island’s rapid advancement to become a top global exporter and science & technology hub.


Passing through to the Sound Lab, visitors are immediately hit with a sonorous stun grenade by the huge, bold and booming techno robots, designed by Akibo (李明道). After recovering your blunted senses as the inebriating loud music pauses, the visual multi-luminosity of colours on the screen wall opposite come into view in which direction the Akibo bots appear to be blasting their lasers. The multi-coloured screen is psychedelic, trippy and visually pleasing, leaving shadows of nature hidden amongst the minimalist white warehouse setting. Occasionally small shards of lightning flitter across the screen, in this work which gently nudges rather than slaps your senses, subtle enough that many of the visitors will miss the sparkles completely and move on, numbed as their senses are by the smorgasbord of sound coming from works in all directions of the warehouse.


In his work, The Next Memory, the sound mélange is something French artist Alexis Mailles is trying to convey of his observations about sound culture in Taiwan. For Mailles, Taipei exists in a constant noise barrage, “Sound is coming out of all the shops, all the time, all mixed together and everyone is really used to it, it’s quite incredible, people work 12 hours a day in that sound, which would be unthinkable in Paris, and it doesn't seem to bother anyone.”As a sound installation artist, Mailles is used to having a space where the loops he produces play in unison with the visual installation on display. Here, for the first time he did not add any sound to his installation, deciding not to go into open battle with the dominant sound forces of his surroundings, and instead adopting guerrilla warfare with the use of huge spotlights and colour glistening amongst the white noise.

“The war is to let something different exist,” Mailles claims. “Contemporary art is very distant from mainstream Taiwanese culture. There is Karaoke, there is culture but they seem to have no need for art.” At this sort of commercial event with one warehouse for exhibitions and performances and one warehouse full of shops, all creative culture is lumped together including student works, design pieces, technological displays, sound, installation and performances. Whether or not Mailles' musings on Karaoke culture fairly represent the visibility of contemporary art in Taiwan, in this setting, he feels any piece of art is going to lose its context. The work that goes on behind is forgotten and undergoes a 'recuperation’ as just another piece of culture like all the rest. This as an appropriation and commodification of culture, by commerce, from the people with whom culture belongs and a recuperation of art from the artists.

To allow art to exist in this space, rather than confronting mainstream consumer culture directly, the installation chooses to focus on lighting instead of competing and adding to the sound inebriation. Even if people can take the time to breathe, to concentrate amongst the information overload just a little, that is enough to suggest that there are different ways of doing things; a little bit of terrorism, without direct confrontation. This is a minor detournément[1], a hacking of Belle Époque linguistics to provide the vocabulary for different opinions to exist and be expressed in mainstream culture.

“Can we hack culture?” asks Mailles. With a background in computer engineering, it is perhaps not surprising that he prefers to adopt the philosophy of the hacker to that of the artist. He feels that hackers are now freer than artists, with fewer rules, and find it easier to reuse one thing for another function. “In the hacker philosophy the beauty does not come from the composition, but from its efficiency.” And nothing is more efficient than growth in nature, with branches and foliage always finding a way over, under, around and through the proceeding obstacles. While putting the installation together with land artist Chris Lee (李蕢至) they also tried to follow this principle of efficiency. Mailles points out the example of the bamboo which holds up the spotlights: rather than fixing them at level points, he fixed the nodes at the strongest point of the bamboo, the joint, leaving a pattern reminiscent of musical notation.


The hacker philosophy also emphasises transparency and openness. The process behind open source software is not hidden, instead the full workings of their creations are there for the whole world to see. Indeed, those who stay a little longer to appreciate may continue on to see the workings of the installation, behind the screen wall on which they are reflected, though some curiosity is required to venture into the hidden away room. Mailles works always make sure to include this surface aesthetic or retinal layer and colour manipulation, creating a space in which some people not yet versed in the complexity of contemporary arts might yet stay longer and reach a deeper level of contemplation (see my 2010 eRenlai’s interview about his works). Chris Lee’s trademark is the creation of natural settings in built spaces or the reconstruction of natural landscapes, always with an emphasis on the greater interconnectedness of nature (see blog for Lee’s impressive collection of works). With electricity cables laced amongst plants, lamps perched on branches, and spotlights affixed on bamboo, we feel nature’s reinvasion of the artificial city and here we feel the subversive charm of the work. With the booming robots visible through the cloth screen, you are in a living imprint of humanity after the apocalypse, where only machines and plant-life remains.


Mailles felt it rather ironic that he was invited to make an installation based on Mayday and a vague, optimistic notion of the wonderful years. He used The Noah’s Ark song which Mayday performed for a year leading up to the supposed Mayan apocalypse as a starting point for building a piece themed on “La Belle Époque”. In the lyrics of the apocalyptic No Where tour (末日版), Mayday asked:

"At last, all we can take away is the garden called memory [...] Which memories to be kept for commemoration?" (最後我們只能帶走名為回憶的花園[...] 你会装进什么回忆纪念).

With the planet still standing, Mayday immediately began to perform the optimistic play on words Now Here (明日版) version of the tour. Mailles’ work is not so optimistic. The age of crises is not over. Noah’s Ark was based on disasters dispatched by God. The disasters of the day are now manmade. Since the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 and the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the world has lived in fear of a human-caused destruction of the living planet. We are reminded of pictures of Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster, where nature now exists, aesthetically crawling over the human ruins, trees climbing up walls, and all is silent. There is still a sense of impending nuclear disaster after Fukushima, and one legacy of Taiwan’s Belle Époque is to become the most densely nuclear producing area in the world as it continues to expand its nuclear capacities. In this context, the work poses us the question, what could be left over, what might be “The Next Memory”?


But how many people will go behind the screen, appreciate the layers of work behind it, let alone be affected by it? And perhaps there lies the true irony of this cultural hack, an exasperated self-mocking of sorts, destined as the deeper meaning is to remain hidden behind a façade of colourful allure.

The following quotation from Marcel Proust’s novel, Swann's Way, included in the work's introduction, gives a hint of the cultural hack Mailles is performing, making salient the absurdity of this memory-fest. After taking a bite into his madeleine cake, the protagonist proceeds to contemplate the memory that has been stimulated by the taste, questioning the essence of memories contained in objects:

"When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."

(Translation by Scott Moncrieff)


“After the bomb, after the people are dead,” Mailles explains, “the vast structure of recollection is far less credible…” 


Watch a video of the installation:


Photos courtesy of the artist.

Alexis Mailles can be found at the Instant 42 studio in Luzhou, Taipei

[1] A rerouting, hijacking or hacking of the expressions of media culture and the capitalist system, pushed by the Letterists, the Situationists from the 60s and later the culture jammers.



Tuesday, 25 February 2014 00:00

Gleaning for Intimacy at the Mountains and Margins of Taipei

At the mountains and the margins of Taipei exist diverse unique ecologies, old communities and new socio-experimental laboratories. These can act as liminal spaces giving us clues to alternative ways of living in the increasingly globalised, homogenous modern city. Exploring the remnants of leftover architecture, nature and community doesn't necessarily leave us inebriated on irretrievable moments of the past, but can inspire us to creative solutions and ways of living in the future.

Huanmin Village is a unique historical and architectural gem of a community, assembled upwards from the foot of Toad Mountain, Taipei, the last mountainside military dependents' village remaining. Military dependents' villages are makeshift communities built by Mainlander soldiers and their families who came to Taiwan in the aftermath of the Chinese civil war. With a lack of space to accommodate the huge influx of immigrants, most of the communities were built in leftover pockets of land, often at the mountain or the riverside. The Toad Mountain settlement lies at the margins between the natural and urban jungle, was built with a gleaners ethic and maintains an intimate community life increasingly elusive in our cities. In 2013 the decision was taken to partly demolish the settlement to make way for campus development. This triggered an ongoing preservation movement, from which time we decided to explore, document, question and connect with the community and the movement while it still existed. 



Gleaning for Intimacy (山城台北)is a film by Pinti Zheng and Nicholas Coulson


For more information on the Toad Mountain history, preservation movement and The Hole’s urban projects, see:\

Wednesday, 02 September 2009 01:47

Gleaning in Taipei

For eRenlai’s September Focus, Benoit Vermander uses the story of Hercules and the Hydra with Seven Heads as a metaphor for the global crises. In a personal reflection, one concept which I thought attacked several of the hydra’s heads at the same time was that of ’gleaning’.

I was inspired after watching French director Agnes Varda’s film "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse." This touching documentary which reflects on a legendary old Jean Francois Miller painting ‘Les Glaneurs’ takes us on a trip across France to follow different modes of gleaning - from traditional gleaning at the end of the harvest, to urban gleaning which recycles garbage and waste, the victims of consumption. Thus, in the film, Agnes interviews people of alternative lifestyles (whether out of necessity or choice) where she incorporates concepts of non-waste, austerity, recycling and new age living and looks into French laws in a time of impending environmental crises.

Bringing this concept close to home, one year ago, Paris’ Musée d’Orsay lent the National Museum of History in Taiwan Jean-Francois Millet’s painting, Les Glaneurs (Gleaners). The image of gleaners collecting the leftovers of a harvest in times of austerity initially came across as boring and simple to my untrained eye. However, after watching a French film directed by Agnes Varda called ‘Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse’ (The Gleaners and I) I was inspired and began to understand the depth of meaning and present-day relevance of the painting in the age of waste and triumph of consumption. Suddenly, this was a work of art which captivated and re-instilled faith in our ancestors.

In the film, Agnes briefly focuses on Alain, an urban glaneur who feeds himself from vegetables and fruits left by grocers when markets end. Despite holding a Masters in Biology, he chose to live in a refuge, teaching French to immigrants living off the market’s leftovers.

Alain’s story inspired me in my research on gleaning in Taiwan, and in my personal lifestyle. I searched around my room, after almost a year of living here, and I noticed that it is rampant with gleanings. Though not all of the collections can be considered as ’gleaning for a better world,’ even in the more modern sense, they all fit into a rather waste-less and thrift lifestyle. Certainly, gleaning for reasons of short or long term poverty is as credible as gleaning out of principle. Furthermore I felt a revelation that it’s natural human and animal activity. We are the hunter-gatherers.

Thus from this point onwards, I’ll cover a series on different manifestations of a gleaning nature in Taiwan and Asia. From gleaning in its purest form - like a farm in Pingdong, Southern Taiwan which allowed neighbours and a neighbouring villages to glean from their own fields, due to the fall of beans prices, to more modern and urban manifestations of gleaning, where we see the ’shi huang’ people (拾荒者), the ’bottle collectors’ who pick empty bottles from the parks and the sidewalks often able to make a living. For example my spiritual home in Shida park, where under the watchful eye of the squirrel of hope who is leaping towards the sky, are various bottle collectors and recyclers of different forms who are the critical link in the journey of the Taiwan Beer bottles’ journey from the last remaining local newsagent in the Shida night market, to our mouths, through the recycling plant and all the way back such is their circle of life

Such examples remind us that alternative, environmentally sustainable lifestyles are available to us, and we will search out examples that could inspire reflection and action.

Sunday, 01 December 2013 00:00

Toad Mountain Edge Effects

For students of NTU, Gongguan's café hipster youth and the high density of foreigners and government officials in the surrounding area, Toad Mountain (蟾蜍山) is merely a beautiful mountain ink landscape backdrop as one walks down Roosevelt Rd, as that painted by the traditional oil paint artist He Cong (何從):

Monday, 08 March 2010 17:53

Foreign students in Asia: From teacher to student

Please introduce yourself and what you are doing currently. What is your educational background?
My name is John Perry*. I am a Canadian who has been working as an English teacher and editor in Taiwan for more than 7 years. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Canada studying marketing and psychology.

How do you regard the quality of your courses and universities?
I was quite pleased with the quality of the education that I received in Canada, however it was quite a long time ago, when I was very young, so I believe I had a different outlook then. Finishing school and getting good grades were more the priorities when I was doing my undergrad rather than getting the best education I could get. All in all, I thought the professors generally did a good job, it was challenging and I certainly got something out of it after graduating.

I have mixed feelings with the experience as a MBA student in Taiwan. With regards to the professors, I feel that most did a good job at trying to educate us. The lectures were generally well prepared and the professors showed that they cared about their students’ performance. However, I question the way in which they held students accountable for their performance. I recall when I started my program that it was required for first year students to maintain an 80% average or otherwise students could be taken out of the program; for second year students, 70% was a passing grade. I was a bit nervous at first thinking that attaining an 80% would be challenging while holding a full time job. After the first year though it became clear that grades were given out arbitrarily and that passing was almost a given provided that I did most of the work and showed up for class. I took my studies seriously and received very high grades. Most of my grades were above 90%, some even over 95%. After a while this came to be expected on my part. This was never the case when I studied in Canada where getting over an 85% required a lot of work and was never taken as a given. I found that there were a lot of open book tests or adjusted grades in my Masters program, something that I never experienced in the past. There were even cases where it was obvious students plagiarised and they were never penalised for this.

Your class is 1/5th foreigners. How do Taiwanese students differ from foreigner students? Are there areas where they could learn from the foreigners? Do you think the Taiwanese system provides a good academic setting for foreign students?
A major difference between Taiwanese students and foreign students (western) I found, was that Taiwanese students were not willing to participate in class, even if the professor specifically expressed that participating was part of the grade. Participating here means voluntarily sharing ideas, asking questions or debating with the professors or other students. I think part of this is due to the fact that the program that I studied was in English and some students were reluctant to speak out, fearing that their English was not good enough but I also feel that the teaching method in Taiwan is didactic; where the teacher tells students what is what and students do not question it, or it is seen as disrespectful to do so. In fact, in some courses that I studied even though participation was part of the grade on the syllabus, professors seemed frustrated with the way that western students would speak out, but this is the way that we learn. It is accepted, and expected in our culture to learn this way. There also seems to be a lot more comradery among Taiwanese classmates than the foreign students. Foreign students seemed to have no problems debating with each other out in the open when they disagreed with comments made. I never saw this happen with the Taiwanese students. Taiwanese students seemed more willing to help each other out with assignments, be it individual or group, and develop a social network more easily simply because they were classmates.

I do feel that Taiwanese students would benefit more from more open participation or dialogue in class. Lectures at times seemed very passive. Many students were busy using their notebook computers rather than listening or interacting with the professor. But again, I believe that this kind of ‘listening’ has been encouraged from earlier education. There is so much emphasis on getting high scores on exams and students find ways to do that, and if listening in class does not contribute to attaining a high score then students probably won’t do it.

I think that there are pros and cons about the Taiwanese system and some things about it I found beneficial as a foreign national. Primarily, I felt that getting the opportunity to work in a multicultural environment was a definite advantage. Even though Canada is a country with people of different ethnicities, it sort of is a melting pot. Working in a classroom setting in groups with people from different nationalities provided me with the opportunity to get a real understanding of what working in a global environment would be like. It was challenging and even frustrating at times, but I definitely think that it was a positive experience that foreigners could definitely benefit from.

hub_kilian_fujen_uni_03_2010From your experiences and knowledge, how do you evaluate the Taiwanese education system? Do you think there are any areas for improvement and how do you think they could be improved on?
I have had quite a bit of experience with the Taiwan education system both as a teacher as well as a student. The education system in Taiwan certainly is different from what I experienced in Canada. I think it is well documented that in Taiwan generally there is an emphasis on rote memory learning. As a teacher of primary and secondary school age children I have found that in comparison to Canada, Taiwanese get an overwhelming amount of homework, spend more time in class both in compulsory schools and private cram schools and there is an overemphasis on testing. There also seems to be more pressure on students to achieve higher grades. One of the first surprises I encountered as a teacher was that students were expected to get grades higher than 90 or 95% and anything less was unacceptable to parents. This is far different from what I experienced in Canada where getting an 80-85% was considered a reasonable score. That being said, the testing in Taiwan seems to be designed so students can easily achieve high grades if they memorize bits and pieces of information (there is much more reliance on multiple choice-questions where the answer is provided and does not require the student to reflect on what they have learned and express themselves). When I started teaching English I would often ask open-ended questions giving the students a chance to use what they have learned and explain themselves. This did not go over well. A lot of the times the students thought I was being unfair, complaining that I did not teach them the answer or often asked me how many sentences they need to write to answer the question and when I gave them a minimum number, that is exactly what I got. When I gave scores of 80 – 90% and complimented them for good performance, students, school administrators and parents were less than pleased. This I believe is a disadvantage and results in students either lacking the confidence or ability to express themselves or make any attempt at deviating from what the teacher or texts have taught. Some call this “thinking outside the box.”

I do admire Taiwanese students’ dedication to their studies and the seriousness with which they do study. I am amazed at how some students, as young as 4 or 5 are able to speak sometimes more than 2 languages and the knowledge they have at that age. What is also amazing is that they enjoy learning. I have seen this with the young kindergarten and grade school age children but this enthusiasm seems to change once they get into secondary school. In my opinion I really don’t see the need for so many cram schools (math, science, English etc.) but it seems that it is the norm here. As an English teacher I was quick to realize that ‘cram’ schools are exactly what they are. The curricula at most schools involve numerous books and teachers are told to pile on homework, even though students often don’t have the time to finish or do it correctly. Accountability again is an issue here because how often does a student get held back for not performing up to standard and completing the expected work? There are problems but at the end of the day students usually learn English and progress as they continue which I guess is the goal. It just seems strange with all the bells and whistles that go with it that make it look like more than what it is.

Do you think the Taiwanese education system does enough to produce well rounded members of society; tools for a strong democracy; the creativity, hard work and enterprise to progress civil society and develop the country in an equal, fair manner?
As mentioned already, I feel that the education system should emphasize more open expression rather than right or wrong. This would encourage students to be more willing to deviate from the norm and contribute to more creative thinking. I am not saying that the western style of educating is the right way. I admire Taiwanese students’ work ethic and diligence, but I think an education system that was not so fixated on quantifying and measuring (test scores) would promote more willingness to come up with individual ideas. With my experience working in Taiwan in both schools and in an office environment, although limited, I found that organisations are very centralised and managers are not as willing, compared to western organisations, to delegate responsibility. Employees work long and hard hours, much like students, but do as they are told and deviating is not an option even if going off the path would be beneficial. Taiwan certainly has prospered and companies are doing well, especially in the IT industry but I feel that if company policies encouraged their staff to contribute more and gave them more discretion, the situation could be even better and the work environment would be better for many. This of course is coming from western eyes, and how I would prefer things to be. In the end, I think that the education system should do more to encourage individual creativity starting at a young age.

*John Perry is not the interviewee's real name

(Photos provided courtesy of Hubert Kilian, taken at Fu Jen University, Taipei county, 2010)

Sunday, 01 December 2013 00:00

Liminal Realms at the Mountains and the Margins of Taipei


The Mountains and the Margins of Taipei


As the second of our two-part feature on nature and the city, Shanshui Taipei, we explore Taipei's mountains. The mountains represent the natural frontier of the city, the border between the natural jungle and the urban jungle, but also the border between a standardized modus operandi of urban living and the diverse community lifestyles on the periphery, detached as they are from the daily reliance on the mainstream structures of the urban core.

Friday, 01 November 2013 16:10

In Search of the Source: Sunlighting the Liugong Canal

Dr Chun-E Kan, a retired professor of the Department of Agricultural Engineering, NTU, has been working in hydraulics and sustainability most of his life. The completion of his lifework would be the 'Sunlighting' or the re-opening of Liugong Canal, an irrigation channel running through Taipei, which is now buried underneath asphalt or concrete. However, his magnum opus is not yet complete. It has been 12 years since he submitted a proposal for a sustainable, economically inexpensive and romantic plan to bring clean rainwater back into Taipei City, starting off with the reopening of the stretch of the Liugong Canal which flows through National Taiwan University's campus. While it had been largely accepted at the time, Dr Kan has already seen a decade of retirement pass without any real action being taken to implement the plan. Negotiating the complex city and university bureaucracies make it extremely difficult to put a large scale engineering plan into action. We met with Dr Kan in the company of Professor Elijah Chang of NTU's Department of Building and Planning and her doctoral student Wu Chen-Ting who have also conducted research projects relating to the Liugong Canal.

As Dr Kan explained to us, the problem with water in the Taipei basin is that ever since dense urbanisation of the whole basin began in the Japanese era, what the government has feared the most was the crippling inundations during Typhoons, thus governments have aimed to get the rainwater out of the city and into the river as quickly as possible. For example, underneath the wide Keelung road, there was a huge underground passageway taking all the rainwater water straight down to the polluted Songshan River - a natural resource wasted. The Chinese idiom 'bamboo sprouts spring after rainfall' (雨後春筍) is commonly used to signify things springing up everywhere. Yet if all your rainfall is immediately flushed from the city, what can grow? You are left with an urban desert, where sand is replaced by concrete, and only shrubbery breaks through. In fact almost all the ponds in Taipei, despite perhaps bringing classical Chinese teachers to a emphatic sigh of contentness and harmony, are actually connected to the city waterworks using a hugely energy consuming pump system; meanwhile, the underground canals are now mostly polluted water. Essentially after more than 200 years of using a very sustainable engineering facility, the Liugong Canal, we no longer have any natural clean water sources fertilizing the lands and communities of Taipei. 

"The question we are facing today is how we can make the water stay a little bit longer in our living environment," said Professor Chang. "In fact this is the same question as 270 years ago, except then it was irrigation canals for farming purposes. Now we are trying to irrigate our communities." She felt that any project that started from the premise that we need to reopen a long defunct canal, for nostalgic or post-modern design purposes, was no different from any other costly beautification project. "The key is finding where the water is."

The spirit of the Liugong Canal was that of searching out the source, and for Professor Chang any project which did not first solve the problem of bringing in clean rainwater to the city rather than using reservoir water, defeated the purpose. Nowadays all the clean water in the city comes down from the huge reservoir in Pinglin. But as Prof. Chang explains, with the unpredictability of changing global weather patterns it is feasible that the reservoir could at times dry up, if that happened, how would Taipei's communities acquire there daily living water needs.

It was based on this premise that Professor Kan has always worked on his 'sunlighting' project. His Liugong dream is to first bring clean rainwater back to the NTU campus, restoring the NTU section of the Liugong Canal (Fig 1). His new even more cost effective plan is to channel natural rainwater flows from the nearby Toad Mountain. By researching various other rainwater canal systems in places with far less rainfall than Taipei, such as Stratford-Upon-Avon in the UK, he has determined it is not only feasible but also economically thrifty to channel Toad Mountains rainflow. This lower starting cost of the plan makes the project less daunting to politicians, the university and other possible sponsors such as the Liugong Irrigation Association. Most importantly it is environmentally sustainable, saving much energy in the long run as it operates largely without using energy. The plan also incorporates water cleaning facilities, inside a mound of debris which comes from the extra stretch of canal to be dug up in the process of linking the pre-existing canal route to NTU's infamous Drunken Moon Lake. The cherry on top of this project is the drum tower built on top of the mound (Fig 3). The drum tower is a historical reference to the original drum tower (guting), which was constructed to serve as a guard tower warning for attacks by the local indigenous population on the Liugong Canal construction workers and farmers. It is also the namesake of the Guting area of Taipei, though the 'gu' character has since been simplified from 'drum' (鼔) to 'ancient' (古). The rain coillecting waterway which would descend Toad Mountain like a spiralling slide, also has a walking path fixed on top which both controls the amount of water to avoid flooding the campus during Typhoons, and also brings the mountain back to the community. One major difficulty with this part of the plan is that the intended mountainside is owned by the airforce, and as yet off limits to the public. Finally, the plan appeals to the imagery of a canal campus like that of Cambridge University, UK, which has been a romantic ideal for many top Chinese students since the Qing Dynasty poet Xu Zhimo referenced Cambridge in his poem "farewell once again Cambridge" while studying there in 1928. Eventually becoming a pinnacle for aspiring Chinese academics. Cambridge University also erected a stone tablet with the first and last two sentences of Xu Zhimo's poem, immortalising the poet in ROC history.

Reading the poem, one imagines Xu Zhimo spending hours staring at the River Cam and dreaming. The shadows of the trees, the duckweed and the gentle rippling of the river seemed to set off his imagination. In the second line of this stanza Xu Zhimo says "is not springwater, but a heavenly rainbow" Ironically Cambridge, despite its rainfall of only 700mm, compared to Taipei's 2800, is surrounded by natural rainwater canals. If Cambridge can find enough rainwater for a 15-metre river, then so can NTU. In the stanza of the poem below he talks of a rainbow of dreams that are hidden amongst the floating grass in the springwater:

That pool in the shade of elm trees,
is not springwater, but a heavenly rainbow;
crumbling amongst the floating grasses,
the settling rainbow seems like a dream.


See here for original and full translation by Hugh Grigg

If the world beating success of Cambridge is anything to go by, a canal campus can inspire dreams in future leaders and visionaries. Creating even better study conditions for the academic elite is perhaps a dream for nobles, but if it was just a starting point for the re-irrigation of community life, it could be a noble dream nonetheless. If Dr Kan's plan was put into action it would be an important starting point for bringing water from natural sources back into different parts of the city, starting from the particularly visible and influential base of the NTU campus. It would be a huge life achievement for Dr Kan, but also a step forward in making Taipei a more sustainable water city.

taida map1Fig 1: The preexisting underground canal route and extension to Drunken Moon Lake on the NTU campus 

taida map2Fig 2: Possible alternative waterway routes on the NTU campus

 mountain liugongFig 3: The water cleaning mountain at NTU, with the drum tower on top.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013 21:40

Reopening the Liugong Canal. Sustainable Synergies?

Despite having spent hours on end frequenting a café which bordered one of the few remaining open sections of the 250-year old Liugong Canal, it was years after my arrival in Taipei before I began to understand its significance. While conducting eRenlai's May 2011 feature, Beyond the Pale, exploring marginal architecture in Taiwan, I came across and began exploring the works of the Ruin Academy where I was greatly intrigued by architect Marco Casagrande's mission of returning Taipei's citizens to nature and reality, including his vision for Taipei river urbanism. Casagrande went on to win the 2013 European Prize for Architecture, particularly for his ideas such as systematically including the 'local knowledge' of community and environment in urban planning and design, or healing the city with urban acupuncture, ideas explained in the following short documentary:

finish students liugong taipeiLater I gave some minor assistance with pre-arrival research and communication to a group of students from Aalto University's Sustainable Global Technologies Studio, under Casagrande's direction. They were building a multifaceted proposal for the reopening of the now underground Liugong Canal, with the idea of bringing people back to water and water back to the city. Just exploring above the old flow of the canal was a de-alienating experience, as I described and reported to them in the fullest detail what I saw along the way. It was foreplay with the land, getting to know Taipei as I ran my feet along the Liugong Canal, my first topography of Taipei's curves and quirks, searching, sniffing, seeing and feeling. These explorations formed the basis for a long term relationship with the Liugong Canal, which has only grown in intensity with time.

When the Finnish team of Virva Kajamaa, Kätlin Kangur, Riikka Koponen, Niklas Saramäki, Kristina Sedlerova and Sanna Söderlind arrived in Taipei, I also joined them in their explorations of an island of farming allotments surviving in the middle of the Danshui River, hidden and protected from the development of the metropolis. These explorations of alternative city lifestyles were empowering in themselves, as free running or parkour is to traceurs. It was an exercise in what social philosopher and Jesuit, Michel de Certeau[1] would call 'walking in the city', the practice of everyday resistance, where the people use everyday 'tactics' to survive and make consumer choices based on adapting to the constraints of city, yet never being fully controlled by them. This 'walking in the city' is a symbiosis between memory and action, creating the opportunity to change the existing spatial power relations. Indeed it was this social opportunism which interested me the most about the project. Behind these spatial aesthetics, there was an anarchic attempt to re-empower the community, strengthen social relations and release individuals from the excesses of the legal state, government power and market conformity.

Before they completed their field trip and returned to Finland I invited the Ruin Academy to a forum at our nomadic arts and action space, The Hole, to explain their ideas for bringing the people back to the river and the river back to the people. Novelist and curator Roan Ching-yue questioned the soundness of Casagrande's theoretical construction in the second part of the discussion and in particular the discrepancy between the ideas of urban farmers and a nomadic city. This led to an interesting discussion which touches the heart of the urban planning problem here - the psyche inherited from the KMT that Taipei is just a temporary home.

The final work of the Aalto University students was completed in 2012 under the name of Sustainable Synergies: The Leo Kong Canal (full pdf available). The plan included wetlands, parks, recreational canal streets, water cleaning facilities and far more ideas. The commitment to social innovation was particularly interesting:

Social innovation is often considered difficult to recognize since it is out of our sights and habits. The crux of the social part of the work became a search for a creative "hidden potential" so that the resource of our ideas and plans come from existing actions, traditions and memories, which are left unattended and can be illegal but as an integral part of the design process will enhance our attempt to create more sustainable solutions and raise the overall well-being.

Under social innovation we mean to:
- Improve social cohesion;
- Involve and improve the conditions of marginalized people;
- Promote systems enabling social integration between different generations;
- Enhance peculiar local cultural characteristics;
- Develop systems to encourage and foster local communities and network-structured initiatives;
- Adapt participatory approach and collective use of infrastructure. (p24)

The above are guiding principles by which to de-alienate the city from its memory (inter-generational dialogue), from other humans (community activity) and from our own agency (to act without permission). Throughout his work with the Ruin Academy, Casagrande emphasizes the need for cross-disciplinary research, and has tried to involve NTU sociologists and sociology students into their urban planning projects. Furthermore he has stated his will to bring further community participation into the design of the Liugong Canal project.

That said, while there were some interesting design suggestions put forward, one member of the proposal team, Kristina, questioned the social validity of the housing side of the project, which it was claimed would not really bring people closer to the river as it constructed 3 to 5 mega-expensive buildings "for some privileged people, who have the money to buy apartments there...". Others criticize the willingness of the Ruin Academy to collaborate with big development companies of the status quo, whilst claiming to be focused on social innovation. This criticism however is also related to one of the Ruin Academy team's greatest strengths. They are dreamers who believe that nothing is impossible and will find a way to make things happen, using the system when it suits them to further a project, yet never really giving up their autonomy and right to action.

In terms of sociological rigor and social fairness, these proposals may still need some research; nevertheless, further cross-disciplinary research with a focus on local knowledge can only help to create a more durable, fairer urban planning, which is more respectful to the community and individual agency. Furthermore, the holistic view that the sociological imagination provides and the rigor of the field of sociology can help bring into check carelessness and short-sightedness of urban planning and reducing the negative social effects of plans built on a whim. Therefore the development of this cross-disciplinary collaboration should be encouraged.


All photos courtesy of the Ruin Academy

[1] de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall, University of California Press, Berkeley 1984

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 10:29

A Cartographic History of the Liugong Canal

The course of Liugong Canal is a calligraphy brush carving Taipei's human history into its natural history. The collection of maps gathered at Academia Sinica, along with more recent maps made for various purposes, are useful guides to explain the history of Taipei from the view of the Liugong Canal.

(Googlemaps screenshot of Taipei)

In 1736 Kuo Hsi-liu, originally of Fujian province, came to Zhonglun in Taipei from Changhua and began the settling and development of a small farming community by the name of Xingyazhuang. Before long he found that the water resources for the village were drying up and were insufficient to maintain the community in the long term. By the time of his death in 1765, the farming plateaus of Taipei were well on their way to being fully supplied by an intricate and vast system of irrigation channels now known as the Liugong Canal, fed from the Xindian River, where water was diverted through the tunnels and trenches they dug to form the canal. While the original canal was completed in 1762, the Liugong Canal (公 'gong' is a respectful name affixed to great men, 'Liu' is derived from the individuals name) now refers to a grand network which spreads and branches out through Taipei City.

liugong map1(A map of the system of channels around the time of Liugong's death in 1765
See the whole map :

As the story goes, Kuo Hsi-liu dedicated his life to the construction and development of his farming community. He borrowed money to start the village, became a topographer in order to search for new water sources as natural reservoirs dried up and farms suffered droughts, and sold all he owned to fund the construction of the canal. Beyond that, he married an indigenous woman from a local tribe in order to stop the persistent raids on the workers and the destruction of their engineering works. He organized a great collaboration with the five villages of Dapinglin which lay along the path of his great plan. However, in the end he died distraught after watching his life’s work shattered by a typhoon which destroyed the critical Snakes Cage Dam, but not before handing down responsibility for the continuation of his magnum opus to his son.

This documentary commissioned by the Kuo Hsi-liu Foundation tells Liugong’s story, depicting him with all the aspects of a conscientious Chinese hero; self-sacrifice, piety, and lasting historical contribution to Chinese culture. As with many historical accounts, and great development projects, it is slightly oversimplified and perhaps glorified. Many other important individuals contributed to the construction of the channels and the road to agricultural security was paved with dead construction workers, who were regularly attacked by indigenous peoples angry that there lands were being encroached on by the Han settlers as there water resources grew. Though it was perhaps a the most peaceful solution, the act of bequeathing an indigenous woman, was a common tactic of the Han settlers to appropriate indigenous lands and ultimately become the new stewards of the Taipei basin. Nevertheless the project is an important part of Taipei’s heritage had lasting implications, helping secure the foundations for Taipei to become a major city in Taiwan. Kuo Hsi-liu was honored posthumously for his contributions with the respectful ‘Gong’ title by the contemporary Qing emperor. The following map shows the extent the canals had reached towards the end of the Qing Dynasty period over a century after Liu Gong’s death. At the time the canal systems were still divided into the Dapinglin, Wulixue and Liugong (originally Qingxi) canals

 liugong map2

By the Japanese era all the different names of the canal systems had been merged to create one single Liugong Canal. In order to solve their drainage and flooding problems, the Japanese constructed the huge Horikawa Drain (堀川) in 1933, which overlapped and rebuilt part of the Liugong Canal, thus bringing part of the canal into the sewage system, this trend continued as the drainage network expanded.

liugong map3(Liugong Canal during the Japanese era, 1939
See the whole map:

Not long into the KMT era changes happened in waves to the Liugong Canal. Emboldened by the pervasive spirit of modernity that had now seeped through to Chinese culture, the KMT pushed rapid industrialization and urbanization. Due to population strains, political needs, comparative unprofitability of farmland and more and more pollution nature was squeezed into the margins of the city and the Liugong Canal pushed underground. With rapid economic development, the population of Taipei further exploded. Most of the remaining farmland in the Taipei basin, including that bordering the Liugong Canal, was bought up by developers to build high rises, in order to meet and multiply the needs of Taipei's urbanization. Using techniques such as reinforced steel box culvert, the canals were paved over to build residential and commercial areas on top. The following map shows the water sources left in Taipei in 1904:

liugong map4

By the late 1970's most of the water sources within the main rivers of Xindian and Songshan and the mountain ranges enclosing Taipei from the east (i.e. the Taipei city area) were underground, covered by roads, buildings or parks. By the 80s the vast majority of the Liugong Canal was cemented over and either became obsolete in terms of its original irrigation function or certain parts were merged into the existing sewage system. One can now access the maps of the sewage system and underground waterways of Taipei using sewage maps that run on the Google Earth engine.

Anyone born in Taipei since the end of the martial law-era will likely not have experienced the Liugong Canal like their previous generations, washing, playing or collecting clams. Taipei’s richer youth may shop at the SOGO megastore in Zhongxiao Fuxing, but are unlikely to know that underneath flows the Liugong Canal and that the land is owned by Taipei’s Liugong Irrigation Association. Now there are only a sprinkling of open areas along the Liugong Canal, treasures worthy of letterboxers. For example, there is a 10-metre stretch outside the Café Pick up a Cat in the Alley on Wenzhou Street, a 5 km section near the source of the canal in Bitan, and since the turn of the century the ecological pond on the NTU campus. 

By the late 1990’s the Taipei City government began pushing the idea of ‘livable cities’ and there was growing interest in beautifying the city. These trends provided an opening and encouraged politicians, academics and community groups to re-explore the idea of bringing waterways back into the everyday life of the city. In 2005 there began to be some political interest in reopening some sections of the Liugong Canal and ever since then there have been projects highlighting and promoting the rediscovery of this historical relic which still exists beneath our feet. Beyond beautification, these projects increasingly include an environmental sustainability angle while they attempt to bring the Liugong Canal back into the city and renegotiate the relationship between Taipei’s waterways and its inhabitants. For example Professor Chun-E Kan of NTU’s Department of Bioenvironmental Systems Engineering has made the ‘sunlighting’ of the Liugong Canal his life’s work and has long promoted the restoration of the NTU section of the Liugong Canal by channeling natural rainwater flows from the nearby Toad Mountain. Further proposals for reopening the Liugong Canal have also come from a group of Finnish students mentored by the recent winner of the European Architect of the Year Award, Marco Casagrande and his cross-disciplinary research hub, the Ruin Academy, who bring in an aesthetic of nature re-invading architecture, but also have a social focus on community participation. There have also been groups and organizations more focused on memory and the historical value of the canals. For example, the Daan Community College ran historical walking tours along the former path of the canals. In 2013 there were even day-event cycling tours riding along the covered canal routes. There was a cultural landscape preservation movement (非瑠不可) led by students of NTU’s Department of Building and Planning for the preservation of a marginal military dependants' community whose makeshift houses bordered the open part of the canal close to the Xindian River. Indeed, re-exploring the Liugong Canal in this feature was also partly stimulated by the participation of our nomadic arts space, The Hole, in a movement to preserve another military dependants community, that of Toad Mountain near NTU. The skeleton of the Liugong Canal borders runs along the front Toad Mountain community. Until the 80's the canal was open and used daily by the residents, but by the 1980's it was paved over and there is no longer a regular flow of clean water running through.

(A brochure map for the historical tours run in the Daan Community College.)

For the more adventurous minds, one can even descend into the underworld, for a bit of urban exploring or catacomb-like art, visible only to those who may descend into the underground passages. In fact when entering the canal from the mountain streams that flow in there is still a diverse ecosystem underneath - a paradise for turtles, watersnakes, white egrets, fish, and huge toad and frog species, before reaching cockroach territory as you go further under the city. Budding cartographers can even find ways to trace the canal from above or below and find interesting new ways to display the maps, perhaps hand-drawn by a local residents or schools to promote community participation in design, perhaps using open source mapping to aid in the decentralization and democratization of the internet. These are all activities which our group is engaged in and promoting.

Over recent years more and more plans have emerged for the reopening of parts of Liugong Canal. Some are based purely on beautification, others on green economy, environmental protection and awareness and now, certain groups have begun to bring in ideas of community restoration and participation in planning for the Liugong Canal's future. As we can see from above, different parts of civil society - academics, community organisations, individual enthusiasts and artists - are already remapping the Liugong Canal. One thing is for certain: there are still many changes to happen to these maps, and the cartographic history of the Liugong Canal is far from over.


Friday, 30 August 2013 10:19

Uniting the Sea of Islands

Epeli Hao'Ofa, the most significant Pacific scholar of his age, wrote a momentous paper Rediscovering our sea of islands, in which he laid out an indigenous vision of the Pacific, one in which the people were united by their "sea of islands" rather than constrained by the seas, the passport system implemented by the colonial powers and acquired linguistic differences. I experienced these words in all their emotional and symbolic power during the six weeks that my newly discovered siblings, Fijian Ledua Setaraki (Seta) and ethnic Samoan New Zealander Tupe Lualua, spent in Taiwan, where they had been invited to engage in exchange with Taiwanese aborigines to explore with one another their common Austronesian heritage through the mediums of dance and navigation, both revived traditional forms of indigenous wisdom which they had employed to re-engage with the contemporary world. Indeed, Seta had been a part of a navigation team which had put into practice 'uniting the sea of islands' by sailing the breadth of the Pacific using the traditional navigational methods of their forefathers.

Pacific scholar Vilsoni Hereniko once told me in this 2010 interview that the important point was that indigenous communities were empowered with 'cultural autonomy' rather than them to be perceived as 'culturally authentic'. From then on I always maintained some doubts when participating in or researching cultural projects commissioned by the government that are inevitably imbued with a self-congratulatory character and language and often have a superficial focus on supposedly authentic regalia, song and dance that seem detached from the real everyday lives and struggles of the participants, who are nonetheless often obliging due to the pride that cultural recognition furnishes them with and the jobs provided by the indigenous cultural revival industry. I often find these projects like to blow their own trumpets in terms of the diversity that they supposedly foster and their focus on praising Taiwan as the source of migration to the Pacific, a claim that is underlain with domestic political and geopolitical functions. I had heard too often indigenous peoples adopting and internalising the Han Chinese trope of the "indigenous person with the great sense of humor", or what one could term a "stage aborigine", commonly found in different media representations of the indigenous community. The tendency to focus on rediscovery of lost cultural traditions I feel often clouds contemporary social justice issues between the ethnicities in Taiwan and within the individual tribal groups. For example no cultural exchange group has ever received government funding to come and see the urban indigenous communities such as the Sanying tribal village or the Sao'wac Amis who suffered the full violence of the state machinery with the demolition of their riverside communities.

Another doubt I have harboured relates to the ethnic and racial historical burden. Although I generally try not to think in racial terms, having experienced being marked as a clear and obvious racial group, in a relatively racially homogenous island, being viewed sometimes in both an unfairly positive and unfairly negative light, in the context of this trip, I couldn't help having a discomforting nagging feeling that led me to question my very role in this trip. What was I, an English national, the very same English who had once been colonial masters and profiteers over both the Fijian and Samoan peoples, doing assisting in this project, translating between one colonially-received (or acquired?) language to another colonially-received (or acquired?) language forced on the local indigenous populations during their centuries of Han Chinese domination and marginalisation, for a project which was commissioned by the same ROC government (albeit from the Council of Indigenous Peoples) and being implemented by the Ricci Institute in which the main organizers were Han Chinese? Was this empowerment? 

Primarily serving as a translator and guide for the visiting Pacific guests, our entourage spent much of our time dining, drinking, singing, dancing, swimming, capsizing, crashing and generally living together as a swiftly improvised family and support network. In the host of parties and welcomings we were jovial partners in celebration. On a personal level, Seta shared with me some of his local knowledge, helping to reignite a passion for re-immersing myself in nature and all the daily survival struggles in the age of pre-convenience, as he taught me how to make my first sling spear, to ferment coconut and pineapple based alcohol which bared an uncanny resemblance in taste to indigenous Taiwan's infamous millet wines and finally to prepare and serve Kava, a tree root based powder mix, in the traditional way they drink the mix in his native island of Fiji. "Ta-kii" Seta called, and he clapped twice before I handed him the coconut half-shell cup, which he drank and clapped once more before handing the cup back to be passed on to the next person. And in that moment I felt a tingle of belonging and my own status doubts were somewhat resolved, as I realised that to live together in a globalized world, we are filled with both a need for universal fraternity in the goals of peace, love, unity and respect, and also a sense of belonging in a community of familial love and understanding.

Indeed on the trip certain doubts were assuaged, especially after seeing the reaction of the children in the schools where Tupe's energetic and inclusive singing and dancing, such as the mosquito swatting dance, brought smiles to the faces of all the school children and the tales and video footage of Seta's two year boating trip left the children staring in awe, filling the kids with a sense of adventure and a sense of their own potential to achieve their dreams. THIS was empowerment. That some of Tupe's works bring up contemporary social issues was also enlightening, and people did question to what extent Tupe's dances were similar to the dances of old, to what extent had they overturned the thorough religious, linguistic, cultural and artistic colonization and to what extent their revival had a positive effect on society. Furthermore Seta's talks and demonstrations always contained a strong environmental message, "my grandpa used to say, every second breath that you take in comes from the ocean", he went on to build awareness of the state of the ocean, with his gripping tale of his experience saving a huge sea turtle that had been dying, stranded on the masses of plastic waste irresponsibly left there from humanity's excesses. These children of Formosa, and Orchid Island, I believe will never forget that the stewardship of the oceans is one of their great missions and perhaps a generation later they will be the ones leading the fight to clean the Pacific.

I still had some doubts, however. For example, while Tupe often mentioned how some of her dance works could also function as a critical art medium to express social problems in marginalised communities, in general it seemed to draw little attention from the audience, with still too much attention on selling an 'authentic look' to improve their economic benefits. Furthermore as expected the group did not visit the controversial settlements mentioned above, and barring the unavoidable exposure to Orchid Island's nuclear waste dump, these politically sensitive aspects still tended to be glossed over in the sea of dance and cultural display. I would hope that in addition to cultural renaissance, future projects could also put more emphasis on ocean wide Austronesian land rights and community inequalities. The Pacific, must be 'united as a sea of islands' facing a common set of environmental and social struggles.

nick seta zijie

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 16:19

From self-exploration and reflection to community: The Baishatun Mazu Pilgrimage

For over a century devotees of the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu (媽祖 lit. Mother Ancestor), from the Gongtian Temple in Baishatun, Miaoli County have flocked to Beigang’s Chaotian Temple in Yunlin County for an annual 400-plus km pilgrimage in the 2nd Lunar month of the year. They participate for the blessings, protection and fortune afforded by Mother Mazu, who was said to protect the fisherman and sailors on the high seas when she was a living human, known as Lin Moniang. As I lived by the seaside growing up myself I was moved by this significance. This year, as I tracked my way back from my Chinese New Year holiday to urban life in Taipei, I decided to join the devotees on the return leg of their 9-day journey, hoping to find in the ritual space, time and an opportunity for reflection.

The Mazu Pilgrimage (媽祖進香), which literally means an offering of incense, involved more than one thousand pilgrims following by foot Mazu’s jiao(轎)or palanquin, on her journey to the sacred first Mazu temple in Taiwan. While not shunning modern technology - A GPS informs followers of where Mazu is at any point in time – the deity nonetheless has an erratic and unpredictable personality in deciding her path. No one knows which route the unpredictable goddess will take and what locations or occurrences will draw her attention along the way, in fact, the only certainty is that the goddess will arrive at the ancestral temple and will find her way back to her hometown temple. One year Mazu even guided her followers through the cold currents of the Zhuoshui River rather than taking the rather more practical Xiluo Bridge. Mazu indicates the direction she wants to go by leaning and putting more weight on a particular corner of her palanquin, which is held aloft by devotees on their shoulders. The Baishatun Mazu is also fiercely incorruptible by modern politics and etiquette. She is a chaotic force for good, oblivious to any rules that would be imposed upon her. While politics often plagues other religious processions such as the most famous Dajia Mazu, the Baishatun Mazu avoids many of these problems with her anarchical mode of existence. Mazu’s uncontrollable free spirit, nonetheless, seems to give respect to local knowledge, with considerations of geography, the cultural map and mythology of the people and prevailing conditions during the journey.

The Council of Cultural Affairs is now promoting the Baishatun pilgrimage as a distinctive peculiarity of the island's native culture and identity; arguably this may be a strategy to bring this religious activity more closely in line with the needs of the state. But this tradition and community cannot be defined and imposed upon by state ideology. This Mazu pilgrimage is a grassroots, bottom up culture which develops spontaneously in dialogue with the local land and people. It has a thousand different interpretations, and a thousand different truths.


With her sometimes cruel sense of humour Mazu mocks state control and rules implemented by faraway experts and institutions. In this festival of passionate religious expression, all the repressions that normally apply to earthly beings are broken or sidestepped. The police seem more like spectators, sighing as Mazu decides to divert troublesomely on to the motorway, or guide her followers through private property bumbling, or a movement I could only describe as 'bianging', aggressively through whatever stands in her path. Throughout the pilgrimage local residents light a barrage of fireworks on the roads, in theory an illegal activity, leaving the pilgrims engulfed in a constant cloud of smoke and the police look on impotently as the palanquin barges on through. This freedom of religious expression and creativity is severely lacking in Mazu’s homeland of southern China, where the government’s tight policy of control of religion leaves little space for such crowd-inducing rituals which are viewed with great suspicion, cutting the local populations off from these potentially de-alienating rituals and connection with the land. What I saw on this pilgrimage showed me that a lack of central control on the body and mind stimulates colour, contrasts and distinctive flavours whilst opening the doors for creative problem solving.

What sets the incorruptible Baishatun Mazu apart from other Mazu pilgrimages is the lack of shackles placed upon the followers forcing them to follow a strict temple doctrine; the space allowed for creativity, is inspiring to its followers without being repressive. Those in good health will follow the whole journey on foot as suixiangtuan, but for those who can’t walk long distances they will follow as jinxiangtuan in their car or a coach, stopping off to pray as Mazu sets off in the early morning. By throwing divination blocks, temple representatives will ask Mazu at what time they will set off in the morning which in my experience ranged from 2am to the early afternoon. This disorganized state allows for diverse interpretations and truths and encourages creativity and innovation. All along the journey individual worshippers happily spend their time and money practically, forcing upon you endless cups of green, red and ginger tea, sports drinks, and cans of Mr Brown coffee, also rarely did an hour pass by without being served lashings of thick soup, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf or mantou steamed bread. Many people even go extra lengths to create their own special dishes, such as one man who had been raising fish eggs which he combined with a delicious salmon sauce; each passer-by was treated to one deluxe mouth-watering bite served on a lone potato chip. Almost every house along the way seemed delighted to provide free accommodation to the pilgrims and discuss past stories and inquire as to how Mazu’s mood had been this year. Also known as the Silent Maiden, her mood could only be guessed by each devotee based on observing her interactions with the land and the people.

Each devotee’s belief in Mazu’s powers seems to stem from a different story based on their own personal experience and enlightenment, merely taking part in this year’s walk I encountered a host of different stories which is why I thoroughly recommend readers take part in the procession themselves.

I first heard about this Mazu pilgrimage due to my explorations into the world of performance arts and theatre, more specifically in the year I spent with Sannyas Meditation Theatre, which gets its inspiration from the Butoh tradition and the late Kazuo Ohno. The works of experimental theatre pioneer Jerzy Grotowski inspired a generation of performers to take part in local rituals, in order to make their performance more seamlessly connected to their inner self and local conditions, parenthesizing the alienating performance training they had received, thus making their performance more natural, truer. For me, asides from unfettered curiosity, taking part in the pilgrimage was a chance to enter a very pure state stemming directly from the connection between body and land and to explore how I would develop naturally on from this.

I kicked off my journey in a characteristically inauspicious way. As I was waiting to meet up with a fellow member of the Sannyas Theatre in the sacred Chaotiangong temple in Beigang, I was found to be leaning unawares on Mazu’s palanquin and was quickly exhorted and shuffled away by her stewards. I commenced the walk over-relishing the physical challenge and was perhaps even a little bit competitive. Jogging sections and even giving a friend a piggy back ride, left my knees and ankles suffering heavily over the last few days. I also found myself slightly overindulging in the free food offerings. Perhaps Mazu sensed that I had not yet entered a pure mind while following her as a couple of nights later Mazu appeared twice in my dreams, staring at me sternly and leaving me waking up damp and sweaty. It was not until later that I realised I had started the pilgrimage more as an observer, outsider than a full participant and seamless member of the community. I had heard a thousand different truths and meanings of peoples own experiences of the Mazu procession but I was still in the process of discovering my own, truthful only if based on the personal experience of my body and soul in dialogue with the community.

Photos by Witek Chudy

See the complete photostory by Witek

Friday, 22 April 2011 19:32

Urban Archaeologist

Chen Bo-I, aka 'The King of the ruins' doesn’t necessarily come across as glamorous as his nickname sounds. Currently, working on his PhD in Hydraulic and Ocean Engineering, a most realistic and practical trade, yet beyond his advanced studies in man-made structures on the ocean, he is also avid reader of the fascinating marks of history left on landbased structures. In the interview below he tells us how he got into this underground culture, how he works with the ruins in his photography and what he values about these decaying remains.

Hongmaogang Juancun (紅毛港眷村)

Why is this world...why is it so messed up? Because of typhoons, because of rains, those types of things, and floods, and mudslides, that's what normally causes it. But this is all caused by ships, and excavators. Why do they have to destroy our homes?

A young boy and resident of the Hongmaogang Community before it was destroyed - speaking in the documentary film Homeless (紅毛港:家變)

In 2005 Chen Po-I (Bibi) started shooting some fishing villages or military dependents’ village where intensive city regeneration was underway.
Hongmaogang community, lying off the coast of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan was perhaps the best example of a juancun or military dependants’ village, a phenomenon unique to Taiwan. These juancun are particular to Taiwan in that they were made for the families of KMT soldiers who had come over from the mainland following the civil war . They were built as temporary settlements, since the prevailing idea at the time was that Taiwan was a temporary base for re-conquering of mainland China, thus the houses were put together with great haste, there were no regulations on how they were built and as such impulsive building of extensions and additions was the norm. This allowed a very natural human feeling to develop in the area. Eventually however, juancun residents would begin recieving notice that they were too leave the buildings, the moment residents have left the excavators get demolishing. Bibi, tries to get there first - like he did to take these photographs at Hongmaogang.

In 1968, Hongmaogang was declared land for building a port. However at the time they didn't have the funds to move all the people and instead time was frozen as the government declared new building or work on their current houses was banned. This strategy was not enough to suppress the residents will to build and throughout the 1970's the residents did all their building at night, while the police were off duty, so as not to be discovered. It was often the case that on waking up in the morning, a house would expanded a metre or two. It wasn't until 1986 that this provoked a government response in which they took aerial photos and stated that from then on the residents buildings were not allowed to change from the way they were captured in the aerial photos. Eventually in 2004 the government had sufficient funds and began moving the residents. In 2008 as the government evacuated the final inhabitants of the harbour, Chen Po-I took to action to make sure that there would always remain a poetic memory of the Hongmaogang Settlement, where for him life stories were the traces engraved in the walls. He also brought these photos together as part of his exhibition 'Outlook', giving the community the chance to share in these memories.

Walking the wires

On a more sober note one of the raiders nonetheless reminds us of the dangers of visiting ruins. The majority of these buildings are uninhabited and unkempt, some of them are as the name suggests, in ruins - states of devastation, with pieces of metal, wood, glass and sometimes even needles littering the floor, others are private property and guests are unwelcome. Be careful and aware when inside and only go into ruins with unlocked doors. If you listen to this advice however, everyone can be touched by the poetry of these ruins.


Tuesday, 26 April 2011 14:03

Returning Humans to Nature and Reality

Since attending drinks and bbq session at the Ruin Academy, Urban Core, Taipei City in fall of last year, I gradually became more and more familiar with Marco Casagrande’s C-lab and the offshoots (ruin academy, third generation city, local knowledge, urban acupuncture, anarchist gardener). I also became convinced that Taipei has great need for these ideas and the very soul of the city may well rest in these decaying ruins.

Rolling at the Ruin Academy

"There is no other discipline than nature. There is our pub."

It was a Friday night, in light winter rain when I was told to come along to the Taiwan Contemporary Art Centre, Taipei for free drinks and barbeque, and the opening of the ‘Ruin Academy’. I knew little of what to expect – except for free alcohol, Ruan Ching-yue (one of Taiwan’s top 3 authors) and rumours of a Sauna on the 3rd floor. It sounded like a lethal combination…

Entering the 4-storey building I felt a strange aura, something distinctly un-Taipei, at least as I knew it, a vomit stain on the clean, white bed sheet of the Taiwan urban development dream. A tree growing off the side of the building, its roots implanted only in drainpipes, large and potentially hazardous holes drilled into the cement floor, allowing you to see from the top to the bottom of the building.

As the whisky flowed, my thoughts were disturbed as Ruan demanded I read his story with him. After playing the role of mother in the story twice over, I took advantage of a brief moment of distraction to make my great escape to the sauna.

While housemate and figure model, Showzoo, raced to strip and leap into the sauna the minute the steam rolled of the imported Finnish stones, I strolled in rather conservatively five minutes later with my undersized towel slightly revealing my buttocks. I had inadvertently placed myself in the gaze of Showzoo’s glaring nakedness on one side and two fully clothed, shy Taiwanese youths on the other, a contrast perhaps comparable to the awkwardness of much architecture in Taiwan. I looked up from this amusing but unnerving position, searching the room for the validation required before I could throw in the towel; and there, beyond Showzoo, was a man with Viking features calmly being, breathing and occasionally stoking the coals. An essence of rapprochement with nature shone through and overcame the tendencies of a somewhat Victorian prudence and shyness that I had seemingly developed during my time in Taiwan. I flung away the towel, and sunk into the steam. This was the man had built the sauna – Finnish architect and anarchist gardener Marco Casagrande.

"We focus on local knowledge and stories. The Academy is more like a pub than a university – or like a public sauna in Finland, where everyone is stripped naked from the President to the police."

Pot-naked in a sauna perhaps isn’t how most of you envision your first meeting. However, fully revealing your body, as the day you were born, is certainly a load off your mind and shoulders. Pretensions are dropped, nothing is hidden, and all the while nothing is intentionally revealed. It wasn’t until several months later that I discovered the sauna was also a gathering place, a school and a forum for the natural revolution of human impulsion that is brewing here.

Third Generation City

Marco and associates have been working on a whole new architectural philosophy in Taiwan and a multitude of projects to put into action the Third Generation City - the organic ruin of the industrial city. Third Generation City follows the first generation where humans' peacefully coexisted with nature and the second generation built walls and stone structures everywhere in an attempt to shut out nature. In the third generation however, nature, which can never be truly shut out, grows back through the ruins, through the cracks in the wall, sucking human nature back into the wider nature. Third Generation City concentrates on local knowledge and urban acupuncture. Gardens should be built in all the corners of the city. The walls shutting off the city from its river and life source should torn down.

"The Ruin Academy sends an open call to think on the urban environment - the city, the people and the nature. We want to understand the ruining processes in Taipei."

Architecture and human structures are something I had never profoundly contemplated. To get a clearer idea about what they were doing, I attended a lecture given by Marco Casagrande at the NTU Department of Sociology. The lecture was partly an admittance of the limitations of architects, who he says "only chill with other architects". It was a call for sociologists to take part in a multitude of projects – like Taipei Organic Acupuncture and Taipei River Urbanism - to combine their humanist expertise in peoples' interactions with society & nature with the design skills of the egotistical architecture trade. For example, since the city only exists because of the river, the river is thus the indicator of how healthy the city is. So in order to have a complete and humanistic interaction with the river, the sociologists would need do the local research - with drawings, photographs and interviews. They would ask: How was the river before? When did the fish start dying out? Who will live there in the future? What will there attitude to the river and the city be?

One question raised by the sociologists, was whether or not this ideal for a Third Generation City was feasible. Marco replied "If it works in my family, then in their community, in their society, in the whole city - then that's enough". Marco feels that the government actually needs this impulsiveness, they are unable to enact under the stringent controls of bureaucracy. In fact Marco and Ruin Academy is just saying what the government wants to say. When questioned about the rebuilding of post-tsunami East Coast of Japan, Marco reflected: "Will they just rebuild what was there before? They have capacity for so much more."

Frank Chen was another architect with C-lab that I first met at the Ruin Academy. In April he took me too visit some physical manifestations of the Third Generation City. Frank also made a beautiful film of his own, documenting a full day for the Chen House, from sunrise, amongst the constant calls of the insects and birds:

Living in the ruins

Finally Frank took me to see where the Ruin Academy's own principal, Marco, had lived 4 years earlier. The guru himself, seemed to live by the principles that are found throughout his work. Indeed, when I arrived at the site in Sanzhi nature was growing through the gaps in the walls, the doors, and the windows of this former tea factory; there existed no clearly defined inside and ouside, instead merging into one seamless flow of nature; rather than trying to keep the trees and shrubbery out, he instead built his trademark sauna amongst the trees. There were still the traces of Marco's previous inhabitance there: a pile of clothes, a wooden mattress, a small stove and a couple of pans which acted as his makeshift kitchen overlooking a stream with an ants nest sitting comfortably in a tree above.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/focus_architecture_may2011/marcohouse/*{/rokbox}

As the academy makes organic ruin of our industrial city, perhaps these ideas can infiltrate our minds, permeate through our ears, eyes and noses and vibrate our flesh down to our toes, degenerating and making ruins of defunct structures of thought.

For a fuller look at the whole range of projects C-lab has previously worked on please browse the Anarchist Gardener Magazine (mainly Chinese) for the main thrust of Anarchist Gardener philosophy as when it was originally presented at the Puerto Rico Biennale in 2002. The Ruin Academy building can be found in the Urban Core Artsblock near Ximending in Taipei.


Friday, 29 April 2011 00:59

Beyond the Pale: Architecture in Taiwan

Visitors to Taiwan are often left wondering: why is the architecture so ugly? With its unbridled commitment to urban renewal, architecture in Taiwan does not respect the contemporary urban aesthetics of most 'advanced' cities.
Tuesday, 22 November 2011 16:54

文化與科技結合的實踐 ─ 英屬哥倫比亞大學人類學博物館



第三站 - 英屬哥倫比亞大學 人類學博物館 (University of British Columbia, Museum of Anthropology, MOA)

結束了人類學系的座談後,我們被帶領前往於1949年建立,館藏超過三萬八千件的英屬哥倫比亞大學人類學博物館 ;使我們驚豔的是,這座博物館有領先全球的原住民文物收藏,而其中大約六千件均是來自英屬哥倫比亞省的第一民族原住民部落。從圖騰柱、獨木舟,到木刻的盒子、碗,以及餐盤等。不僅如此,MOA所使用的文物保存方法也相當先進,互動式的軟體和硬體設置讓訪客能使用觸控螢幕經由網路資料庫瀏覽館藏。參觀MOA對我們來說是個非常棒的機會,能看見他們如何經營這座博物館,啟發民眾好奇,了解和尊重其它文化。我們不但見識到了大量的館藏與創新科技,也更進一步地分享交流了彼此的文化內涵。


「運用新媒體New Media已經是現在的趨勢。我在UBC MOA 看見一個令我驚豔的設備,該館面積不大,館藏很多卻都是透過櫥櫃做水平收藏及展示。在展區中兩到三個櫃位就會有一台iMac,它有安裝觸控螢幕與MOACAT系統館藏數位典藏系統,所以參觀博物館的民眾可以很輕易地去操作並尋找自己有興趣的展品位置,包括地圖、地名、物品名稱、民族等。台灣被稱為科技島,是否更有發展的潛力?」

── 陳睿哲 Yahu Kunaw - 國立東華大學民族語言與傳播學系三年級 - 泰雅族



── 李慕凡 Wilang Watah - 陽明大學醫學系四年級 - 泰雅族




Filmed by C. Phiv, edited by Nick Coulson, subtitled by Yenching Chu

Photos: Shuching Hsueh


Monday, 21 November 2011 18:16

Bringing Home the Seeds of Indigenous Autonomy

The Council of Indigenous Peoples held the 13th Taiwan Indigenous Students Cultural Exchange Program (TISCEP) this year. The destination was the Vancouver region in Canada's most western province - British Columbia. eRenlai's mother organisation, the Taipei Ricci Institute was the organising committee. In contrast with previous years, the students had a more central role, submitting a proposal for the goals and program of the exchange trip. In eRenlai's December Focus we will bring you accounts of the trip from the students who took part, along with a mini-documentary in eight parts, which documents their journey from start to finish..

We begin with an interview with the director of the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), Ta-chuan Sun, in which he expresses the need for reform of Indigenous cultural industries, and sets out a mission for future generations of indigenous peoples in Taiwan. Responding to the CIP's call for applications, thirteen Indigenous students from Taiwan came together as a team in a quest for knowledge and experience that could be used to improve the situation of indigenous peoples in Taiwan. As they prepared to fly into an unknown world, the students were full of anticipation, nervousness and gratitude for this once in a lifetime opportunity, which would hopefully lay the foundations for a new chapter in the history of their peoples.

The students divided themselves into four groups, each tasked with engaging with an issue of great importance to aboriginal people: Autonomy, Health, Education and Media & Cultural Enterprise. Insights into these four issues allowed them to focus on various aspects of the decision-making processes behind policy formation, social engagement and cultural heritage. Each group was tasked with engaging with various organisations they would be visiting in Canada, in an effort to glean as much knowledge as possible from the short trip. Canada is often considered a world leader when it comes to dealing with indigenous affairs and there are over two hundred First Nation's tribes and 37 languages in British Columbia alone, making Canada an ideal place to learn about the interaction between governments, settlers and indigenous peoples.

The team was taken into an unknown world in their quest for knowledge, experience and identity - the seeds of indigenous autonomy - to bring home to Taiwan. The students explored indigenous studies and pedagogy at the University of British Columbia's Aboriginal House of Learning; at the same university's Department of Anthropology, Dr Bruce Miller talked about the practice and process of achieving autonomy from nothing; furthermore, the students were introduced to an array of new perspectives on Aboriginal health research at the University of Victoria. Visiting successful examples of sustainable tourism that incorporated traditional rituals, song and dance with natural beauty at the Aboriginal-themed Klahowya Village in Stanley Parkand the U'mista Cultural Centre, demonstrated to them the potential for development of indigenous cultural tourism and industry. Meanwhile, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC made evident to the students the importance of preserving their cultural heritage and protecting cultural relics. From their time spent at the Victoria Aboriginal Friendship Centre, they took back home with them first-hand observations of how a charitable organisation could help urban Aborigines better cope with the transition from a First Nations reserve to urban life. Furthermore, during their trip toDuncan City Hall, Mayor Phil Kent and Councillor Joe Thorne honoured the students with a convivial welcoming before describing Duncan's intercommunity relations and experiments with participatory democracy at a local and federal level.

Piho Yuhaw, was one of the student leaders who was involved in writing the groups project proposal, here he gave his final thoughts on the exchange and his personal goals for the future:

"I think the East could learn from the West and its experiences with autonomy. The Eastern discourse views self-government as ‘seperationist’ or ‘splittist’, while in the West they see it as national or ethnic ‘self determination’. In the future, as an Indigenous scholar, I would like to reinterpret aboriginal cultural research through a new native lens. It will be a long and difficult road, but to quote Dr. Bruce Miller “The indigenous movement needs to be put into practice, even when you have nothing”. Looking at the indigenous struggle and indigenous empowerment from a historical perspective, something has always come from nothing - this is called practice."


Photo 1: Yubax Hayung
Photo 2: C. Phiv

Monday, 21 November 2011 17:38

A Global Lens on Indigenous Health

Centre for Aboriginal Health Research (CAHR), University of Victoria, Victoria City, Vancouver Island

The University of Victoria (UVic) is a research intensive university considered a leader in Indigenous and cultural studies, with strong ties between Indigenous communities and researchers from a diverse range of disciplines. Established in 2008 the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research is dedicated to promoting and engaging in health research, in partnership with Aboriginal peoples (locally and globally), to improve their health. It is now a leading authority worldwide on Aboriginal health that is searching for a 'global lens on Aboriginal health', which made this visit all the more worthwhile. It was an excellent opportunity to find out more about Canada's Aboriginal health issues, and by comparing their problems, research and problem-solving methods with Taiwan's, to see how the issues were interlinked for Indigenous peoples all over the world. and what policies could be initiated to combat these problems.

When we arrived at CAHR we were greeted by researchers and several doctoral candidates. The director, first introduced the overarching missions of the centre, before the researchers introduced their personal research and discoveries in areas such as: suicide rates in different Indigenous communities, bringing together traditional Indigenous healing methods, western healthcare and the links between a healthy cultural heritage and healthy people in different tribes.

Filmed by Cerise Phiv, edited by Nick Coulson, subtitled by Adrienne Chu

For readers in Mainland China:

"At the UVic Centre for Aboriginal Health Studies, I asked one of the professors who attended the conference if the suicide rate of Canadian Indigenous people was higher than non-Indigenous Canadians. He said it was. He conjectured that the reasons for this were that the majority of these suicides were among those Indigenous people who had gone to big cities to seek their livelihoods, and as a result were put under great pressure; He said in the cases he had looked into, the more identification Aboriginal people had with their own tribe, the less likely they were to have suicidal thoughts. I really believe that identity has a massive effect on people."
Gyusi Meihua (Department of Indigenous Languages and Communications, National Dong Hwa University, Atayal Nation)



"During the discussion at the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research, I realized that the issues are very similar in Canada and Taiwan, yet the way of dealing with the issues, are very different. For example, their solution to a lack of medical personnel was a project for increasing personnel. Yet, when they discovered that it was not successful in increasing the number of personnel returning to the tribes, they rapidly abandoned the plan. However, Canada, like Taiwan, had not yet produced a solution to the national health insurance problem. While everyone pays the same amount, people in the cities have far better access to medical healthcare than the Indigenous communities in remote areas. This becomes a question of fairness."
Wilang Watah (School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Atayal Nation)



"Because it relates to my major I was more concerned with the issues raised at the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research. The Canadian government has already built a national research centre for Indigenous healthcare. But here in Taiwan, we’re still in lack of proper research facilities or plans that may actually improve Indigenous peoples health status. This visit helped me to see what more we can do in the future."
Rimuy Watan (School of Nursing, National Yang-Ming University, Atayal Nation)


Photo by C. Phiv

Monday, 21 November 2011 17:34

Standing on the Shoulders of our Culture

First Nations House of Learning, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Education is a question right at the centre of the various global Indigenous movements and one of the students four focal groups. Apart from introducing the centres specific role in improving Aboriginal education, Rick Ouellet and Debra Martel also introduced to us how the Canadian education system worked for Indigenous peoples and what policies and projects had been successful. For example, British Columbia was the first province to make it a requirement that all teachers took courses in Indigenous studies. One area which the centre is working towards is in trying to reach a situation where people who acquire degrees, can go back to their communities after their education and still find a job.

"The House of Aboriginal Learning at UBC was full of Indigenous feeling in its architecture and interior. As a student of Taiwan’s first college of Indigenous studies, I noticed we only have one stone slab representing aboriginality at the institute, I felt we could also increase the aboriginal feel of the building by including art installations, to make ourselves truly ‘visible’."
Utun Titi (Department of Indigenous Languages and Communications, National Dong Hwa University, Taroko Nation)


"Dr. Bruce Miller introduced to us the history and development of First Nation’s policy, education system and social welfare system in Canada. It is unlike Taiwan’s division of normal education and Indigenous education into two parts. At the UVic Centre for Aboriginal Health Research, they told us, “We should educate non-aboriginal people, how to respect and help First Nations to form an Indigenous thought and perspective.” That is remarkable. At the University of Victoria, they said, “The youth are the strength and power.” This reminds me of how important the issue of Indigenous education is, especially cultural education, which is related to ethnic crisis of the marginalised."
Gagai (Department of Indigenous Languages and Communications, National Dong Hwa University, Paiwan Nation)


For readers in Mainland China:

Video filmed by C. Phiv and D. Chen, edited by N. Coulson, subtitled by Adrienne Chu



Photos by C. Phiv


Monday, 21 November 2011 16:54

Practice: The Art of Making Something from Nothing

University of British Columbia, Department of Anthropology, Vancouver

A long-serving professor of Anthropology, Dr Bruce Miller, has huge experience in World Aboriginal affairs. He first gave a presentation on the history and development of First Nation struggle in Canada, before extending to examples of Indigenous struggles elsewhere in the world including Brazil, the US and Papua New Guinea. After leading into discussion he gave advice on the repertoire of tools available for advancing Indigenous empowerment. He emphasized the importance of manipulating the laws available to them, but also the adoption of various tactics to advance the cause, such as the 'politics of embarrassment'. For Bruce Miller, most important of all was that regardless of how much resources they had was to begin putting ideas into practice immediately, taking action now to create the future for themselves and their people.

For readers in Mainland China:

"For me, the UBC Department of Anthropology was the most exciting part of the trip. In a very short time, Dr. Bruce Miller gave us an understanding of the history of the First Nations struggle in Canada, and used his experience and observations to evoke discussion of certain focal points with us students. He listened to our questions and his reply was always a message of encouragement. For example, he urged us to use movement tactics such as the ‘politics of embarrassment’ to force the governments into making decisions rather than just suffering injustices and then pleading with the government that they empower the Indigenous people. What he was telling us was that power doesn’t come without a struggle. You must be ready and willing to take action.

In the future, as an Indigenous scholar, I would like to reinterpret Aboriginal cultural research through a new Indigenous lens. It will be a long and difficult road, but here I quote Dr.Bruce Miller “The Indigenous movement needs to be put into practice, even when you have nothing”. Looking at the Indigenous struggle and Indigenous empowerment from a historical perspective, something has always come from nothing - this is called practice."
Piho Yuhaw (Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University, Atayal Nation)


"Dr. Bruce Miller proposes that “everything starts with the law”. He emphasized the very tangible power of the law, and that it is not just playing strategic games on paper. He applied this concept to the tribal experience, and to how Indigenous people can have a big effect on their own culture, gradually bringing about the vision of the 'tribal development council'."
Takun Tado (School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Seediq Nation)


"As Dr. Bruce Miller said, “Laws are dead, but people are alive. You shall never be the living dead.” As Indigenous intellectuals, it’s our obligation to stand up and fight against the inequalities in our society. When we mentioned funding limitations, Dr. Bruce Miller lambasted us saying “There are lots of teenagers in Canada the same age as you. They have nothing, but it’s to their advantage. If you want to make some changes, start now.” Because of his inspiring words, we all have more confidence to go and do all the things we wish to do, and to defend our peoples’ rights."
Labi (Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures, National Dong Hwa University, Amis Nation)

Photo:Shuching Hsueh

Wednesday, 23 November 2011 00:00

CEFC Files: Neighbour of China, Taiwan's Liminality

Stéphane Corcuff is a political scientist trained in Sinology and Geopolitics. When he is not on sabbatical research in Taipei, he is also a professor at Lyon Institute of Political Studies and lecturer at Paris’ National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations. When we visited the CEFC, Taipei branch, Stéphane explained some conclusions from his past research leading up to his current program of study based around identity politics in Taiwan and the geopolitics of Taiwan since the 17th century. He draws a parralel between Zheng Keshuang (鄭克塽) - the grandson of Koxinga (鄭成功) - who was briefly the leader of Taiwan (1681-83), and the incumbent President of the ROC, Ma Ying-jeou. He then uses this historical context to analyse the policies and consequences of the current Kuomintang regime.

Furthermore, for the past 15 years, Stéphane has been conducting research focused on the Mainlander population in Taiwan. His research leads him to consider the Mainlanders not as an ethnic group but a population of distinct collective identifications. Here Stéphane rounds up a tumultuous 20 years for Mainlanders  in Taiwan, since Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) split from the Kuomintang and so called process of 'desinicisation' began, before showing the identity consequences this has had for the 'Mainlanders'.

Stéphane Corcuff's latest book has been published this month "Zhonghua linguo / Neighbor of China. Taiwan's liminality" Taipei, Yunchen, 2011, 250 p. (Chi: Zhonghua linguo. Taiwan yujingxing / Fr: Zhonghua linguo / Pays riverain de la Chine. La liminalité de Taiwan). If you were interested in this content, Stéphane's latest book provides his most comprehensive compiling yet of his research on Taiwan's 'liminality'. Stéphane's publications can be found and downloaded at "Web de la doc" de Sciences-po Lyon or Association Francophone d'Etudes Taiwanaises. Stéphane is committed to bringing a higher level of sensory interactivity into his academia. Below is an interactive multimedia image of his current research program.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011 14:19



Monday, 24 October 2011 00:00

Occupy Taipei

Following on from the 'Occupy Wall Street' demonstrations in New York, on October 15th protesters in Taipei gathered around the phallic symbol of Taiwanese capitalism, the Taipei 101 building, to voice their opinion on several issues, including high unemployment, inflated house prices, unpaid overtime, the rights of immigrant workers as well as showing solidarity with the global movement to resist or bring down the excesses of the capitalist hegemony and move towards a fairer society. Watch interviews with some participants below:

Monday, 20 June 2011 00:00

Welcome to the CEFC

(The CEFC team from left: Su Wei-jeune, Dr. Stéphane Corcuff, Dr. Tanguy Lepesant, Dr. Paul Jobin, Dr. Marylène Lieber, Dr. José Ramón Pérez Portillo)

Over the next few months we will be releasing videos of all the current researchers based at the Taipei branch of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC Taipei) to introduce their new research directions in Sinology and Taiwan Studies. We begin with director Paul Jobin and executive secretary Wei-jeune Su introducing how CEFC Taipei operates, it's aims and what services and resources it provides.

Monday, 30 May 2011 18:55

Sending Smoke Signals throughout the Land

The Langyan Action Group (AKA Smoke Signals League) was first established in 2007 after a dispute between indigenous Taiwanese and the government about the natural land rights. It began as a fishing and hunting dispute and reported direspectful treatment by police, but has now developed into a movement promoting a more sustainable balance with nature and calling for a new constitution that takes into account the rights of the Indigenous Taiwanese (who were not considered in the 1911 constitution that was drawn up in Nanjing).

For the third successive year Langyan Action Group held their annual event at the Zhuwei Bamboo Curtain Studio in Taipei City. They choose to hold the event on 2/28, an infamous day in Taiwanese history due to the 1947 KMT government's massacre of an uprising, as it is now a public holiday in recognition of past injustices (Peace Memorial Day). While Langyan maintain their three main demands, this year had a special theme - while the KMT was celebrating 100 years of existence of the Republic of China, Langyan, with their indigenous star singers Banai and Kimbo, joined forces with No Nukes and their Sing-walk Troupe to demand a nuclear free Taiwan for a hundred years. Barbecued pork, dried fish, beetlenuts and beer were in full flow...

Photo: N.C.

Monday, 23 May 2011 14:52

New Energy in Taiwan's Social Movements

From gritty Punk to technotronic Rave music; media savvy hoaxes to terrifying performance art; relaxing in activist cafes to energetic street parades; this months Focus we give you snapshots of innovation and creativity in Taiwan's social movements and in doing so a peek at the state of civil society in Taiwan. With local activist Zijie Yang as my trusted guide, I explored the recent history and the most dynamic of current social movement activity in Taiwan, choosing the increasingly active anti-nuclear power movement as a main focal point.

Having made the conversion to democracy from within the system rather than through outside powers, Taiwan can be an inspiring example for the aspirations of other democratic movements in Asia. Furthermore, Taiwan's advanced level of openness to outside ideas is unprecedented in Asia; the ideas they have brought in from outside have been modified and Taiwan-ised and may have a lot to offer the development of civil society in Asia, the Pacific and in China. The continuation of a robust civil society and social movements in Taiwan is all the more important due to the danger of relapses into more authoritarian governance that we are seeing in much of Asia, already known for being among the tightest regions in the world. Furthermore Taiwan itself is after all, still in a period of transitional justice; whether legally, systemically or in the collective psyche, traces of past terrors still remain, thus social movement aims can have a high relative value.

Before we can truly understand the current movement setting, we must first introduce the historical context and understand the background to activism in Taiwan. We therefore begin by abstracting Professor Ho Ming-sho's papers on social movement history in Taiwan. We also ask why much of Taiwan's youth seem so apathetic to social change. Is freedom no more than the 'right' to buy a Gucci bag? And yet we nonetheless witnessed many examples of highly motivated activists becoming ever more confident in their actions. What motivates these young activists to get involved in social movements? When looking at developments over the past few years it is impossible to sidestep the Wild Strawberries student movement which erupted in November 2008. We analyse two of the most comprehensive evaluations of these movements from two very different participants, to try and understand why the Wild Strawberries went mouldy, by looking at the organisational phenomenon and problems of new social movements in the post-modern era.

From there we can begin to question, what are the factors that will dictate future movements and what new energy is needed in social movements? One of the legacies of the Wild Strawberry student movement and its perceived failures, is what Sean Hsieh called "the opening of new spaces" for increased dialogue and stronger intra-organisational links. He introduces us to one of these spaces, Café Philo, and in particular its 'Philosophy Friday' which far less abstract than it sounds, focuses on concrete social, political and judicial issues, cultivating a much deeper and mature understanding in the socially active citizens that attend. A balancing act between knowledge, and practice.


Another 'space' which is fermenting stronger, more informed activists is Go Straight Café, which inherited the legacy of the WildBerry House but rapidly reinvented themselves and is now home to the most innovative of movement activity, in particular the No Nuke Cultural Activism Group. They use music, art exhibitions and event organisation to open a dialogue with the wider public. Gong-li She use the medium of punk and rave, to channel the anger and frustration of the youth into action and activism, supporting social movements with music events. The communal fruits of these various groups can be seen with the 4/30 manifestation against nuclear energy in Taiwan, sparked partly in reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear disaster in March and in the exhibition 'Don't brush off what you see' where Esther Lu brought together 10 artistic works concerned with nuclear power and energy resources.  In a tribute to the Yes Men, the Jammers, printed 10 000 fake copies of Taiwan's major newspapers declaring, as a hoax, that the proposal for the controversial KuoKuang Petrochemicals factory had been rejected by the government. The stunt achieved its desired media attention and eventually the government removed its support for the project which could have endangered the survival of the last remaining Chinese White Dolphins. Another group concerned above all with nature and their natural rights are the Langyan Action Group, who every year since 2007 have lit pyres, setting off smoke signals that call for all indigenous peoples to unite and fight for what they see as incomplete transitional justice. This year they collaborated with No Nukes calling for a non-nuclear homeland.

In academic theory, its accepted that the development of social movements, the consciousness that group organisations can affect social change arose with education and the freedom and dissemination of information. Mainstream education and media in Taiwan is often criticised for being too didactic, and foreign teachers lambaste that rote-learning is the norm. Indeed, eRenlai is also a 'space' - our mission is to train people to truly reflect, question and form their own opinions rather than recycle the morning editorials that tend to polarise opinions, fashion a culture of blame and rarely present constructive dialogue. In this spirit we invite you to peruse our selection of the spiciest activism in the Taiwanese social hotpot...

Photos: N.C.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011 15:47

Why did the Wild Strawberries go mouldy?

In November 2008, the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party held their highest level meeting in 60 years. As largely expected, all did not go smoothly as pro-Taiwan independence supporters and other dissatisfied groups showed up in their masses 'sieging' the entrance to the Grand Hotel, Taipei where Chen Yunlin, the emissary from China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) would be received. As the protestors attempted to block Chen from entering, or held up signs in protest, questionable police brutality was used against the protestors, giving rise to impassioned criticism and a fear particularly in academic circles, that the state of human rights was sliding back to the days of martial law.

Following the Chen Yunlin Incident, at the suggestion of a BBS message from NTU Sociology professor Li Ming-tsung, with the support of some influential NTU Sociology professors, a sizable number of students quickly moved to take action condemning the police brutality at the Grand Hotel. Almost twenty years after the Wild Lilies had successfully tunnelled a passage to democracy; it was now the turn of the Wild Strawberries to bear fruit. Beginning with a sit-in protest at the Administrative Yuan on 11/06, it would not be until over a month later when the students finally left their resting place in Freedom Square empty handed; their demands unsatisfied.

Why was the student movement generally seen as a failure? Did it achieve anything at all if not in tangible gains, perhaps in innovation or experience? What were the organizational phenomenon and difficulties present? Most importantly, what lessons did the students and activists learn from this?

While there are a plethora of opinions on why the movement failed, the most detailed analyses have been from Ho Tung-hung (何東洪) and Sean Hsieh (謝昇佑).

Rob Voight translated Ho Tung-hung's article, My notes on Yecaomei of which the initial article appeared in Reflextions Magazine (思想). At the time it was the first real in depth analysis on the movement organization. Ho was one of the so-called "wild professors" alongside National Taiwan University's (NTU) Zhuoshuixi club (including Fan Yun who was a student leader during the Wild Lillies Student Movement 18 years earlier). Ho Tung-hung's article takes note of how the movement was seen as NTU-centric from the start, as the call to arms was sent on NTU's BBS chat system by Li Ming-tsung who was later sued unsuccessfully by the government for his role in setting off the protests. Due to this NTU-centric perception many well established and experienced activsts were reluctant to participate. Ho feels that this was exacerbated by the movement organisation, or lack of it, which was messy due to the reluctance to have a real leadership. This is expressed in the final sentence of his essay, where he expresses the opinion that "Post-Modernism should never be allowed on to the streets, yet it was allowed and with that as the movement relocated to Chiang Kai-shek Temple, it perished." Going to the Temple (Freedom Square) could be seen as nostalgia for and an attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Wild Lillies student movement, however sitting in a public square, where people are generally free to walk around was far less daring than going directly in front of the Presidential Palace, a road normally open to vehicles which would have continued to cause furore and question the Parade and Assembly Act (which controls on the freedom of assembly rather than guaranteeing it).

The post modernism mentioned here also refers to the attempt to stage the protest completely outside of the structural hierarchical organization model of other social movements or political parties,  perhaps the more socialist model favoured by some. Furthermore this 'post-modernist' dislike of authority extended even to those 'Wild Professors' sympathetic and supportive of the movement who were refused a greater role in the movement due to a fear of the idea of being pawns in a game of chess (下指導棋). While there were many non-NTU students, Ho Tung-Hung picks up on some immature actions which he feels further alienated established social movements. For example the setting a line in which only students were supposed to be allowed to pass, wanting to keep the protests apolitical only seperated them from the people and refusing for a while to recieve the Sanying aboriginal community, who were hardened activists from their past few years fighting the demolishing of their houses and had come to offer their support.

Doctorate candidate at NTU's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, Sean Hsieh, gave his own analysis of events, which contrasted and to an exent tried to refute Ho Tung-hung's critique of the Wild Strawberries, providing Reflextions second in-depth analysis of the movement, with his article "Incidental or Inevitable".  Sean Hsieh is now part of Youth Synergy Taiwan, which offers support to various social organisations, and is also completing his doctoral thesis at NTU's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning department. Hsieh early on takes issue with Ho's final sentence proclaiming that Post Modernism should never take to the streets, stating firmly that it had already has taken to the streets. Hsieh feels that Ho failed to pick up on the incidental nature of the protests, all the unavoidables that the students, who could not possibly have been prepared for having no chance to meet up in advance anticipating these events. The police brutality, as well as the poor decisions made by the government to forcibly remove the students from the Administrative Yuan, when most students were probably planning to leave for their end of term exams all forced the students to join together and make a tough decision rapidly, without pre-organisation.

We interviewed Sean Hsieh at Cafe Philo (Chinese only)

One thing that Ho Tung-hung found most enraging was the burning of 35 000NTD a month on the "WildBerry House" towards the end of the movement. He felt it was against the DIY spirit of social movements and an insult to all those who had been taking part in social movements, putting in huge efforts just to earn their causes peanuts. He felt the money would have been far better distributed amongst other social movements while they went back and raised the money again, whilst gaining more experience taking an active part in social movements over a sustained period of time.

Hsieh feels this is however another 'incidental'. An unavoidable decision to make for the students. People had donated tens of thousands of NTDollars in support, and they could not but attempt use it productively if they were not to let down the people. He discusses Wild Strawberries instead as a symptom of deep structural problems in Taiwanese society. These strctural problems are the education system and the political trauma Taiwanese have suffered over successive goverments. This led to a mutual mistrust and suspicion on the square, that made it hard to build a leadership or common aims. Furthermore Hsieh evokes Althusser's evaluation on Machiavelli that what we need to really work at is "Opening new spaces". Arguably the controversial WIldberry House was a product of these structural problems in Taiwanese society and an opportunity for more effective successors, which could attempt to rectify these structural problems(see article on Movement Spaces). He feels that blaming the failure of the movement on the incompleteness of the movement demands and divergence from traditional forms of student movement organization, misses the point and what is important is that this movement opens up the doors for reflexive-criticism. "Only by reading profound philosophical works can patterns emerge in your mind  which will be engraved in your mind and soul. Finally the meticulous thinking processes cultivated in the process will eventually come to use during the longer struggle."

While Hsieh and Ho present different arguments here, it is possible to see that future movements could take advice from both sides. Indeed many of the students lacked experience and there is always a need for more people to engage long-term in social movements, so that they are constantly struggling and more well organised, should similar actions be needed in the future. At the same time, it is also necessary that spaces are opened where people can mature their oppinions through research, discussion and self-reflection. In a democracy, well informed and vigilant activists are the vanguard against tyranny. Indeed, since the Wild Strawberries student movement came to a climax, some of these 'spaces' have begun to develop.



[1] Translated from the Chinese by Rob Voigt. Original article 我的台北“野草莓”雜記/何東洪 published in 《思想》Reflextion, 11th ed March 2009, 《聯經》Linking Publishing Company.

[2] Article in Chinese 偶然還是必然?野草莓學運的結構限制與機運/謝昇佑, 《思想》Reflextion 12th ed June 2009,  《聯經》Linking Publishing Company


Tuesday, 17 May 2011 19:46

Movement Spaces: Brewing the perfect cup of activism

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 14:33


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...

Thursday, 21 April 2011 18:23

Snappershot & Tainan Lutai

Cars, cameras and cats

Tainan's Lutai was established two years ago by Sam Wu (吳山姆) and (廖脆麵) as an exhibition space, and a gathering space for lovers of novelty model cars, photography and cats. While intially they were just content that they could provide this space, eventually they opened up a small vintage store inside, with the hope that in the future they could break even.


Snappershots Troupe (亂拍團) meet one Sunday every month. A group of people with similar interests – photography, exploration and anarchic spaces – meet at Tainan Lutai before gathering in a pre-selected block, with ruins a plenty and pearls waiting to be discovered. Lutai have even created a map (see right) of their favourite ruins in Tainan. In line with their passions the perimeter of the map is metamorphosed into a camera lens.

When was the first time you went ruin exploring? What stimulation do you get from these regular urban excursions? When I asked Gao Pu-chi what he likes so much about exploring these ruins, he said it was a house with no one inside, no one was looking after the house, but it ferments its own flavour, its own character and its own life as a ruin. What keeps him going still now he summed it up as 'danger'. Here are some of the photographic treasures Gao Pu-chi has brought back from these trips.

Cuimian (脆麵), one of the founders of Lutai, told me that above all Snappershot was for fun, the loose group had no strict rules and little responsibilities. They didn't go to shoot the classic tourist places, they searched out the wilder places in a state of decay such as shut down factories, unwanted houses and ruins. Originally there was 7-8 people participating. They would blog their photos and explorations and neventually people began to ask where these places were. Those who enjoyed Snappershot Sunday would come again and again, those who didn't wouldn't come a second time. Cuimian feels that ones outlook on the world can definitely be changed and enrichened by urban exploration. You will begin to search for the stories left over in the ruins, to appreciate the life and death of these constructions. The capturing these places on camera is different every time since everyone's eyes are different.

Images by Gao Pu-chi (高菩祁)


{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/focus_architecture_may2011/gaopuchi/*{/rokbox}


Visual tours of recent architectural history are something that anyone can do by just wandering the streets and alleys… However if you want to try your hand with Snappershot you can contact Lutai and find out the dates of the next Snappershot excursion or alternatively if you are interested in having your own guided tour of the most marvellous of ruins in Tainan you could negotiate your own personal tour. If you can read Chinese you can also check their blog and facebook for updates.

Sam Wu: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0925094096      Gao Pu-chi: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0985091236


Wednesday, 20 April 2011 22:05

Ruin Raiding in Tainan

Ruin Raiding

Strolling down crumbling alleys of all shapes and sizes, all the woes of the busybodies are forgotten, in between colourful temples and Japanese-era colonial buildings, under the moonlight, an exercise in escapism.

Tainan, the ‘first’ capital of Ilha Formosa, sidesteps the prevailing metropolitan global cities view; Mediterranean in its fiery temper - emotive and irrational. Quirky cafes, extra sugar with all orders, and a endless temples are all associated with Tainan, but one less known hobby is that of ruin raiding, empassioned urban exploration in derelict buildings, where the dust has fallen….

People often come to Tainan to escape the dog-eat-dog mentality of Taipei, Taichung & Kaohsiung. While there sometimes seems to be an assumption that to be anyone in Taiwan you need to first slave away in Taipei, barely scraping by, just to payoff your landlord-masters; those who can make their way in Tainan seem to appreciate the lighter side of life. While Taipei tries all to compete with Shanghai and Shenzhen in urban brutality, attempting to destroy the last forces of architectural humanism and connection to nature, Tainan (comparatively) seems to let the buildings flow beyond the pale as romantic smatterings of diversity in destitution, deterioration and degeneration.

I begin my journey at Tainan’s Lutai (台南小露台), in itself a ‘ruin’ of sorts. The 3-storey building overlooking the train-tracks has been renovated into a vintage store and art space and gathering point for the nostalgic. On the first floor, it’s filled with old collections of miniature Vespa bikes, as well as several obsolete full-sized vehicles, and a selection of bike horns to accompany (I left with the yellow rubber ducky – nothing says ‘get out the way’ with more authority). Meanwhile, on the second floor they have continuously evolving photography exhibitions, this time I visited it was all about cats – hungry + diseased kittens, patrolling cat gangs, sleepers, blindcats, Persian – even through this cat exhibition you're given snapshots of Tainan mentality. Finally, after getting past the three resident cats, all rescued (Yes, Lutai is also a part-time cat rescue and home finding centre). I make my way to base camp; a room on the third floor with my host Gao Pu-chi.

It’s fitting, that this hub of nostalgia for the class of the past is the base of explorations for Tainan’s underground culture of ruin raiding. Indeed, much of the stores wares are treasures recovered from derelict buildings, long abandoned. This is where I will discover the underground world of ‘space’ raiders, snappershot-storytellers and hopeless romantics hunting down traces of unwritten history.

Xinglin Hospital

The walls were stained with the screams of bleeding patients. The stone slabs were carved with doctors legacies, the deserted medical cabinets stunk of junky, and every shard from the shattered windows was a testament to the will to survive.

The first ruin I am taken too – is a long abandoned Hospital. The Xinglin Hospital Complex (xinglin zonghe yiyuan 杏林綜合醫院). It’s a fitting first destination since Gao Pu-chi started out studying hospital management at university in Taipei before deciding to escape Taipei and spend almost a year working random shifts and focusing on his photography.

When Xinglin Hospital ceased to run, it was the days before Taiwan had National Health Insurance. At the time it was split into workers insurance, farmer's insurance etc. The worker's insurance meant that the worker would pay an annual sum, guaranteeing an allowance for medical costs; however, if you had not spent these costs by the end of the year, the credit was lost and the money dissapeared, never to come back. At that time the hospital started having some deals with the triads in order to profit from this system, cooperating with them to falsely recieve the insurance money. Eventually the boss of the hospital was caught for his dealings and sent to prison. This meant he was no longer able to give a salary to his employees, so everyone left the hospital, it became derelict, and has remained this way all the way until today. Nonetheless all of the drugs, beds and other equipment remained. Eventually anything that could be sold or used has been taken - including the metal and wood holding together windows.


Photo by Chen Po-I from his collection 'Remain'

When I arrived there in broad daylight, at the centre of Tainan city from outside the building looks like the remains of a blitzkrieg. Not a window was still standing, nonetheless these vacant walls were stained with poetry. Poetry of the past patients, doctors, nurses and corpses that inhabited these now barren and broken walls. Reading the stone slabs above the different doctors office, I realised that from explorations into a 30 year old building – untouched apart from lootings – that you can sometimes learn a lot more about history than any museum.


This stone slab above a doorway gives praise to the ingenuity and skills of the doctor who occupied the room. Traditionally a grateful patient may contribute one of these slabs, this one details the remarkable recovery from a horrific car accident in which the author had  fractured his skull.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/focus_architecture_may2011/hospital/*{/rokbox}

wangziReliving the Blitzkrieg

“I dreamt that you had come down south”

Love letter dated 1981 (民國70年)

The ‘Today’s Showings’ board at the Prince Theater (王子大戲院) is empty today. I feels like its been empty a long time too, a couple of slightly ripped and faded posters remain outside – on one of them you can make out a western film perhaps from the 80’s that I never knew. At some point in the 1980's this complex suffered from a great fire leaving much of the building destroyed and pushing the variety of entertainment businesses out of the building. After the fire it suffered another form of destruction, torn apart for its wood, nails and ladders – anything that could be sold or reused. This however doesn’t bother Bibi (B-Boy), people don't loot the things that he is interested in - the pictures, the posters, the marks left on the wall from the posters, and loveletters - everything that tells a story.

The building used to be at the heart of Tainan's more controversial entertainment scene. The second floor used to be a karaoke joint and had hundreds of old VHS videotapes. The 4th floor - a strip club. While Bibi explained to us that all the seats had bins underneath to throw away your issues, we found an abandoned G-string, used perhaps 25 years ago and the posters that they used to use to promote the club. There were three theatres in the building in which all the seats had been ripped from the floor, at the back of the theatre were a set of couches, these were the more expensive seats where you could take a partner and engage in more questionable business. Perhaps the most beautiful moment, however, was when Bibi found a 30-year old love letter and its reply. The story was of a girl from Tainan in the south of the country and a boy form Taipei in the north. Reading the handwritten letter we could almost feel the emotions from the two lovers, their dreams and their life pressures and their chances for a future together. We were only able to speculate on how the relationship concluded.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/focus_architecture_may2011/princetheatre/*{/rokbox}

After the dust settles...

During my few days exploring these ruins in Taiwan, I gained a great affinity for these independent spaces. I was left wandering, what memories would I leave for someone exploring my ruins 50 years into the future. This touches on our very permanence, and sustained being. After the dust settles, what mark would you leave on this world?

Thursday, 31 March 2011 17:03

Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific: Island Perceptions of an Oceanic Continent

Rediscovering our sea of islands was a momentous paper written by Epeli Hau`ofa, the most influential Pacific scholar of his age (read here), where he laid out his ideas for a new Oceania. Indeed during this conference it seemed like the Pacific had rediscovered the lost island of Taiwan and Taiwan had rediscovered the ocean. Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific: Island Perspectives of an Oceanic continent was the first international conference held by the newly established Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies and it undeniably reaffirmed Taiwan’s position geographically on the edge, but spiritually as a core part of the Pacific. While in February we covered Taiwan's indigenous peoples and Taiwan's specific role in the Pacific with our Focus, Turning East, Taiwan's Pacific Frontier, in this April Focus we are given a smorgasbord of insights and perspectives on the wider oceanic continent.

Uniting our sea of islands in the face of common struggles

The Austronesian family has long been scattered and restricted in their movements - through colonialism and then through the constraints due to the nation-state and the paradoxical ‘pass'-port system. Yet during this two day conference and as the guests visited Austronesian communities in Taitung, there was rejoicing as they were finding their long lost relatives - recent research suggests that the Austronesian language family spread out into the Pacific from Taiwan. The most influential Pacific scholars joined the growing network of Taiwanese students of the Pacific in this attempt at 'remapping' the Pacific. Grant McCall went on to explain the historical attempts to 'map' the Pacific and gave his own suggestion for a linguistic division by 'nesias' before showing that the Pacific is nonetheless connected on a Möbius Strip of knowledge; Francis X. Hezel shows how Christianity can still be a tie that binds the Pacific together along with Arthur Leger S.J. who claims that the Catholic Church can be a force to keep Oceania from falling off the map; Hamashita Takeshi offers suggestions for a peaceful future for East Asian engagement in the Pacific through a union of coastal cities which transcends national definitions and rivalries and Katerina Teiwa explains that the Pacific is united by its diversity and which is expressed in their arts and culture festivals and exchanges.

Whether it be culturally, economically, academically or politically a common theme throughout the 2-day conference was the need for a degree of autonomy. While Ta-chuan Sun (Paelabang Danapan) presented his final propostion for Taiwan's indigenous movement, Vilsoni Hereniko compared the what he had seen of the indigenous situation in Taiwan with the plight of indigenous Hawaiians, commenting that all the way accross the ocean the struggle was the same - to be free, indigenous peoples must have cultural autonomy. Indigenous peoples must be masters of their own future, then as custodians of the ocean, they can unite in order to face up to the growing environmental crises, drawing on traditional wisdom which dictates harmony with nature.

Renaissance Oceanie

As Hamashita Takeshi points out in Learning from Ryukyu the world has much to learn from the Pacific. What we observed at this conference was that the Pacific can go beyond mere cooperation in the face of common struggles. In times often dominated by selfish nationalism on country to country basis, the concept of Oceania offers an alternative world view which could be as promising as when Europe declared it would never have intra-wars again with the creation of the EU. The Pacific offers fusions of traditional culture and modern society as well as ideas that transcend the prevailing nation state concept.

One of the last major obstacles to overturning the Pacific's colonial legacy is building narratives and education indigenous to the Pacific. In this spirit, Pierre Maranda presented the ambitious project, a type of intranet encyclopaedia which works through the concept of "attractor" and "attractor basins" to remap Oceania thought as well as advancing new media in the field of anthropology. Many of the conference participants were trying to flout new narratives, that transcended western academic traditions such as Yedda Palemeq with her papers expressing the different notions of time between Western academic thought and Austronesian thought and Nakao Eki whose is attempting from her PhD to offer produce work based from an Amis historical narrative with her concept of the Inbetweeners.

Many other speakers at the conference offered new innovative perspectives; for example, Patrick Savage combines his musical background with his anthropological interests in his presentation on the possibility of using music as a marker for Austronesian migrations. The critical point was that the conference laid out a new roadmap, from this point forward, their would closer networking, a sharing of ideas, innovation and mutual respect, borrowing Grant McCall's concept "we are all connected by a Möbius Strip of knowledge".

We give thanks to all the speakers and those who partook in the organisation of this conference, including the young volunteers who kept the show running (see video below). Special thanks goes to Paul Farrelly and Conor Stuart for their enthusiastic support in documenting the event and helping disseminate information through to the public.

Alternative (for readers in China)

{jcomments off}

Monday, 14 February 2011 16:32

The 2011 3rd Sustainable Life Awards winners

The five winners of the 2011 3rd Life Sustainability Awards have now been announced. The Life Sustainability Awards aim to encourage and congratulate those who take action to protect and develop cultural diversity, spiritual empowerment and environmental sustainability. By reporting the stories and contributions of those awarded the Sustainable Life Awards, we hope to encourage more people from Taiwan and the wider Pacific region to come together with innovative solutions to global challenges.

The First Life Sustainability Awards in 2008 produced 11 award winners. Then, in 2009 The Second Life Sustainability Awards produced 9 award winners. The award winners are chosen after carefully considering a host of worthy candidates with contributions to ‘Sustainable life’ and finally choosing a fair cross section with the winners espousing different qualities. In 2011 for the Third Life Sustainability Awards we narrowed down the criterion, choosing the winners based on two main requirements:

- they have contributed to the protection and development of Taiwanese aboriginal/Austronesian culture with continuous actions and an innovative spirit.


- have valiantly mobilised community resources to respond to challenges of sustainability.


Each of the award winners will be rewarded with a beautiful stone sculpture made by Wang Xiu-chi, who generously donated all the sculpture trophies for the First Life Sustainability Awards in 2007. To view more of his fabulous works, please click here.

The Award winners

Writer of a uniquely Dawu form of Ocean literature, Syaman Rapongan brings his readers to the ocean shores with him. He lives the life he writes; fishing, shipbuilding and embracing the traditions of his elders - Tao folklore will live on in his work for future generations. His contributions to the Dawu people and other aboriginal groups go beyond the literary sphere; he was also a pioneer in aborigine-related social movements in the 1980’s.

Sakuliu Pavavalung, an earthenware sculptor of the Paiwan minority, devotes himself to the renovation and documentation of the lost craft of earthenware pot making. He has long pushed his concept of a ‘community classroom’ teaching the kids about their cultural history and wisdom and spearheading the community rebuilding of his community following the devastation of Typhoon Morakot.

Dadelavan Ibau is lightning rod of inspiration for marginalised communities. A professional dancer, she also voluntarily teaches drums to prisoners and kids in remote schools. In these encounters and interactions she drums in hope and drumming out their hidden potential.

Documentary filmmaker and scholar Futuru Tsai, was adopted into the Atolan Communty where he has documented local popular culture such as ‘Amis Hip hop’. Later films and research follow Austronesian migration paths in the Pacific and explores the lost history of Taiwan’s aborigines. In his work he both learns from and enriches indigenous culture.

Bo-hua Peng has long spent her own free time visiting disadvantaged schools as a storyteller. The time with these children in eastern Taiwan alerted her to their needs and led her to establish the Wood Pecker Life Association, which trains the young people how to better spend there free time to study and provide service to the community.

The winners have been presented with their awards at the conference Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific: An Island Perception of an Oceanic Continent on February 16-17th. This conference is held by the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Executive Yuan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China, Renlai Monthly & eRenlai, Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies, National Central Library and other institutes.


{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/2011Life_Award_winners/*{/rokbox}


Thursday, 30 December 2010 18:42

"I have no hang-ups"

I never met Robert Ronald S.J. The first time I stepped into the old eRenlai offices was several months after he had passed from this ephemeral world. Yet as I came for an internship I was also somewhat blindly stepping into his shoes.

Monday, 06 December 2010 13:19

Whiskers in space

Kerstin Ergenzinger was invited as an international artist in residence for the '5th Digital Art Festival Taipei 2010'. Similar to cats' whiskers, her work brought together polypropylene, muscle-wire, silicon, steel an air currents sensor, hot-wire anemometer and her custom electronics to create makeshift 'whiskers' connected to sensors measuring fine air currents in the room, which transforms their position before they feed the impulses back on to the surroundings, creating a loop in which the installation is both affected by and affects the surroundings.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 19:21

On the frontlines: The SIDS cases

While discussions continue, and most of the world lags behind its modest emissions targets. Some areas are already close to going under, that's to say sinking beneath our carbon-fueled rising sea levels. Ambassador Phillip K. Kabua for the Republic of the Marshall Islands in Taiwan brings local impacts to bear on global negotiations calling for greater actions even as some of his territories are doomed.
Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Trust me, I'm a DOCtor

The Artisanship of Documentary

This year TIDF ran the DOCumentary DOCtor Workshop in view of its responsibility to improve the quality and spread of Taiwanese documentary film. With four European and Asian ‘DOCtors’ present, DOCDOC gave the opportunity to aspiring Taiwanese filmmakers to have their projects assessed and DOCtored by experts.

Finnish DOCtor Janne Niskala, began by praising all the film projects present for having very specific subjects. He said that people often make the mistake of thinking you must have general issues to make a good film: “In fact the smaller the subject, the better the film.” He was impressed that in observational tragicomic Say Sing (說唱), the director/cameraman had forged a really intimate relationship with his subjects, a Hip-hop band who sang in a local Yunnan dialect. While far from complete, it had a universal musical dream and great potential.

Korean Min Chul-kim, mentioned that there was still room for improvement on the lack of producer culture and knowledge. Nowadays an understanding of production is crucial if a film wants to reach a global market and one may need to exceed pure activism or journalistic reportage and include a degree of cinematic creation. As such, he praised the commercial TV potential of A Tunafish Eye (滿載).

Jean Perret feels that filmmaking needs to be “maintained as a handcraft” and requires artisanship “to reveal in every detail”. He talked of the film of a wagon in Siberia, 8 minutes of a wagon moving through the snow.Too many Taiwanese and Chinese documentaries he saw covered “important” or “moving” subjects but were in no way made as a film. There was a need for hybridization between documentary and creative cinema. Also, he felt there was not enough respect for global audiences, with subtitles that are translated, but not considered an art in their own right.


All the DOCtors agreed that filmmaking required meticulous detail in all areas from the first frame to the production and distribution and were thus impressed with these young directors for partaking in the competition where they could refine their skills and breathe new life into their documentaries.



Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Festival Awards TIDF 2010

On 30th October 2010 the results of the awards for the Taiwan International Documentary Festival were released. The awards were divided into International Feature Length Competition, International Short Film Competition, Asia Vision Award and the Taiwan award. The jurors had been carefully watching the nominated films which had originally been selected from 1527 submissions received in 2010, to reduce them to the final 12 prize winners. The films were shown on the last day of the festival and will be shown at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival in November. The results for the 2010, 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival Award Winnerare as follows:

International Feature Length Competition




Grand Prize

In The Garden of Sounds


Nicola Bellucci

Merit Prize

Let the Wind Carry Me


Chiang Hsiu-chiung, Kwan Pun-leung

Merit Prize

War Don Don

Sierra Leone

Rebecca Richman Cohen

Jury’s Special Mention

The Woman with the 5 Elephants

Germany, Switzerland

Vadim Jendreyko

International Short Film Competition




Grand Prize

Countryside 35x45


Evgeny Solomin

Merit Prize

Divine Pig


Hans Dortmans

Merit Prize

In Case of Loss of Pressure


Sarah Moon Howe


Asia Vision Award




Grand Prize



Byamba Sakhya

Merit Prize


Canada, Iran, South Korea

Shahin Parhami

Jury’s Special Mention

Iron Crows

South Korea


Taiwan Award




Grand Prize

Hand in Hand (牽阮的手)

Yen Lan-chuan, Juang Yi-tzeng (顏蘭權、莊益增)

Special Jury Prize

Nimbus (帶水雲)

A-yao Huang (黃信堯)

Jury’s Special Mention

Avoiding Vision (是你嗎?)

Chen Yuan-chen (陳婉真)

Audience Choice Award




Audience Choice International Award


I Shot My Love

Germany, Israel

Tomer Heymann

Audience Choice Taiwan Award

Let the Wind Carry Me


Chiang Hsiu-chiung, Kwan Pun-leung



A fantastically immersive sensory experience and one which resonates long after it is viewed by the audience was Nicola Bellucci’s In The Garden of Sounds which won the Grand Prize for the International Feature Length Competition. This film sets itself apart from regular narrative treatments because we are allowed to enter the sensory world of both the main character and those children whom he transforms. The Merit Prize went to Taiwan’s Let the Wind Carry Me which opens up to be an inner portrait of an artist as a human being. The film displays great cinematic qualities and it seamlessly weaves itself into the life and work of one of the world’s great poetic cinematographers, Mark Lee. Director Chiang Hsiu-chiung especially brought her son up on stage when receiving the Merit Prize. Rebecca Richman Cohen’s War Don Don received the other Merit Prize for a film about a war crimes case following Sierra Leone’s civil war which displays the human tendency to judge and be self righteous with our media biased knowledge. Finally A Woman and 5 Elephants was given a jury’s special mention.

Evgeny Solomin who won the International Short Film Competition Grand Prize in 2002 for his film Katorga, won the award again this year with his film Countryside 35x45, full of unforgettable images captured in black and white. Heddy Honigman said of Countryside 35X45 that “the stories are as touching as the images we see”. The first of the two Merit Prizes was handed to Divine Pig, in which Hans Dortmans gives you all the beef (or should I say bacon?) regarding the irony of life choices, as he follows a butcher and his favourite pig…all the way to the slaughtering house. The other Merit Prize went to In Case of Loss of Pressure, where a Sarah Moon Howe who was close to breaking down, took up the camera, and filmed the struggles of her previous life as a stripper with a young boy suffering from symptomatic epilepsy. The film is a sincere response to real life difficulties.

The Grand Prize for the Asian Vision Award went to Byamba Sakhya’s Passion, an honest, touching and open film in which Sakhya gives us his vision of the present state of Mongolian cinema and its inheritance from the past. Shahin Parhami’s Amin won a Merit Prize for this film about lost origins, skilfully combining individual loneliness with the whole nation’s love of music, as it follows the fate of a dying music. Finally, director Bong-nam Park, who was one of the three foreign guests running the DOCumentary DOCtor workshop this year, received the Jury’s Special Mention for Iron Crows, whose lens displayed a silhouette of Asia in the globalizing world. Its close up observation of workers in a Bangladeshi ship destruction yard reveals the absurdity and ruthlessness of human civilization. These pieces were all charming and touching pieces of Asian cinema.

Yen Lan-chuan and Juang Yi-tseng previously won the Taiwan Award Grand Prize for their film The Last Rice Farmer (無米樂). They won it again this year with Hand in Hand (牽阮的手). Juror Wu Wenguang, an important Chinese documentarist said that this film told a moving, sad love story which was full of drama and emotional inspiration before bringing the audience to life with his clinical sense of humour. The Special Jury Award went toA-yao Huang’s Nimbus, which uses beautiful cinematography to show us the history of a Taiwanese landscape in transition. Chen Yuan-chen’s Avoiding Vision was given the Jury’s special mention.

Last but not least, in the Audience Choice Awards I Shot My Mother won the international prize and Let the Wind Carry Me the audience prize.

Article originally written with Shinie Wang for the Taiwan International Documentary Festival

Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Kidlat Cafe

Kidlat de Guia's father, Kidlat Tahimik (Eric de Guia) is one of the most prized Third (World) Cinema filmmakers and artists in the Phillipines. Kidlat initially tried to avoid the cliché of following in his father's footsteps - but alas Kidlat could not shake off his love of film and finally he is now making documentary, most recently for the United Nations. At TIDF 2010, I had a quick chat with him about festival bars, Taiwan, and asked him words of advice for aspiring documentarists.


Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

The cinematic experience

[sigplus] Critical error: Image gallery folder stories/focus_nov10_tidf/cinematic is expected to be a path relative to the image base folder specified in the back-end.

Media Art Centre and Doc EX!T

One area in which Taiwan competes with the best is with its powerful technology. Combining this with the aesthetic expertise, equipment and inspiration provided simply by being on site at the most prestigious Art institution in Taiwan, you could only expect a powerful, full cinematic experience - and we weren't disapointed, in fact we were taken on a journey to complete sensory inebriation by the array of lighting, experimenting and the aesthetics of the art director He Si-ying. Firstly MOFA provided a brand new space for experimental visual arts (Media Art Center) which was used this year for all the Doc EX!t experimental visual art/film performances. Put together by foreign and Taiwanese artists with so much experimentation, light and power that even the room sometimes failed to keep up with the power involved in this spectral abuse.



Starlight Screening

As the night sky began to fall over the "festival" we were met with a breathtaking performance from A Moving Sound, their ethnic drums, lute, erhu and guitar combined with hallucinatory swirly movements sending the audience into a hazy, but comfortable trance. “Let memory be released!” And hundreds of balloons were sent screaming into the sky as the organizers and special guests each took an end of the red ribbon pulled and then proceeded to tear apart the bag that had been imprisoning these balloons. And with that the films could begin to free the fragments of memories that had been closed off to expression …


Tuesday, 30 November 2010 00:00

"I judge a festival by the quality of its volunteers"

Peter Wintonick is an independent documentary filmmaker and a self-professed expert of documentary festivals - he spends the whole year attending them. He is one of the founders of DocAgora, an international documentary think tank and currently runs Necessary Illusions Productions. This makes it all the more heartening that while presenting the award for the best feature length documentary film, he proclaimed: "I judge a festival by the quality of it's volunteers and by that measure, this festival has been absolutely outstanding."

Volunteering is not only socially valuable also gives youths the chance to experience different walks of life or to hone their skills in their fields of interest. Furthermore, it allows them to meet and learn to deal with different types of people and situations, nurturing well-rounded persons. Here are some photos, videos and afterthoughts of volunteers at the 2010 Taiwan International Documentary Festival:

Volunteers from different places, backgrounds and ages all came together to overcome any problems. We all came to the same place, for the same event, with the same idea. It’s really moving to seeFly Fat Boy



Peter's comments, the hard work and the and the positive effects, both on the volunteers and more generally on society that I witnessed at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival were inspiring, and thus eRenlai and the Taipei Ricci Institute (TRI) have decided to launch a new volunteering scheme. The plethora of different events, awards conferences, publications and works that our organisation churns out annually means that there are always plenty of exciting opportunities to learn some skills in the most dynamic, prestigious and creatively stimulating of organizations. We work in publishing, new media, writing, journalism, camera and soundwork, video editing, documentary film production, event organisation, academic conferences, environmental or sustainability work and the arts... Working with eRenlai and TRI you are given proximity to the top academics, feature journalists and event organisers, eRenlai even has its own in-house art directors. If you are interested in participating in eRenlai's volunteering scheme. Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Telling us a bit about yourself, why you want to volunteer and what you are interested in doing.

My first experience volunteering was very special and I met many independent film directors, even if I could only glance at them passing by. I learned new things and there was free lunch. Two birds with one stoneRice



Study hard, play hard!!! ~亭汝

I’m so happy to have been a volunteer and to have met so many people. It expanded my horizons. Great festival by TIDF!!Orange

This is my second time as a TIDF volunteer. I like documentaries because they are different to normal commercial films. I’m willing to volunteer, and I’ll be a volunteer for lifeAnn Chen

I helped many people and many helped me. I hope I’m given this opportunity againKai

3 short days spent watching numerous documentaries with Markus Nornes, and hearing his profound analysis of Asian film, allowed me to see documentary from a different perspective ~ 蘇何

The way these documentaries have touched me, will stay with me throughout my life 國惠




Sunday, 31 October 2010 00:00

Transcending conventional reality: An interview with CCD Workstation’s Wu Wenguang

At the 2010 Taiwan International Documentary Festival, CCD Workstation, an artist space in Beijing had their own very own program. Wu Wenguang who founded the workstation was invited over to the festival as a special guest to give his judgements on the Taiwan award. In between his arrival and his humorous conducting of the audience at the awards ceremony Nick and Shinie Wang caught up with him to find out a little more about The Villager Documentary Project.


Nick Coulson: How did The Villager Documentary Project come about? 

Wu: It came completely by chance in 2005, when I was wondering how the villagers would use a DV camera if given the opportunity. Would they be able to make the documentary they wanted? Ten villagers came up to Beijing and after basic training; they all made a short film related to village self-governance. After this plan finished, those willing to carry on, did so. Ten became four. The films My Village 2006 and My Village 2007 were completed, without restrictions; what they wanted to film, they filmed.


N.C.: Were the villagers able to ‘bare their stuff’ and bare their past memories through this project? Was there any discrepancy between your initial aims and the final outcome? 

Wu: Initially, the title of the film Bare Your Stuff, was questioning whether we are able to release ourselves, to honestly confront and get rid of our doubts, to trust each other. The big problem over the past five years is that none of us trusted each other. These trivial matters made it very difficult to work together, as that requires revealing yourself, understanding and respecting others. I discovered that the problem wasn’t whether or not they could film. The facts have already proven they can film and very well. China doesn’t lack people who can make documentaries. Villagers filming documentary is more about civil consciousness.


Shinie Wang: You have been filming since the late 80s, have your creative or technical ideas changed since then? Your latest film Treating, documents the life of your recently deceased mother, does this indicate a change style?

Wu: The biggest change is in method. Towards the end of the 90s I changed from large professional equipment to a small DV camera. I adopted an image diary style: no topic, no materials, no plan, no budget. I just filmed what happened to be there and then edited it. For example, Bare Your Stuff was about the behind the scenes process of the Villager Documentary Project. Then, in Treating I edited over 10 years of collected images as a form self-treatment. Next I want to make a film about my father, through history and memory, a film that will deal once and for all with the relationship between my father and this family - this is also self-treatment. I won’t film societal documentaries again. I’m bigger than the Palace Museum, there are many things inside myself that I don’t understand. How can I understand others if I don’t understand myself?


S.W.: What documentaries are you most interested in? What are the ingredients of a good documentary?

Wu: I have different hobbies at different times. I like all sorts of documentary, but recently I prefer personal images more than recording workers, the repressed and the suffering, which used to fascinate me. How can these personal images transcend of the normal? Documentaries should not merely show the truth, but they should be able to show through things, like X-ray vision.

Zhou Xueping’s The Starving Village records the last two years of her grandmother’s life including several other old villagers; they talk about the famine fifty years back. It’s very subjective, she wanted the village she knows, not the reality of the village, yet it all comes from reality. While it leaves objectivity slightly, she creates the reality that she knows, that of a ‘starving village’, one that is dying, a ruin. This is transcending conventional reality. This is “the creation of reality”.


Friday, 22 October 2010 00:00

Injecting art into the veins of our youth

[sigplus] Critical error: Image gallery folder stories/focus_nov10_tidf/boxes is expected to be a path relative to the image base folder specified in the back-end.

How would you fit your family in a box?

Bicycle pedals coming out of the sides of the box? A tree of hanging photographs? A girl with her finger on the edge of a sharp broken mirror with her grandpa’s cigarette lit and smoking above her head? Or simply a box full of glass smashed to smithereens? These were just some of the family boxes provided by the young artists from the second season of the Gosh Foundation’s Fruit Camp.

While the organizers, major directors and officials opened the 2010 Taiwan International Documentary Festival on Friday 22 October 2010, the underlying missions of the festival had begun long before, as the organizers asked: How can the seeds of creativity and collective memory be passed onto the youth? How can these young talents be nurtured to produce marvelous works?


The self-made Taiwanese star, Sylvia Chang tried to answer these questions when she founded the Gosh Foundation, which was intended to inspire young artists to transcend the traditional artistic spectrum and keep creating. When Sylvia, a self-taught actress, singer, playwright and director, arrived in Taichung, she immediately went on a tour of the festival's installations - including the works of the ‘Family Story vs. Video Art’ installation, which were the fruits of the second Gosh Foundation ‘Fruit Camp’.

The preliminary group of young artists had to install the quintessence of their family story in one box; meanwhile, advanced students who had excelled the previous season, the original Fruit Camp, invited you into their huge boxes/makeshift homes to play with their life-size toys and view their video art works about their childhood. They had initially been asked to bring their works to be selected and refined the year previous, with the most talented receiving one on one training from top artist in a suitable artistic field.

The results of this training were astounding. In Childhood vs Childhood, Liu Ming-chieh contrasted the childhood of his grandma with his own, for example cutting between footage of his younger brother innocently playing with a paper airplane, and that of fighter jets during the Japanese colonial period, which represented how airplanes were perceived in his grandmother’s memory. Li Pei-tzu created a formidable animation video which explored her winter melon producing ‘Squash Family’- ‘squashes’ in Taiwanese can refer to short, fat people. To research these ‘family stories’ the kids had to engage their elders with questions of their youth - inheriting and developing their memories. This is a lesson that could help all youths communicate better with their elders. Finally, Yang Hsin-he visually expresses her inner struggles of a life and memory fractured between her early years in Kaohsiung and more recently in Yilan. The young artists were enthralled by the opportunity at such a young age to display their works in Taiwan’s most prestigious art museum.


See Min-chieh’s Childhood vs Childhood, Pei-tzu’s Squash Family or Hsin-he's Homesick

Images by Liu Lu-chen

Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00

Improving the archives

In this audio file we interview Yael Hersonski, director of the groundbreaking new holocaust documentary A Film Unfinished. She talks a bit about her mission to look at wartime holocaust footage in an alternative way. Below is the transcript.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00

TIDF 2010

Last month saw the 7th biennial Taiwan International Documentary Festival held in Taichung. eRenlai was omnipresent at the festival; working in collaboration with the festival, providing festival snaps, videos and cutting-edge interviews with the best in the lonely, but precious art of documentary. The festival showed its continued prestige inviting some of the biggest names in the documentary world from North America, Europe and Asia including producers, directors, editors and cameramen whilst not turning its back on Taiwan's own documentary trade with its many workshops, lectures and the Taiwan Award. This focus will take this occasion to look at the power and importance of documentary in the contemporary world of overloaded, abused information and the flux audiovisuel and explore the festival's main theme of 'Free Memory'. This freeing of one's memory was best incorporated in He Si-ying's fantastic bubble head design, yet the festival also included the Memory Wall, a space where the public was invited to bring a picture that meant or signified a lot to them then the proceeding pictures taken, holding their pictures, joined the wall.

tahimik_kidlateRenlai caught up with the festivals special guests including some of the biggest names in documentary, both Taiwanese and foreign. But before any of these we interviewed with the festival director who gave us some background information about the projects and participants. They included the academic and founder of the Swiss Visions du Reel, Jean Perret; emotional and intuitive director amongst the most celebrated in the field of documentary, Heddy Honigmann; Beijing's biggest documentarist/curator since the Great Reform in China, Wu Wenguang who brings with him the documentaries produced for The Village Documentary Project and of course the king of Third World film, the dancing indo-genius Tahimik Kadlit. Furthermore we have podcasts with director of a very different type of holocaust movie, Yael Hersonski, Hong Kong director Yao Ching and Tahimik's son Kidlat.

Yet TIDF is more than just a showcase for international documentaries and a rubber stamp for multi-thousand dollar prizes. It is also a place for young aspiring directors, filmmakers and artists to learn from the experts. As such they incorporated 'family box' installations from talented children which had their origins in Sylvia Chang's GOSH Foundation. The three young winners of the competition from the year before were delighted to have their stunning video art works displayed in the MOFA gallery as well as being showcased on eRenlai. Please sit back and enjoy the works from Liu Min-chieh, Li Pei-tzu and Yang Hsin-he.

Finally, nothing can truly match up to the visual arts experience and equipment at Taichung's NTMOFA, so if you couldn't make it to the festival we bring you a taste of the cinematic experience you missed, whether it be the techplex media art centre, with its experimental screenings or the wondrous outdoor 'starlit screenings'. Indeed, it was on the 22nd October 2010 at 7pm when the helium filled balloons were released flying from the net that was our brain, way into the skies and as such we could begin with the release of these memories from all around the world hundreds of movies beginning with the first film Doc Taichung, a montage of 6 different films, made by six different directors especially for this year's 2010 festival.

To see the award winners please click here


Thursday, 02 September 2010 00:00









因此,日惹同時也是藝術家的城市,擁有風格繁複多變的建築、繪畫、塗鴉、刺青、舞蹈、偶戲與宗教遺產,吸引許多藝術家與社運工作者在此活動。只要去日惹看看當地的圍牆或橋樑,不用花上多少時間,就可以發現許多政治壁畫,和這座城市創意盎然的充沛能量。從印尼國民詩人仁達(W.S. Rendra)的時代開始,經歷蘇哈托主政時期再到今日,社運份子和藝術行動者(Artivist,註1)透過日惹及其周遭地區的藝文活動,將教育與公民反抗的思想,散播到印尼其他較為保守的村落或小鎮。








這群藝術工作者中,帶頭的是日惹知名畫家伊萬.威悠諾(Iwan Wijino)。他在2003年創辦「表演俱樂部」(Performance Klub),主張以藝術作為社會改革的手段。創團初始,成員每週固定舉辦「星期三行動」(Wednesday Action),邀請印尼國內外的行為藝術家共襄盛舉,推出由數個小品組成的表演。到了2005年3月,表演俱樂部依靠「星期三行動」所建立的基礎,推出每年一度的重頭戲:「Perfurbance(註2)」國際行為藝術節,分別聚焦於不同的社會、政治或人文主題,並向當地傳統藝術家致意,強調傳統藝術的重要。第一屆的Perfurbance藝術節探討激烈都市化造成的影響,第二屆側重教育商品化的討論,第三屆以心靈重建為活動重點,第四屆則關注全球暖化與環保議題。










頗富深義的是,作為計畫實施的場地,是仁達的家。他除了是偉大的詩人,也是印尼戲劇界的重要人物,更是將爪哇傳統文化引入劇場的先驅。這位因反抗蘇哈托政權而被囚禁,集社會運動者和激進藝術家於一身的勇者,曾經如此主張:「我想引進些新的東西,像是因果律……我希望大眾——尤其是日趨僵化的政客——能做分析性的思考。」而仁達的女兒瑞秋.薩拉絲瓦蒂(Rachel Saraswati)現在則在表演俱樂部擔任計畫聯絡人和藝術節祕書。對自由開放、積極投身社會議題的藝術家團體來說,仁達成了他們的守護者;像表演俱樂部這類的團體則延續了仁達以來的創作傳統,致力維護近來相對開放的自由風氣,希望能使其繼續發展。
















薩拉絲瓦蒂以諷刺的手法,突顯印尼在全球化世界下的認同困境。她穿上垃圾袋,坐在浴缸中唱著印尼的國歌《偉大的印度尼西亞》(Indonesia Raya),她的同伴則在旁邊升起美國國旗。從法國來的布魯諾.梅賽(Bruno Mercet)用柔軟材質製成小型雕像,並與其互動,顯示人類如何受到小型物件的奴役。至於甘布浪岡村的村民也不甘示弱地展開許多演出,像是他們用來召喚神靈、極為色彩斑斕的傳統舞蹈,以及其他音樂表演和傳統祭典。


對於參與並策畫第三屆「Perfurbance」藝術節的成員來說,這活動確實彌補了表演研究上理論與實際演練的鴻溝,同時也結合藝術和現實生活的議題。從美國來的表演者揚.康納爾(Jan Cornall)如此評論這次的藝術節:「當地村落和國際性的藝術社群發現他們用的是同一種語言——精神上、心靈上的語言。這實在太美妙了!」而第一次來此表演的雷扎(Reza)也說:「村落本身就是一項行為藝術創作,觀眾和表演者之間沒有分界。」








1. 藝術行動者(Artivist)是「藝術」(art)和「行動主義者」(activist)的合成語。近來隨著反全球化和反戰運動日趨興盛,開始發展出所謂的「藝術行動主義」(Artivism),主張以藝術為手段來進行社會運動。不同於之前以政治諷刺或宣傳為目的而創作的藝術工作者,藝術行動者比較偏好參與實際行動,例如街頭塗鴉或行為藝術,來彰顯自己的理念。


2.「Perfurbance」一詞為performance art(表演藝術)和urban(都市)的合成語,而藝術節中許多探討的主題也確實和都市化問題密切相關。









攝影/MES 56〔






No74_small 想知道更多精采內容,請購買本期雜誌!



Tuesday, 27 July 2010 14:22

Transitional (in)justice

When referring specifically to the death penalty in Taiwan, one must take into account transitional justice, it has after all been transforming from one that just ...years ago experienced the cruelty and barbarity of the White Terror.

Minnanese director Cheng Wen-tang, has always concerned with issues of fairness and the struggles of the common people in Taiwan. In his recent films, such as 'tears' has decided to take on the topics of fairness, forgiveness and regret in the justice system. Here he talks briefly about transitional justice.

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/thumbnails_video/zhengwentang_transitional_t.jpg|}images/stories/Sept_2010_focus/videos/zhengwentang_transitional_justice.flv{/rokbox}

Monday, 26 July 2010 22:41

Leading the long road to abolition (TAEDP)

Lin Hsinyi is the Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP). In a gradual reaction to the cases of Zhou Xun-shan, Lu Cheng and Xu Zi-chiang, TEADP was established in 2003, and has been working towards abolition ever since, as well as helping appeal death row cases and offering support to relatives of those who have received a death sentence or who have already been executed. They are currently the most active group in Taiwan regarding the cessation of the death penalty and are also members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN)

As a recognisable outspoken critic of the death penalty, Hsinyi often receives personal threats on her life and body, a product of the prevailing atmosphere of hate. This atmosphere of hate is something she feels is an obstacle to objective debate on the subject. Hsinyi also feels that the resumption of executions after a four year moratorium in May was a huge setback, yet, she believes progressive steps are still being made. Here she talks about why she does not favour the death penalty as a form of punishment, the obstacles to abolishing the death penalty and what can be done in the future.

Or for readers in Mainland China, watch it here

For more information on the TAEDP, watch their own introductory video, or see the English section of their website.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010 15:07

The victims, the victims and the other victims

For the past 10 years Lu Ping and Lu Jing have been fighting to overturn the guilty verdict in the Chan Chun-tzu murder case. Their brother Lu Cheng was charged with the murder, and sentenced to death. On 7 September 2000 he was executed. The family found there were huge inadequacies with the case.  They argue that Lu Cheng was a brother, a father and a human being, thus the potential that he was unjustly executed brings the whole system of justice into disrepute. Here Lu Cheng's older sister's give their voice on what they see as a latent miscarriage of justice.

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/Sept_2010_focus/dpfocus_ luthumbnail.jpg|}images/stories/Sept_2010_focus/videos/focusdp_luzheng.flv{/rokbox}

The spirit medium

From a foreigner's point of view, one of the strangest things in the case was the involvement of a sort of psychic, or from the Chinese 'spirit medium' (lingmei). While for many the use of a spiritual medium in solving a crime would beggar belief, shockingly the role of the psychic appears not to have been eradicated from use in the Taiwanese judicial system. The clerk in a law court, Pan Minjie, discussed her visions with the police regarding the murder of Chan Chun-tzu when they were without leads. The police had apparently been under huge pressure to solve the crime, or perhaps find a scapegoat. The Lu's say that they found and arrested Lu Cheng as a suspect on the grounds of the spiritual medium visions. Then after 36 hours in the police station, with many issues regarding the lack of complete interview recordings, and with reports from the family of torture and extortion, Lu Cheng signed a confession. After the sentence had been passed they never again re-investigated the psychic aspect of the case and the recordings were never released.

Tuesday, 06 July 2010 12:02

To harm is human, to forgive is divine

Ming C. Huang is the director of the Prison Fellowship in Taiwan. The prison fellowship gives counselling to various prisoners. They also look after victims and their families and try to fully reintegrate them into society . Of particular interest is that they give counselling to those on death row. This gives Ming a rare insight into prisoners that others may have completely given up on and provides a more accurate understanding of the individual issues and mindsets of each prisoner.

Saturday, 03 July 2010 14:29

I dance, therefore I am...

When you think the last of your youth has been robbed from you; your energy, ideals and dreams...

Stop! Look! Listen! Dance!

Empower yourself, stop thinking, relieve your mind of any thoughts and achieve enlightenment through dancing. Everyone needs to sing or dance. Are you missing out on this aspect of life? Enjoyed from it's purest and simplest to its most complex forms, dance has been pushing the boundaries of the human body since the dawn of man.

Dance is a natural high, both healthy and cathartic. Perhaps suggesting that if the world leaders got together and danced, all the wars of the world would be ended, could be oversimplified, perhaps even heretic, but... perhaps, just perhaps it would. On a smaller scale their is real healing potential in dance. When words become scarce, your body can become your language. A flick of the neck and a twirl can say "I'm yours"; as you stride the floor at a wedding all the family quarrels can be forgotten in an instant; and bouncing up and down at a rave in the mountains can defeat the anxiety of any economic crisis as faith in nature, in the pure is restored.

Dance is also a non-exclusive recreational activity, in which anyone can partake in regardless of means, class or status. Dance and rave culture produced the generation of love, or the Peace, Love, Unity and Respect where people of all creed and colour joined in bliss. Whether you are the most gymnastic of dancers in the infamous Cloud Gate, one of the Queen's finest in the Royal Ballet or a hundred year-old Kazuo Ohno still twirling his fingers to the very last beat. Whether you are attending your first school disco, raving away your adrenaline-filled teens, or enjoying your hard earned retirement, ballroom dancing in front of Houhai Park in Beijing.

AboJiexin01In the case of East-West dialogue there is much to be appreciated and gained from this cross-cultural exploration. With globalisation, a whole new world of exploration has been opened to us. The Beijingers have taken to Ballroom dancing and made it an outdoor park pastime. All over Asia interest is generated in obscure dances of aborigine and minority groups as a protection and celebration of diversity. Many dancers have started adopting Indian and Buddhist meditation techniques combining them with various dance forms. All around the world people are fusing different dance concepts and while language is the first step to understanding another culture, dance is a language that can help you reach another level.

We were able to put this months focus together with the generous collaboration of five dance acts and an experimental piece of dance-performance art. Firstly, we present the technical finesse Liu Shao-lu's Taipei Dance Circle and his three dancers Wang Xianbin, Huang Ruyue, Liujiaxing who we filmed in a rehearsal that was more powerful than than most performances. They combine contemporary dance with eastern martial arts and Taichi but incorporate Taiwanese traditional ceremonies. Then we report on the Horse company who are self-proclaimed as the only male-exclusive band in Taiwan. The Yuan Dancers also include old customs and their Arts Director Faidaw Fagod brings us back to the roots of Aboriginal dance in Taiwan. In contrast, the to-hot-to-handle dancers of Taiwan's only burlesque troupe, the Rock in Hose, use humour and parody to promote their social causes. If that hasn't inspired you to swing, twist, jump and twirl, we also explore some experimental acts with Sannyas tribute and development of the form of Butoh favoured by the recently deceased Kazuo Ohno, and a young digital artist Shih Wei-Chieh combines his inventions with that of freelance dancer Li Jiexin to create his latest piece 2304 + 1.

"I care not how you dance, but why" Pina Bausch

(Photos by Yu-ying Li and Shih Wei-chieh)


Wednesday, 23 June 2010 11:37

Sannyas Meditation Theatre: 'Presentation' series

Since 2007 the Sannyas Meditational Workshop has been experimenting with the use Kazuo Ohno's style of Butoh in theatre works. The Presentation Series was a 4-part workshop following in this light which started in March this year. Before the final performance, Presentation 4 on June 19th, Kazuo Ohno passed away aged 103 years old, thus this final performance was a valedictory to the pioneer of Butoh and the biggest inspiration to Sannyas.

Deva Satyana wrote the following passage to introduce 'Presentation 4' and give a tribute to the life and Butoh of Kazuo Ohno:

On June 1st 2010,

Kazuo Ohno left this world

but perhaps Kazuo Ohno's Butoh work

has just entered a new phase

Thus, we must continue to ask: What is Butoh?

Critiques split Hijikata and Ohno into dark Butoh and spiritual Butoh

But what is dark? And what is spiritual?

Formed of spirit, life and nature

further definition and analysis affords no gain

Because each dancer is unique

Finding their own distinct path to spirituality

When sandstorms cover the skies,


you must wait for the sand to settle, before you can find your own way

Similarly, only when your train of thought, ideas, impulses and feelings have calmed,

can your consciousness truly emerge, clear and distinct as the shine of a mirror

And this consciousness must be able to exist in your body

In other words the body must produce this paramount channel of consciousness

The body's central balance, alertness and freedom,

these various aspects of body and consciousness

in Kazuo Ohno and Yoshito Ohno's Butoh teachings

are all key elements, whether explicit or hidden

Qualities one must realise, before the colourful images of the soul can reach their correct place and function


Presentation 4 marks the conclusion of this phase of Sannyas'

The next phase will be the building of this body state and consciousness,

Fully, assiduously entering the spirit that Mr. Kazuo Ohno envisaged

this abstruse, mysterious and dazzling universe

dance_meditationThis road is not easy, not easy at all

due to the ailments of inertia and feeblemindedness

Even so, Kazuo Ohno is still watching us

perhaps with even more encouragement and expectations

And thus, Sannyas will keep moving

towards a true essence, a true divinity

...a true Butoh

(Translated from Chinese by Nick Coulson)


The following video contains fragments of the Presentation series:

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/thumbnails_video/focusdance_sannyas.jpg|}images/stories/videos/FocusJuly2010/focusdance_sannyasresentations.flv{/rokbox}


The written tribute was accompanied by this video introduction to 'Presentation 4'


{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/Sanyuan/*{/rokbox}

Tuesday, 22 June 2010 18:21

Breathe with Taipei Dance Circle

[sigplus] Critical error: Image gallery folder stories/July_2010_Focus/GuangHuan is expected to be a path relative to the image base folder specified in the back-end.

The Taipei Dance Circle was founded by Liou Shaw-Lu in 1985, formerly a co-founder of the Cloud Gate, widely recognised as one of the biggest contributors to contemporary dance in Taiwan. The Circle absorbs aspects from traditional Hakka ceremonies along with Tai Chi and other eastern martial arts to form their aesthetic.


Creeping around, past broken wires into an abandoned middle school in Xinbeitou, we went to find out what exactly the Dance Circle were up too in such a secretive location...


On arriving, the troupe were beginning a practice performance, I was speechless and heart palpitating as the tension in the line formed by line of three dancers pushed me into a corner. After, Teacher Liou enthusiastically began detailing the pursuits and personnel of his current troupe and how he sees puts emphasis on three areas when creating his dances: mind, body and the mystical Chi based around breathing methods. The bottom line, however, was that these feelings, these physical emotions could not be put into words."When your body begins listening to you, the need for language becomes obsolete", Teacher Liou concluded...


Photos provided by Taipei Dance Circle and N. Coulson

Tuesday, 22 June 2010 17:44

Sannyas Meditative Theatre: Kazuo Ohno's seeds planted in Taiwan

[sigplus] Critical error: Image gallery folder stories/sannyas_all is expected to be a path relative to the image base folder specified in the back-end.


On June 1st 2010, Kazuo Ohno, one of Butoh's two great pioneers, passed away aged 104. Below are some inspiring words he donated to the universe in 1998:

A Message to the Universe

On the verge of death one revisits the joyful moments of a lifetime.
One's eyes are opened wide-gazing into the palm, seeing death, life, joy and sorrow with a sense of tranquility.
This daily studying of the soul, is this the beginning of the journey?
I sit bewildered in the playground of the dead. Here I wish to dance and dance and dance and dance, the life of the wild grass.
I see the wild grass, I am the wild grass, I become one with the universe. That metamorphosis is the cosmology and studying of the soul.
In the abundance of nature I see the foundation of dance. Is this because my soul wants to physically touch the truth?
When my mother was dying I caressed her hair all night long without being able to speak one word of comfort. Afterwards, I realized that I was not taking care of her, but that she was taking care of me.
The palms of my mother's hands are precious wild grass to me.
I wish to dance the dance of wild grass to the utmost of my heart.

A Message to the Universe by Kazuo Ohno

(Translated from Japanese by Maura Nguyen Donohue, Dance Insider)



In late 2005, Deva Satyana founded Sannyas, or the Sannyas Meditation Theatre, finally planting the seeds of Kazuo Ohno butoh in Taiwan. While the everchanging troupe follows in the soulful footsteps of Kazuo Ohno's Butoh, it is heavily influenced by Indian meditative practices and the writings of Osho. Sannyas means seeker of the truth. Here Satyana explains a bit more about the concepts and philosophy behind Sannyas.


In February 2010, Sannyas made a tribute dance to Kazuo Ohno. Hidden in the crumbling buildings of Taipei's Wolong Street, the new Sannyas troupe ventured the furthest they had ever been into the fourth dimension. For a slideshow of the performance, click here


Visit Sannyas' website



Wednesday, 09 June 2010 18:34

Concrete Sound Dialogue

In April 2010, Alexis Mailles, a teacher at the Ecole Nationale Supérieur D'ARTS Paris-Cergy and founder of No Media, brought a multi-year group of students to Taipei, to give a workshop on 'concrete music' and multimedia art installations.

Since France is full of machines and has a strong musical culture of using these machines to make music, he thought it would be interesting to hold this workshop in the place where all of these machines are manufactured which, in contrast, does not have such a culture of making electronic music.

Alexis combines his technological skills with a distrust of using machines that people do not understand. Thus he deconstructs these machines to their simplest form; using the loop technique to manufacture his music.

Watch his interview

Monday, 31 May 2010 11:18

Xu Guangqi - China's Man for All Seasons

Paul Xu Guangqi (1562 -1633) from rural Shanghai rose to the office of Grand Secretary of the Ming Dynasty Emperor and is known as the forerunner of modern science in China. His friendship and collaboration with European Jesuit missionaries, especially the renowned Matteo Ricci, is the first instance of real cultural dialogue between China and the West. Together with Ricci, Paul Xu introduced western mathematics, astronomy, and scientific method into Chinese scholarship. By developing new crops to combat famine, Xu triggered China’s “green revolution”. This 4-part docudrama shows China at the start of its cultural relations with the West and provides us with a wealth of material for reflection on globalization today.

Thursday, 20 May 2010 00:00

Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit in the realm of the dragon

[sigplus] Critical error: Image gallery folder stories/goln_dragon is expected to be a path relative to the image base folder specified in the back-end.


In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the passing of Matteo Ricci, Gjon Kolndrekaj was commissioned by the Society of Jesus and the Italian diocese of Macerata, the birthplace of Matteo Ricci's birthplace, to direct the documentary on the life of Matteo Ricci. In  filming the documentary he would journey along Matteo Ricci's path, starting in Ricci's home town of Macerate. Taipei's own Ricci Institute also thought it fitting to invite the accomplished director to Taiwan's first screening of the 50-minute documentary at the National Central Library in Taiwan, before which he was interviewed by eRenlai.  The on-site interpretation was provided generously by Antonella Tulli of Fu Jen Catholic University.

Gjon spent his early years in Albania. His inspiration to focus on directing documentaries came from Mother Teresa, a cousin of his mother. He once asked Mother Teresa to come with him for a couple of hours to a special place. He took her to a place where they would be drawn by a reknowned holy artist. Whilst they were being drawn, Mother Teresa told him that if he wanted to do God's work he should count on his fingers every morning on awaking, five things that he would do for humanity. By night he should count how many of these he had accomplished. Each good deed for humanity would be considered a deed done for God. From then Gjon put all his efforts into documentary, where he perceived his mission to lie.

Eventually Gjon tried to progress to a prestigious film school in Rome. At the time Albania had a very closed off regime (whose few allies included China) and no one in Europe had much information about the situation. Gjon took advantage of this to proceed in his mission, recounting some tales about the situation at the time in Albania. Fascinated by what he told them, the competitive school decided to enroll him. In this school he was exposed to some of the greatest documentary and filmmakers to ever embrace the world, amongst those he was influenced by, learnt from and worked with were Valerio Zurlini, Micros Jankson (Autumn Sonata) and Jon Evans.

Gjon has made documentaries of two particularly great people. They were of different eras and their missions were in different countries. He has already made a documentary of Mother Teresa and says that she and Ricci both managed to raise awareness of the struggles and poverty of the common people to the leaders of their respective countries. However they started from different paths: Mother Teresa initially acquainted herself with the leaders and worked her way down to those with the worst hardships; Ricci started off with the common people then worked his mission into the sympathies of the gentry class and then all the way to the emperor. His achievements go without saying, he was the first person to really introduce Chinese civilisation to the west.

When asked about the future Gjon talked with the confident optimism of a man who is constantly in the process of accomplishing his mission and with the knowledge that he is at least  contributing . Regarding the situation in his own homecountry of Albania he said "Clever people, will find a clever solution. The path to democracy is a slow process. They're on the right path". On his own future, he will be returning to his own hometown this summer. Furthermore, he has another project in the works, another Saint - Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini - who helped Italian immigrants in the USA when they were one of the most marginalised and maltreated groups in the country. Later Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone and other prominent Italian Americans later set up a foundation in her name and her honour. Once again, hers is a case that has huge relevance to the modern day where there are still innumerous groups of immigrants suffering persecution and racism all over the world.

Gjon explains that he began to understand the achievements of Matteo Ricci when he had the opportunity to travel to Beijing in 1976: "Focusing so much on researching Matteo Ricci, this Catholic missionary, this Italian scientist who met with eastern philosophy and ideology, was an undertaking that fascinated me. I hope that through this documentary I have contributed to the understanding and recognition of Matteo Ricci, not just those for those who worked on the project but to give many others the chance to know him"

"Because he fascinated me as a person; first as a man, secondly as a man of faith and this insight in knowledge that he wanted to transmit. His magnanimity that all men of good will can have" -Gjon Kolndrekaj 

To see the official trailer for the documentary click here.







Thursday, 20 May 2010 13:29

Remembering Ricci: Opening of the Matteo Ricci - Pacific Studies Reading Room at the National Central Library

On April 16th in Taipei the National Central Library of Taiwan and Taipei Ricci Institute inaugurated the new "Matteo Ricci Pacific Studies Reading Room" to commemorate Ricci's contribution to East-West cultural exchange. The vibrant ceremony is shown in the video above, and it was followed by Professor Nicolas Standaert's symposium: "Sino-European Displacements: The Circulation of Prints between Europe and China". Professor Standaert is one of the world’s foremost experts on cultural exchanges between Europe and China during the Late Ming and Early Qing dynasties.

Named after the famous Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, over the last 50 years the Ricci Institute has been devoted to research in fields such as international Chinese Studies, comparative religion, and linguistics. The Institute is the compiler and publisher of Le Grand Ricci (a Chinese-French dictionary), and publisher of Renlai Magazine. During the process of compiling this dictionary, the Ricci Institute amassed a considerable number of books, particularly relating to linguistics, philosophy and the social sciences. In order to promote an atmosphere supporting academic research, and to allow many more people able to make full use of its collection, the Institute has permanently loaned them to the National Central Library. The Library possesses the ideal environment to house such a collection, with extensive experience in preserving and digitizing valuable historical documents and records to a professional standard. To fulfill the need to safely store and make available for reading the books entrusted to it by the Ricci Institute, the Library has established the Matteo Ricci & Pacific Studies Reading Room on the 6th floor.

At the same time, with the support of the library, the Council for Aboriginal Affairs and of individual scholars, the Taipei Ricci Institute is working towards the creation of a "Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies" that will become its main research outlet and focus. New research into language evolution suggests most Pacific populations originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. The Austronesians arose in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. Before entering the Philippines, they paused for around a thousand years, and then spread rapidly across the 7,000km from the Philippines to Polynesia in less than one thousand years. After settling in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the Austronesians paused again for another thousand years, before finally spreading further into Polynesia eventually reaching as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island. This cultural and linguistic history opens up compelling perspectives on the globalization process and on the challenges that humankind is now confronting.



{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/ricci_study_open/*{/rokbox}

Thursday, 29 April 2010 17:57

Notes on impermanence

Being an outsider in the city can give rise to a poetry of sorts. Whether we are business ex-pats, exchange students or foreign workers, we all eventually face the same problem of our wandering impermanence. For this months Focus on poetry in the city, I look back at some written scraps and ramblings on my own impermanence and identity issues whilst I was a student of Mandarin in Taipei. Of Anglo-French descent, studying Chinese, for me it was fitting that I could find scrawlings in the three languages (and cultures) between which I’m torn:

Thursday, 15 April 2010 15:29

On the shoulders of Matteo Ricci: The Jesuits meeting with Chinese scholars

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Fr. Matteo Ricci. This remarkable Jesuit not only signifies the spread of the Catholic Church to China but also in his partnership with Xu Guangqi, introduced and shared European astronomy and maths further enriching Chinese society and its education system. Two modern day 'Matteo Riccis', Jacques Duraud and Jerry Martinson, both Jesuits in the service of cultural exchange introduce to us the life and achievements of Matteo Ricci and let us know what he symbolizes for them.

An exhibit on Matteo Ricci was organized at the National Central Library in Taipei:
The Jesuits’ Encounter with Chinese Scholars: A Meeting of East and West -- An Exhibition Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of Matteo Ricci
The exhibit formally started on Saturday 17 and ran until May 16, 2010,
at the new Matteo Ricci Pacific Studies Research Room


{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/matteo_ricci_shoulder/*{/rokbox}

Tuesday, 30 March 2010 17:05

The Urban Nomad film festival in Taipei

The Urban Nomad Film Fest is back Commencing tonight, April 30th, David Frazier and Sean Scanlan wil bring you the 9th consecutive year of the festival. Here we interview them on the history of the festival, their best moments and living in the underground.

As well as all the usual original and interesting films, this year's festival will have an environmental touch to it. For more information and full schedules check out the film festival blog here.

Readers in Mainland China (Apologies for advertisements):



Thursday, 04 March 2010 00:00

Black, red and gold: harmony in Jogja

There tends to be a higher level of social cohesion in societies where there is near uniformity on religious beliefs. For example if everyone thinks that stealing in any circumstances is wrong; then stealing in any wrong. If a new or reformed version of a different religion comes along and claims that stealing is ok, so long as it's stealing from the rich to give to the poor, then we have a Robin Hood dilemma. Various other examples of moral uncertainty often lenick_baliad to arguments, hatred, unneccesary death, religious repression and conflicts. Alas in the modern, globalised world we are confronted with this dilemma; most communities are becoming more religiously diverse, and this trend shows no sign of reversing. And thus the neccesity of progressive, deeper interreligious dialogue, understanding and diplomacy.

Indonesia is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. Although its over 80% Muslim, there are huge communities of Hindus, Protestants, Catholics, Bhuddists and various indigenous Animist religions. That said, Indonesia is no panacea of religious and cultural harmony, indeed there are many inter-religious and inter-ethinic conflicts ongoing, particularly in the regions further from the centre; however, beneath the questionable reputation abroad, and a sputtering of regional conflicts, there are many admirable examples for other parts of Indonesia and much of the world of how to be united by diversity and plurality with loose common aims of development and peace. Some examples in Indonesia also demonstrate to sceptics the universals present in Islam which allow for a very tolerant framework based on a few less disputable religious values.

The ever popular tourist destination Bali is one example of traditional Hindu culture, which whilst being an integral part of the Indonesian republic maintains a large degree of autonomy from the national government on cultural and religious issues. Huge amounts a of unique cultural resources, accompanied by the help of tourist dollars Bali Island has maintained a strong self-identity and a wealth of cultural resources.


nick_yogyakarta2[dropcap cap="T"]he culture of tolerance in Yogyakarta or "Jogja" as the locals call it, is particularly strong. The pillars in the Emperors palace in Yogyakarta represent the three colours of the different major religions which have greatly influenced Yogyakarta and Javanese culture: The Black, Gold and Red symbolise the harmony and synthesis in the old Javan kingdom, of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. Jogja is also full of Muslim, Christian and non-affiliated universities, some of them even have their own institutes focusing on inter-religious dialogue, and though other regions aren't always as successful as Jogja at realising a multicultural friendly environment, Jogja sits in the middle of Java as a symbol of a freer, more harmonious future. In fact the only beliefs not so welcome in Jogja are the fundamentalists and anything that tries to make the citizens conform, such as those that apply restrictions on quotidian religious and creative freedoms. Differences are welcomed with interest.[/dropcap]Due to its role in the formation of the Indonesian republic, Jogja was granted a degree of autonomy during the repressive Suharto era (1965–1998). Therefore it found itself assuming the role as the comparatively tolerant liberal hub. The tolerance doesn't just stop with the religious freedoms and it fully embraces various cultural influences and modern arts, preferring to add depth, character and variety to its heritage. If one searches around Jogja just looking at the walls, bridges etc, it nevernick_yogyakarta3 takes too long to notice the political murals and the sheer energy put into expressing ones creativity in this city. The activist, artivist energy, has been providing education and civil resistance through art around the city and activities in the surrounding areas as well as up and down the country where integration isn't always so strong (often with villages or towns divided specifically on religious grounds, usually muslim/christian) from the times of the great poet Rendra standing up to the New Order up until the present day.

Though it is not always the case elsewhere in Indonesia, in Jogja not only does religion fulfill a role in maintaining social order, but it is also a place of abundant intercommunity dialogue. The poor seem relaxed and without bitterness and everyday actions are filled with a set of moral distinctions which tend to be easy to follow. Furthermore their is a sense that they all are all children of God, who through various social and economic backgrounds have adopted slightly different paths in search of the ultimate truths; that there are also universal 'goods' present in all the major religions here.
Thursday, 25 February 2010 14:03

Elo Progo: Kusno in wonderland

The Eloprogo Art House is an artists retreat in Yogyakarta province, Indonesia. Its a mystical place overlooking a holy river, which lies but a five minute ride from the great Borobudur Temple, an awe-inspiring wonder of the world.

I entered through the gates protected by the great dragon gods, the first thing I saw was a huge statue of a women's face, strangely I found it somewhat comforting, this face was the link between this magical world and those in the magical kingdom above who protected it. A holiday resort for gods who wanted a human holiday! I continued past the marauding chickens, and an old one-legged farmer muttered some incomprehensible words as he smoked his home made kretek, as big as a cigar, slowly twisted his head around his neck and pointed in that direction. As I continued through I heard the sounds of harmonica's, djembes, a guitar and powerful voices enchanting the woods. I had come upon a feast, a banquet, four people we're dancing on tables, had I gone back in time?!

A female seductress dressed in black recanted her pains, and a human/beast of a madman screamed and tried to attack, though controlled and held back by his master. 'saya mau setu Kretek, Kusno?' I could do anything 'mau bir?' And I drunk and sang and screamed through the night, kretek after kretek, beer after beer...and its six o clock. Eat. Eat like there's no food tomorrow (there isn't, not until 6 o clock anyway). One of the men told me to come along with them we went through strange windows, small rooms filled with colours and shapes then we were led down some winding cliff stairs through the snake infested forests and down to the magical river. At first I was shy, but then following everyone elses cue I ripped off all his clothes and jumped in to the river, massaging myself under the rapids, feeling just as I had done when I emerged from mine mothers body, so pure, so clean, so natural that I would never wear clothes again and then something came into sight...a baby...a baby on the side of the river, and when I saw this I knew, this was perhaps a new prophet, he had a mission to deal with the new evils which were coming. I was struck by an intense headache and collapsed to the ground as I blacked out. I woke up in a deep hole ...



Wednesday, 10 February 2010 19:36

What is still sacred?

Celebration in Crisis? As we approach the first Chinese New Year of the twentytenty's. The Chinese Diaspora is in a prolific period of evolution. Its festivals also appear to be in a process of evolution. Chinese New Year is becoming internationalised on a scale close to that of Christmas. [/dropcap]With these evolutions come new challenges, new identity issues and new soul searching. Indeed the true value of Christmas has long been questioned annually, the commercialisation of the ceremony, its newer function as a stimulant to heat up the economy in the midst of winter, lifting economies out of recession and lifting the mood of the people. Indeed, Christmas and CNY have a lot of similarities:

[dropcap cap="T"]he east is red, the west is red. Is there enough red dye in the world or will our stocks of red Christmas hats, red fireworks, red lights, red Santa’s, red envelopes, red banners ever be depleted? Santa's overworked elves have growing bags under their eyes, reduced holidays; rising fuel costs stops new machinery being installed, running out of resources but the kids keep asking for more, so the parents keep asking for more and Santa has got to provide more, because his constituents no longer embrace the concepts of moderation and austerity, the constituents want more, the constituents always want more, but the elves underground keeping everything going are really, REALLY tired, their joints are red and close to collapse..[inset side="right" title="Beast"]Santa's overworked elves have grown bags under their eyes[/inset] And there are new competitors on the field; billions of pounds of lights, explosions fly over from the central kingdom. The New Year Beast (年獸) is faring no better than Santa in the East And as one gets closer to the New Year you can here his cries from the mountains surrounding Taipei as he looks over the city, over Taipei 101: "This used to be my domain, now they encroach further, now the river runs red all the way up to my mountain abode. I fear the red more than anything, red banners with spring couplets which spread propaganda that deny me, which decry my ending; and the kids, the kids who used to be so delightfully cute, so delightfully edible; I used to eat the kids, now the kids are all armed with their bazookas of light, these fireworks of artificial joy; the streets are getting redder the kids are getting fatter and the fat cats are getting fatter and everyone is taking a bite out of me. They don't even pay me due respect, they eat more food as escapism from their uncomfortable family gatherings, feeling naked, as the computer screen that acts as a shield no longer separates and protects them from reality."[/dropcap]

As broadband and facebook reach all corners of the world it gets more and more difficult to find the last few patches of real human interaction in our virtual world. The annual visit to your grandparents, became your biennial, became your triennial visit home, became your annual telephone call, became your biannual msn conversation and electronic Christmas card. Technology and society evolve faster than the human mind is ready for. Christmas trees, mince pies, Easter eggs hunts, turkey, Yorkshire puddings, present opening, the red arrows became a mere figment of our past memories and we sink into nostalgia. Are we the generation of fast food, fast love?

So what is left of our celebrations? WHAT IS STILL SACRED?! ...What was ever sacred?

There are however a few sacred corners which continue to exist, which will always exist, some last untouched portals, a wonderland for romantics. Openings in the woods, green fields, strawberry fields, meadows, riversides, beaches, abandoned mines and openings in the rainforest, and other mysterious natural places...and with the decline in everyday interaction have come new fields of interaction...the rave party, which in its modern form engulfed the UK, and was an escape from escapism, a place to connect, to celebrate direct human interaction, to promote our visions and our relation to nature, the loud, thumping music acting as the catalyst for social inebriation. In addition to all the places in nature, it overtook the citied extending to car parks, even places of worship such as the 'Rave Masses' from Sheffield all the way to California. And in these rave settings there was liberation from social codes, the philosophy of dance was endorsed as an expression of inner feeling, less focused on the outer aesthetic, allowing a sense of belonging that transcended through language, creed and colour. The act, the will to, the entrancement in dance; from shamanic rituals, to rugby war dances, to students who would spend months feeling, exercising and enjoying the music; the communication, the meditation, the appreciation, the art of living in the moment.

And what of the origins of these raves? The latest manifestation of the rave I attended was a small post New Year car park party in Taipei, named Tiger Hunting and inadvertently a fitting celebration of my 24th year (and other youth born in the year of the tiger). And whilst culturally these raves of neon lights, fluorescent backdrops and marginalised youth seemed a million miles away from the family gatherings at New Year and Christmas, they essentially remain intimately linked to the original spirit. A celebration of lunar phenomenon, family (albeit non-biological) and adrenaline rushing dance. This year on the 21st of June at around 11.28 Greenwich meantime, is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. And as the religious and pagan festivals since the beginning of recorded history we will see then some of the most vibrant manifestations of the rave. Furthermore it is with these winter and summer solstices and the equinoxes that we see the innate call to festivity, to celebration, that cannot be separated from human essence.

The winter solstice that precedes the belated Christmas and the birth of Christ is a day of celebration even for many pre-Judaic religions. Centuries ago, since the dawn of astronomy and even before, albeit a little less accurately, people would celebrate winter solstices. A rebirth, as the hours of daylight gradually begin to increase, the worst is behind and everything’s better from here on out. Like the Chinese spring couplet 一年復始萬象更新 (with the start of a new year everything commences anew), with a milestone of a new beginning comes new opportunity and allows one to relive everything as a new experience, and if we extend this, every day, and every breath, can be lived as a new beginning, a spiritual renewal. Every moment is different, whilst at the same time everything is continuous. This may be seen as a rapid period of evolution in our festivals but we can never put a stop to the perpetual manifestation of the festival. What is true remains the same. People will continue returning home for Christmas and CNY. And perhaps the most pure form of religion is that of experience; thus the will to dance, sway, shake, slide, twist, spin and jump is evidence that ceremony is still alive.

The soul-searching is in vain because the ceremonies will always remain, because the revelation lies in our very nature and the festivals are merely the formulisation of human experience, the phenomena of the stars, planets and solar systems and that (him/her/it) which operates these phenomena. Homo erectus, prehistoric man, the Incas, the Celts: they all danced in the forests, and then they danced on the grass, on the deserts, around the fire, on the mountains, on the beaches. We dance in the forests, on the grass, in the deserts, on the mountains, around the fire, on the beaches; and generations onwards will also dance and celebrate, because it is sacred.

The wild man is more beautiful than the knowledgeable man. Experience is sacred.


Tuesday, 26 January 2010 20:57

The passing of the New Year Beast

Nick shares his first experience of Chinese New Year and also recalls the origins of one of its main rituals: the throwing of firecrackers.

Monday, 30 November 2009 00:00

Performance Klub


Yogyakarta Province in Central Java, Indonesia is a city of artists, which contains an exceptionally rich and varied architecture, painting, graffiti, tattoos, dance, puppetry and religious heritage. Thus there are a disproportionate number of artists and activists centred in and around the cultural capital. On May 27th 2006, the region was struck by an earthquake which devastated the region. The considerable destruction impacted heavily on the minds of locals and in turn changed the course of one of the world’s most unconventional art festivals. It is in Yogyakarta, three years after the earthquake that I discovered a group of performance artists, entering the eye of the storm, had used their art and their passion, to contribute to the physical and spiritual reconstruction of Gemblangan village, at the epicentre of the earthquake.

Performance Klub
Established in 2003 by Iwon Wijono, a renowned painter in Yogyakarta, the group has organised and performed at a total of four ’Perfurbance’ festivals, each focusing on a different social, political or humanitarian topic. Perfurbance #1 dealt with the issues surrounding unbridled urbanization, #2 was centred on the commercialism of education, #3 was the spiritual renewal described below, and #4 focused on global warming and environmental issues whilst experimenting with impromptu group performances exploring how artists could collectively interact with space and spectators. Furthermore all of the Perfurbance festivals attributed special importance and respect to the traditional arts and artists in each place. They also attempted, sometimes successfully sometimes not so successfully, to engage the community in the issues they were focusing on, in the hope of leaving a lasting effect, thus truly use their art for a greater good.

With the impending environmental crises, there exists no lack of new issues to throw themselves into, and PK now have plans in the works for their Food Forest Cultural Centre, their biggest project yet. The FFCC is a huge and complex initiative intended to create sustainable energy to produce food using a variety of natural methods, to give free seeds that it grows to the poorer farming communities, and eventually to set up a free school to teach and train those who might emulate Food Forest in future projects.

Inspiringly, the plot of land chosen for the project was the home of the late W.S. Rendra, one of the most famous poets in Indonesia and also a dominant figure of modern Indonesian theatre, being the first to bring aspects of traditional Javanese culture to theatre. The man, who was imprisoned for his bravery in standing up to the Suharto regime, was a pioneer for activist, subversive artists, who claimed: "I wanted to introduce something new: causality. ... I wanted people, particularly politicians who were becoming increasingly dogmatic, to be able to think analytically." Daughter of the late Rendra, Rachel Saraswati (see Rachel’s performance), is now also Project coordinator and Festivals secretary for Performance Klub. Rendra became the patron of an unrestricted, free and socially engaged artistic community of which the tradition continues now with groups like Performance Klub, often still fighting for the maintenance and extension of the comparative freedoms they have enjoyed in recent years.

Perfurbance #3 - Spiritual Renewal
The festival ’Spiritual Renewal’ (Pembaharuan Spiritual) was held in Gemblangan Village, Bantul Regency, Yogyakarta province in 2006. Thousands died following the May 27th earthquake and Gemblangan Village where the festival was held, was the area worst affected, and the symbolic epicentre of the quake suffering the destruction of up to 90% of the village buildings and the loss of many, many lives. Performance Klub actively involved themselves in logistic aid from the day of the earthquake and following that helped educate the villagers whilst promoting their local traditions. In their search for ‘Spiritual Renewal’ they would raise their own awareness of the villagers’ culture and exchange artistic ideas.

Throughout the time building up to the performances, the artists conducted seminars, discussions and workshops. The topics ranged widely: from emergency relief, organic farming, food production and alternative education, to attitudes of political ideology, social customs, community self-help, mutual assistance and spiritual values; all the while respecting and developing traditional practices. For example whilst educating on health and nutrition they also introduced Sugiyanto and his herbal drinks as a source of alternative, local medicine.

At the same time as attracting a host of voluntary international performance artists from over a dozen countries, they also enlisted the support of, and mobilised the local peasant associations. When it came to the five days of performances, the artists performed on stages, in cattle fields, on intersections, in houses, by the river etc, and used a variety of different forms of expression to communicate different meanings. Rachel Saraswati used satire to highlight the identity struggle for Indonesia in a globalised world. She dressed in trash and sat in a bathtub singing the national anthem ’Indonesia Raya’ whilst her colleagues raised the American flag. Bruno Mercet from France responds with his body to the movements of small sculpture made of pliable material, to display how people have been enslaved by small objects. There were many more acts and, not to be outdone, the local villagers also performed some of their own superbly colourful traditional dances which invoked supernatural beings and other music and indigenous rituals.

For those who participated and masterminded Perfurbance#3, it was a real bridging of the gap between the theory and the practice of performance art; a bringing together of art and real life issues. Jan Cornall, a performer from the US, commented "how extraordinary that a village community and international art community would find that they spoke the same language - the language of spirit, the language of the heart" and Reza, performing for the first time, said "The village itself became the performance art, where there was no boundary between the artist and audience."

In a village in the heart of Indonesia, some went away with less inner demons, some went away with new spouses, but it seems that everyone went away with their spirits renewed.


Monday, 30 November 2009 09:47

Socially Engaged Artists in Yogyakarta and Taipei

Before going travelling to Indonesia in September 2009, I had felt that I was loosing a lot of faith in the world of art which I was beginning to perceive as lofty, rhetorical, but generally detached from the masses. In a twist of fate, in Yogyakarta, Central Java, I stumbled across a treasure chest, and within it I discovered a group of socially conscious and politically concerned performance artists, called ’Performance Klub’. When hearing about their international Perfurbance#3 festival I was reinvigorated with enthusiasm for art. Inspired by the explosive activism I met in this country relatively new to political freedoms, I returned to Taipei in search of what similar manifestations I could find.

So what makes a socially engaged artist? How prevalent is social and political art in these two countries? What differences are there between socially engaged artists in Indonesia and Taiwan?
Socially engaged art can refer to social and political causes, social work or spiritual healing; it can be a way of empowering the disempowered and including the excluded and it can achieve radical and remarkable transformations through the use of creativity and social consciousness.


Two of the organisers of Performance Klub, Rachel Saraswati and Tim O’Donoghue, introduced me to a festival, Perfurbance#3, held in Yogyakarta.It was the most pure example I have come across of artists committing to a community in a time of great material and spiritual suffering and producing real benefits. It was touching to see a collaboration of artists from different cultures with different motivations coming together. Two of the performers at that festival, and one of the three couples which were formed in Bantul, are now living in Taiwan. I also caught up with Mickey Huang and Lewis Gesner three years after the event.


In Taipei, I found people using film to bring attention to social and political issues. Alfie Chen established a group called ’Guerrilla Movies’, which at first was a way of allowing his work to exist and survive and of expressing social phenomena. Later on Guerrilla Movies started giving other first time directors the chance to have their work seen and to get some useful feedback. He refuses society’s pressure to give up one’s dreams and ideals. Also we show the young female director Pinti Chen’s documentary on domestic violence. Pinti and two of the interviewers in the film, Huang Yuling and Chen Rujun, students of National Taiwan University’s social work department, look back on the film and the project they undertook. Another student from the same department, Yang Zijie, reflects on the past movement to save Taipei’s Treasure Hill. He discusses the role the academics and ’artivists’ had and should have had in the movement as well as bringing up some of the difficulties and considerations artists must take when engaging themselves in social movements.

Sunday, 29 November 2009 00:00

Awaken your Inner Guerrillero

Here, Alfie talks to us about the movement that he founded: ’Guerrilla Movie’. Due to his upbringing in Nangang which was going through all the contradictions of a poorer area in development, his work is influenced by this upbringing and has an ironic and idealist flavour. His group Guerrilla Movie was originally set up to give his own films a chance to be shown and a chance to survive. Later, they used their experience to help other young and first time directors, who had neither the resources or following to be shown at bigger cinemas. They enlisted many cafes in a project - 1st Film Festival - which showed 30 first time directors’ films in cafes, which allowed their low budget filming, despite its lack of advertising to get some feedback. He refers to his group as ’Punks of Film’ who use ’cameras and lights to make graffiti and guerrilla warfare.’ When they all started using High Definition (HD) GM started using webcams. Its the act of making art and displaying it, not the medium that counts.

They want to keep their projects original, thought provoking and underground. For example, before they started showing the films in cafes, they would use more underground, alternative locations: they projected one film onto the underside of Banqiao bridge in Taipei, under which a part of the film had indeed been shot. To make the projection possible, they ’borrowed’ the local electricity by connecting cables from the streetlights. Then they drunk beer and chewed betel nuts along with the slightly confused locals as they watched their own film play.

Alfie avoids conventional forms of media for advertising, preferring to alternative techniques such as graffiti and blogs. Thus Guerrilla Movies would to the largest extent possible, not spend any money on these projects. Just doing whatever necessary to allow the films to exist. Of course everyone must do what is necessary to survive, but he feels the ’system of responsibility’ and ’overtime culture’ is excessive and reduces independence and the ability to think. People shouldn’t forget their ideals, dreams and give up all the things they wanted to achieve simply because society tells them that they should compromise and conform to the ’inevitable’ norms of society.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009 00:00

Poetry on Progo

While Cruising throught Yogyakarta Province on my rented Honda Mio, I came across Yoyo Jewe. Perceiving the Indonesian judicial system as rife with corruption, Yoyo, the former law student gave up a life of material benefits to dedicate himself to the arts. He now focuses on poetry, dance and performance. Here we are at an Artists retreat on the Progo River, near the wondrous Borobodur Temple. After some blissful nude swimming in the river, we decided to make and film a poetry performance on a raft. Here Yoyo reads ’The Secret of the Fruit’ in English. Accompanying on the harmonicas are Yasmi Setiawati and Rumah Seni...

Wednesday, 02 September 2009 00:00

Gleaning in Taipei

For eRenlai’s September Focus, Benoit Vermander uses the story of Hercules and the Hydra with Seven Heads as a metaphor for the global crises. In a personal reflection, one concept which I thought attacked several of the hydra’s heads at the same time was that of ’gleaning’.

I was inspired after watching French director Agnes Varda’s film "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse." This touching documentary which reflects on a legendary old Jean Francois Miller painting ‘Les Glaneurs’ takes us on a trip across France to follow different modes of gleaning - from traditional gleaning at the end of the harvest, to urban gleaning which recycles garbage and waste, the victims of consumption. Thus, in the film, Agnes interviews people of alternative lifestyles (whether out of necessity or choice) where she incorporates concepts of non-waste, austerity, recycling and new age living and looks into French laws in a time of impending environmental crises.

Bringing this concept close to home, one year ago, Paris’ Musée d’Orsay lent the National Museum of History in Taiwan Jean-Francois Millet’s painting, Les Glaneurs (Gleaners). The image of gleaners collecting the leftovers of a harvest in times of austerity initially came across as boring and simple to my untrained eye. However, after watching a French film directed by Agnes Varda called ‘Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse’ (The Gleaners and I) I was inspired and began to understand the depth of meaning and present-day relevance of the painting in the age of waste and triumph of consumption. Suddenly, this was a work of art which captivated and re-instilled faith in our ancestors.

In the film, Agnes briefly focuses on Alain, an urban glaneur who feeds himself from vegetables and fruits left by grocers when markets end. Despite holding a Masters in Biology, he chose to live in a refuge, teaching French to immigrants living off the market’s leftovers.

Alain’s story inspired me in my research on gleaning in Taiwan, and in my personal lifestyle. I searched around my room, after almost a year of living here, and I noticed that it is rampant with gleanings. Though not all of the collections can be considered as ’gleaning for a better world,’ even in the more modern sense, they all fit into a rather waste-less and thrift lifestyle. Certainly, gleaning for reasons of short or long term poverty is as credible as gleaning out of principle. Furthermore I felt a revelation that it’s natural human and animal activity. We are the hunter-gatherers.

Thus from this point onwards, I’ll cover a series on different manifestations of a gleaning nature in Taiwan and Asia. From gleaning in its purest form - like a farm in Pingdong, Southern Taiwan which allowed neighbours and a neighbouring villages to glean from their own fields, due to the fall of beans prices, to more modern and urban manifestations of gleaning, where we see the ’shi huang’ people (拾荒者), the ’bottle collectors’ who pick empty bottles from the parks and the sidewalks often able to make a living. For example my spiritual home in Shida park, where under the watchful eye of the squirrel of hope who is leaping towards the sky, are various bottle collectors and recyclers of different forms who are the critical link in the journey of the Taiwan Beer bottles’ journey from the last remaining local newsagent in the Shida night market, to our mouths, through the recycling plant and all the way back such is their circle of life

Such examples remind us that alternative, environmentally sustainable lifestyles are available to us, and we will search out examples that could inspire reflection and action.

Thursday, 02 July 2009 04:50


An Ami tribe struggles for their right to home

In Taoyuan County, along the Dahan river (大漢溪 dahanxi), where the gentle flow is only somewhat interrupted by the distant rumble of the city, sits one of Taiwan’s smallest tribes: the Sa’owac (撒烏瓦知部落), of Taiwan’s Pangcah or Amis aboriginal people. This is the very border of urbanisation, where the so-desired modern life of mundane apartment flats, KTV and convenience stores meets the vast, beautiful mountain ranges which spread all the way to the eastern coast of Taiwan. The Sa’owac tribe came down from Hualien thirty years ago, when in maternal Pangcah tradition the ’Seven Ancestors’ or Pangcah women chose a scenic spot which they felt looked similar to their old home and the husbands dutifully followed on down. Since then, as the city encroaches further into nature, the Sa’owac tribe, as the river, has gradually become trapped between two evolving worlds. Yet here, I witnessed a mini-revolution of biblical proportions, a david versus goliath, a battle of underdogs against giants...

The completed rebuilding of their homes, on 20th June 2009, four months after their destruction, in defiance of the government and conventional wisdom on development, culminated in one huge party for the Sa’owac and one small step forward for the urban aborigine movement in Taiwan. The Sa’owac tribe were joined by a small amount of teachers, students, social activist groups, independent media journalists, botanists, and socially conscious civilians who had all been enthusiastically supporting the Sa’owac in different ways. Also present were fellow Pangcah tribes living along Dahan river: the Kanjin (坎津), who were facing the possibility of a similar occurrence and Sanying (三鶯), who had already suffered a similar plight and are in the process of rebuilding. The Sa’owac were given eviction notices in December, without consultation and then, on the morning of February 20th, before the distraught eyes of the villagers, the vehicles of destruction were sent in convoyed by police, laying waste to the Sa’owacs’ home. These actions would clearly break the UN charter on minority rights…if Taiwan were a member of the UN. In this particular case, the official reason given for the Taoyuan County Magistrate Zhu Lilun approving the destruction, was the Water Law (水利法). Other reasons suggested for the demolition were the renovation and extension of a riverside cycle route which would eventually pass through the village, dangerous terrain, tatty appearance and other political motives.

When the behemoth of economic development clashed with the indomitable spirit of the Sa’owac and their unwavering resolve for home, they exploded into a ceremony of traditional song, dance and comedy. The head priest stood rod-in-hand with shamanesque clothes, incanting, whilst below him, encircled by tribe veterans, a tribe elder chanted his pain and fury, as a dragon spews his fire. The wailing permeated into the audience leaving many in tears, or on the brink. - City, the friend who brought me and others who had been involved in the cause from the outset of the problems held back tears too. City, who’s normally calm and loathe to express emotion, said it had been a turbulent few months, an emotional seesaw; a melange of anger, laughter, melancholy and defiance. They had protested at local and central government offices, some had shaved their heads in protest and despite an average age of over sixty the villagers had lived in tents for four months! Now the tribe had begun to see City and the other helpers as children of the tribe. As their own! For my part, I felt an uncomfortable tingling sensation underneath my skin. It wasn’t inebriation, heat, or sleep deprivation...this was real emotion! Living in the student utopia for too long, I had long since lost sympathy for the narcissistic, self-pitying lamentations of those in the student bubble. The rhetoric was disillusioning; heralding causes I had no direct contact with left me feeling detached. Now, as nostalgia for the cause was awakening inside me, I realised the social value and the inspiration one can gain from direct involvement in other peoples’ struggles, visiting other peoples’ life stories.

The Sa’owac may not have Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai to protect their tribe from the heavy-handed invaders, however they do have the ‘seven ancestors’, a hearty determination, and impassioned supporters of the tribe. As one section on the program of events read, “Our rebuilt homes are all that we have, but we also have a history of defending and cherishing the tribe. Our ancestors left us with the special quality of self-healing and your power makes our will as strong as boulders”. As I finished reading the passage and looked up the speaker called out:

“Kanjin, are you afraid?”
“Sanying, are you afraid?”
”Sa'owac, are you afraid?”

After some further rallying in defiance, comedy and traditional songs, they convened with a final dance of unity in which everyone gathered on stage, hand-in-hand, rotating and converging inwards, whilst my unlearned self clumbsily tried to get the correct steps. Although in my own tradition I ended minus a sandal, I also had a great feeling of belonging...I remember, this is called community. We were united!

One of the most moving tribesmen was a 64-year-old named Kulas. Clearly emotionally fatigued, he has been working overtime to help support the tribe and fund the rebuilding effort. He was everpresent throughout the ceremony, singing and dancing with the vigour of a bull released into a field of cows during mating season. When I complimented him on his energy he replied: “We are full of energy because God is here helping me, giving me strength in everything I do”.

At the end of this emotion-filled day, as the white rice liquor flowed on, the singing grew louder and the tribesmen began to divulge their thoughts. Although I struggled to understand Kulas’s linguistics, the essence was not lost in his broken Chinese. The freedom of the Sa’owac to choose their home was being attacked; the wider implications would be an erosion of their culture. This feeling of loss; this longing for a home; the pain, the sweat and the tears are universal. I thought about my own home – to me it was cliff-jumping, exploring the meadows and camping in the woods, making tree houses, our secret entrance to the zoo, looking across the sea from the end of the pier wondering what was out there to explore. It wasn’t paradise, but it was home. Everyone has a slightly different understanding of home. In the Amis language, there is no distinction between home, house and family ("Lumah"). They are a part of the land they live on and the tribe they are with. One Taiwanese botanist who was also involved in the struggle told me they like to eat bitter vegetables and bitter pork because their strength comes from the bitter struggles of their ancestors which are implanted in the ground.

Since Chiang Ching-kuo’s economic reforms, up through to the incumbents under President Ma, the neo-liberal development dream has been imposed on the urban aboriginal tribes. As things stand, the Sa’owac tribe’s new houses are still illegal. However, from the ruins comes real hope for change and there is now a real chance they will be able to keep their new houses, after all an incredibly high percentage of houses in Taiwan remain illegal. Furthermore, this struggle had been full of imagination, inspiration, compromise and action.

Civilising missions should be contextualised - an ‘Amis-isation’ of development, a reclaiming of the commons allowing for cultural differance and spiritual needs. Will the economic behemoth continue to roll on unhindered leaving a path of destruction in its wake? Will unneccessary extra houses continue to be built, whilst prices are kept artificially high, leaving more destitute and increasing the rich-poor gap? Will the Sa’owac be allowed to continue living in the new homes they’ve been through so much to build? Will the government continue to talk about protecting aborigine rights at the same time as demolishing their houses on flimsy grounds of safety? Or will there be real consultation? Were we witnessing the maturing of the movement for urban aboriginal rights?

This is the Sa’owac! Some people choose tall European-style apartment flats, cement, constructivism, reservoirs, 7-11s, Nintendo Wee, widescreen TVs, huge financial buildings, railways through forests and riverside cycle tracks with tidy grassy banks (heaven forbid the illusions of the well-to-do city folk be brutally shattered by the eye-pollution of the slums).

They chose not to choose this; they chose something else… Home!’
(Drawing by Li Jinyuan)
Page 1 of 6

Help us!

Help us keep the content of eRenlai free: take five minutes to make a donation


Join our FB Group

Browse by Date

« October 2012 »
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        

We have 3704 guests and no members online