Returning Humans to Nature and Reality

by on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 4877 hits Comments
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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.

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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.

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:33
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.

出生於英國西南部,海邊的天堂為Torbay。目前在台灣的街上,公園,廢墟尋找世界之荒謬與世界之美,努力盡量在各方面跳脫框框。透過我們的游牧空間「洞」我們不斷地用藝術與行動來挑戰早已僵化的體制。

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