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Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: art
Monday, 25 May 2015 10:16

The Colors of God

Every two years, Misereor, a German Catholic development agency, sponsors and sells a "Lenten Veil" produced by an artist from a non-Western country. The Veil it promotes in 2015-2016 has been painted by the Chinese artist Dao Zi. Benoit Vermander comments here on the theological meaning of the artwork.

For more information on the Veil: http://www.misereor.de/service/service-gemeinden/misereor-hungertuch.html

When confronted by an artwork, the viewer may legitimately "feel' and "read' it in a way that is different from the one suggested by its creator. Inspiring artworks open up a space of possibilities and interpretations that go beyond the intentions of the one who created it – like the life children that go far beyond the projects and wishes of their parents. I feel entitled to read Dao Zi's Lent Veil by starting from directions and insights that differ from the ones he had explicitly in mind. And such "deviant reading" is after all a way to pay homage to the depth and evocative power of a most intriguing work.

In the gold and ink that predominate in the Veil, I perceive the colors of God... The golden color speaks to me of the Godhead, of the eternal surge of the divinity out of his own self, of his explosion and yet of his perpetual gathering into One. Gold sings the source of life and light at her most original and at her purest. To put it another way, the island of golden light that stands at the center of this painting speaks to me of an inexhaustible treasure: the heart of the Father from whom the Word always flows and to which He also comes back. This explosion of light - that yet remains united and compact - tells me of "one thing that God has said, and two that I have heard" (Psalm 62:12): the Father gives everything to His Son, and, in His Son, God gives everything to us; at the same time (and this is the second thing that I hear out of the single Word that God eternally offers), God remains One in the loving embrace of the divine persons.

And yet, dots of gold are scattered around the original island of light... These dots tell me that God makes a dwelling within our very being, that when we obey the Word we are visited and invested by the Spirit who unites the Father and the Son. Each of the dots of gold shares in the Source of Light. Apparently, each dot is separated from the Source, but in truth it exists only within the Source and thanks to her. "God un ich sind dann eins – God and I are one then" (Meister Eckhart)

I can glance at the shape of the central glittering of gold for a long time... As I said, I see first an island of light standing in the darkness, something that speaks of an eternal beginning, a star maybe - or the sun in the morning. But in this shape I can also distinguish a head: the face of God as revealed suddenly on the cross. Sometimes, I see it also as a nail, as an opening in the flesh from which the ultimate mystery is revealed and hidden again. And at other moments it irresistibly suggests to me the cutting edge of the godhead: nothing and nobody can define the Source of all things but she ineffably penetrates all reality.

And now... the black or dark blue of the ink... I do not truly "see" it – I rather "feel" it. I feel a flux in it, the perpetual movement of a river, something that cannot be stopped, because it is the rhythm of life. It tells me that no analogy can adequately grasp the mystery of God, not even the one provided by the word "Light." God is the ultimate secret that one just cannot penetrate. God is the secret hidden behind time, behind space, behind all beginnings. God has no name, no face, no shape, no color, no time, God has no form out of which we could fathom an idea or an image. And it is only when we have meditated upon this radical "cloud of unknowing" that we can hear in truth the words whispered by John: "No one has ever seen God. The unique God, who is close to the Father's side, has revealed him." (John 1:18)

For sure, in this painting black and gold taken together are drawing the shape of a cross. It does speak of the cross of Christ that both hides God and ultimately reveals God's secret. Black and golden, the cross stands over the grisaille of our world and illuminates it. And the tears, blood and water that flow from the suffering flesh of Christ are changed into these seven dots of pure, radiant light. But I also see this crossing of lines as a sign meant to forbid us to enclose God in a representation, a concept or a definition. It speaks of the meeting of opposites: God is light and yet is hidden in the deepest darkness; God is both love and justice; God speaks to us through gold and black. God is beyond all time and space, and is revealed in the frailty of our history, the evanescence of our memories.

Also, I see in the crossing of these black and golden shapes the search of a balance between immobility and movement. Again, the dark flux of the horizontal line speaks to me of water, of a divine secret working throughout times and spaces like the river carves its bed. Earth and mountains glitter over the waters, stable as an immutable heart. God is an inexhaustible dynamism and an eternal quiescence. And Christ on the cross is both passively offered to human violence and actively accomplishes the loving will of the Father. This painting does not offer to the viewer a cross to contemplate from a distance. It rather invites us to enter into its movement and its rhythm, so that the Spirit may dispel our certainties and mental images. The cross that this painting draws is not a place to stay. It is an opening and a threshold.

And it is in the "mobility" of the work that I can sense the cultural background of the artist. The seals used by Dao Zi are mostly adorned by the characters for "One" and for "Three." Besides the obvious references to the Triune God and also to the nails of the cross, the paintings and the seals reminded me immediately of the chapter 42 of the Daodejing – the seminal Classic of the Daoist School:

"The Way begets the one
The one begets the two
The two beget the three
The three beget the myriad beings.
The myriad beings carry the shadow and embrace the light,
Blending their breaths into harmony."


The cosmology suggested by this famous mystical text speaks of a process of birth and generation that operates through gift and loss: the unfathomable Way – the Principle that is before all forms and things. It lets itself be numbered and divided. The Principle, once it is manifested as Triune, gives life to all beings. And life sustains itself through the balance of light and obscurity in which breathings are blended and harmonized. In such a perspective, the cross of Christ accomplishes the process through which God gives to the world not only some measure of life, but also the very principle of life, the essence of life and light that God is. And this gift is manifested in a blending of light and darkness: God exhausts the light that He is throughout the radiant breath He communicates to His Son and, through His Son, to all of us. God shares the fullness of His breath with His Son and receives it anew from His Son. The myriad beings blend their breaths into divine life as they originate themselves from such inexpressible exchange.

Coming again at the painting, I then read it as a meditation on the chapter 14 of the Daodejing:

"Looked at, but cannot be seen -That is called the Invisible.
Listened to, but cannot be heard -That is called the Inaudible.
Grasped at, but cannot be touched -That is called the Intangible.
These three elude our inquiries - And hence blend and become One."

And this makes me also listen differently to the question that goes with the artwork: " Wie viel is genug? How much is enough?"

Is such question merely about our needs, about how much "gold" we truly need in our life? For sure, assessing our real needs in the light of Jesus' teaching as well as of current world challenges is a discernment to be made – to be made at all cost one may say. But I also hear the question as being asked about God: how much is enough for God? And the implied answer would be: God never tires of giving Himself, of losing, sharing, exhausting His very being, God never gives enough of His breath and His light, He gives the whole of Himself to His Son, and then, by surrendering His Son to us, He exhausts and communicates everything He has and He is. When it comes to giving, there is never a "genug" – enough - for God. The question asked by the painting becomes the dynamic though which we surrender ourselves to God and our brothers and sisters. By both veiling and unveiling God's ultimate mystery, Dao Zi's painting open us the space where God's life and our daily life blend into the one and the same circulation of light, breathing and love.

(Edited by Michael Kelly)


Tuesday, 11 February 2014 00:00

Art for the Park: A mural in Taipei's MRT

 

French artist Yvan Mauger tells us of his experience designing a piece for the newly opened Daan Park MRT station in Taipei, also touching on why he enjoys painting his particular style of art and on the way the Taiwanese government has been promoting "public" art.

 


Monday, 01 October 2012 23:36

Revising Reality Through Sound

A Review on Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project

TheCube Project Space is in the Gongguan area of Taipei, near the Cineplaza theatre, hidden on the second floor of an obscure apartment building. Although National Taiwan University lies just across the street, the atmosphere nearby bears no trace of scholarly temperament. A strange mixture of traditional Taiwanese food stalls such as stinky tofu and Taiwanese fried chicken and a peculiarly large amount of sport equipment shops dominate the whole block. The asphalt is always stained with oily muck and the myriad of bicycles and motorbikes makes it hard for one to maneuver about.

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I was thus amazed when a small flight of stairs revealed an entirely different world: The dusty fragrance of wood and dried hay immediately shot through my olfactory nerves at the slide of the glass doors. A spacious white room was decorated with rectangular wooden boards and people were arranging themselves comfortably upon the beige tatami mats spread across the floor. Intently, they were listening to the booming of tractor engines, the murmur of old farmers in Taiwanese dialect and the crackle of feet stepping on dried hay that were sent across the room through eight devices: two pairs of stereo speakers hanging on both sides of the wall, and four other sound devices that were placed on the tatami or hanging from the ceiling. These devices came in different sizes and shapes. For example, the sound device placed on the ground was an electric megaphone, and the device hanging from the ceiling was an old radio. One speaker was even hidden inside a wooden box, in which the reverberation and vibrations of the box created a peculiar acoustic effect.

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Wooden boards were placed across the room to absorb echoes

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A speaker is placed inside the wooden box, creating a peculiar acoustic effect

The exhibition piece was a montage of sounds recorded from Chiayi, a large agricultural area in southern Taiwan. Sounds were arranged according to different themes, such as aboriginal tribes, religious ambience, agricultural activities or ecological surroundings. They were broadcast in a fashion that recreated our general perception of aural space. For example, the grinding noise of an ancient tatami machine was presented through stereo surrounding speakers, creating a sense of immediate, enveloping presence. The sounds of people speaking, on the other hand, were broadcasted through monophonic sound devices, such as the radio or the electric megaphone, which denoted the sound object’s specific position in space.

While the montage may seem random at first, it doesn't take long to perceive a certain order. For instance, the religious section at first featured the clatter of the divination blocks, signaling God’s will as they fall to the ground, followed by a mother’s clicking high heels and a child’s nagging whines. The soft chanting of Buddhist nuns emerged, shifting towards the grunting of men which in turn acted as a prelude to the festive religious music filled with gongs and suona, the Chinese oboe. Finally, the section was finished off with the loud explosions of Chinese firecrackers, intensively broadcasted through different speakers in an alternating fashion.
 

Aside from the main installation, two smaller pieces were also present in the gallery. One is a sound recording of a tour guide in a sugar factory, the other a thematic presentation of various aspects of Chiayi, such as the lost art of Beiguan music. These were accompanied by slides containing dictations from interviews with the locals.

 

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Album cover of Sounds of the Underground

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Album cover of Taiwan Sound Archive, Religious Music Vol. 1
(tai wan you sheng zi liao ku quan ji bian qian ji si wu dao pian
台灣有聲資料庫全集《變遷祭祀舞蹈篇》), produced by Hsu Tsang-Houei.

 

The “Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project” is a collaboration between Yannick Dauby, Yen-Ting Hsu (許雁婷) and Wan-Shuen Tsai (蔡宛璇). In 2008, poet Chung Yung-fung (鐘永豐), the then Director-General of the Cultural Affairs Department commissioned Dauby and Hsu to collect sounds from the eighteen townships of Chiayi County, in hopes of building a sound archive that could one day be shared with the citizens of Chiayi. Had it succeeded, one could say that it would be a project of great historical significance, since the only notable works in Taiwan that were close to field recordings were the folksong collection movement carried out by musician Hsu Tsang-Houei (許常惠) and Shi Wei-Liang (史惟亮) and the ethnomusicology studies of Liu Bing-Chuan (呂炳川) in the 60’s and 70’s, followed by the more recent Sounds of the Underground (lai zi tai wan di ceng de sheng yin來自臺灣底層的聲音) compilation by Crystal records during the 90’s, all of which were still situated within the song-based musical realm and not field recording, strictly speaking. Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic reasons, the project came to halt after one year. The artists, however, having already built tight bonds with the locals, continued to collect sounds. Three years later they selected several sounds from their archive and composed the “Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project.”

“Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project” is the 6th installment of the Re-envisioning Society series curated by TheCube art gallery. According to their website, the goal of this series was to uncover an authentic relationship between human beings and their surroundings; a relationship which is hidden beneath the layers of artificial constructs that govern modern society. Furthermore, they sought to “construct a new vision for society” by observing the transformation of individual and collective experiences in specific aspects of contemporary life.
 
 

So how can a sound exhibition live up to such a grandiose purpose? We could say that humanity in modern society is dominated by images, or rather, that human civilization has always been preoccupied with sight. The saying “the eyes are the windows to the soul” is self-evident. Sight is the organ that determines boundaries, the boundaries upon which interpretations are made. One can say this is the initial step towards an abstract, conceptual world that is the premise of a society of spectacles. Sound, on the other hand, is more ambivalent. During the exhibition, it is often hard to make out the original sources of the sounds. Bird sounds that come from grainy radio speakers have a metallic quality that resembles a machine, thus the boundaries between organic/inorganic are blurred. Attention is given not only to the sounds presented but also to the media through which that sound is represented, which in this case is the radio speakers that convert melodic bird chirps into abrasive mechanic noises. In other words, sounds retain the noise of the media, the qualities that are generally filtered out/ignored/neglected by sight. Through close listening of sounds, attention is lowered to the materiality of things, and not the abstract concept it represents. From this site it is possible to start something new, to view our surroundings in a new light.

 
 
It is also from this site that a new construction of identity is possible. The clue may lie in the Chinese title of the exhibition: “Sheng Tu Bu Er” (聲土不二). The phrase is a word play on the phrase “Juan Tu Bu Er” (身土不二), which originally was a Buddhist phrase that explains karma, but was appropriated by Japan and Korea for its literal meaning, namely that body (身) and soil (土) cannot be separated (不二), in order to promote local food movements. The exhibition’s substitution of the word “聲” (sound) for“身” (body) can thus be interpreted that sounds cannot be separated from the soil.

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Orientation of Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project

In the orientation following the exhibition, Chung Yung-fung gave an illuminating example of this concept. He mentioned how he couldn’t recognize the Hakka singer Lai Pie-Hsia’s (賴碧霞) voice in Hsu Tsang-Houei’s recordings, because the sound quality was too clear and lacked the noisy ambience that usually accompanied the singer’s performance. That was when he realized how crucial the recording environment is to preserving aural memory. It is thus reasonable to say that the identity of the sound is inseparable from the environment that produced it, whether in a noisy night market or in a church full of echoes. The awareness of the importance of noise, that which was initially considered as a threat to the recording of “pure” sound, evokes a categorical redistribution of how we perceive the world.

Furthermore, as our perception of the world changes, so our perception of ourselves transforms. During the orientation, Dauby explained how a man from the countryside might move to a big city and attempt to forget his memories of the countryside, perhaps ashamed by the hegemonic developmentalist ideology that defines the countryside as a backwater, inferior place. Chiayi, in many ways, is precisely such a place. However, if these field recordings are presented to him, perhaps he will be able to pick up messages that lie beyond the limits of the developmentalist discourse. He will perceive the different nuances of Chiayi, nuances that were not captured by a developmentalist interpretation of Chiayi, and subsequently discover the different nuances concerning his own identity. From this perspective, it is indeed possible through field recording to discover genuine relationships between men and other men, as well as men and his local environment; to surmount the spectacles of society and to arrive at new conclusions.

Written by Julia Chien with further editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy. Photos by Julia Chien.


Thursday, 24 May 2012 00:00

The Beautiful and the Sublime

Man is an aesthetic animal. He takes interest and pleasure in the contemplation and appreciation of other men, living beings, objects, thoughts, shows, music, landscapes that strike his imagination, his memory and all his senses. He makes such appreciation a driving force of his inner life, which becomes infused by greater meaning through the exercise of his aesthetic faculties. The fact of appreciating beauty, and to be able to take time so as to let oneself be transformed by the contemplation of it also provides one with spiritual nourishment and insights. The transforming power of beauty has been recognized and celebrated in many forms throughout ages and cultures; but it is rooted into the capacity to take time out for silence and attentiveness. Therefore beauty is a fragile power, the appreciation of which is to be nurtured from one generation to another. And we have also to recognize that beauty is not purely immemorial: some forms of beauty will speak more to our senses and our understanding according to the age and milieu we live in.

But what is “beauty’” after all? Greek philosophers, and many thinkers after them, have generally drawn some kind of distinction between two kinds of aesthetic emotions, which can be roughly labeled as the “Beautiful” and the “Sublime.” “Beautiful” somehow refers to an aesthetic pleasure provoked by the understanding and mastery of the thing with which we relate: we appreciate the beauty of a musical piece because we realize how skillfully it has been composed, and we can compare it with other works; we admire the craftsmanship in the painting, the jewelry or the vase that is offered to our appreciation; we celebrate the beauty of the face of the loved one according to some aesthetic standard (the Romantic, the Modern, the Classical…) that have become intelligible to us through education, and travels. This is why it is sometimes so difficult to appreciate artworks that come from a culture utterly alien to ours.

The Sublime is an emotion awakened by a sense of mystery, by the sudden realization that we cannot master or understand how this particular thought, artwork or landscape has come to the light of the day. The emotion we experience has not been produced by the pleasure of recognizing aesthetic canons that we have learnt to master and appreciate, but rather by the overwhelming impression that the object we contemplate produces on our senses. The “Sublime” has to do with shock and sometimes with terror, with the struggle between life and death, with the primal forces that work within our inner being and around us. Somehow, “Beauty’ is deeply human, while the “Sublime’ confronts us to what is beyond and behind us: the Animal from which we come from, and the Divine in which we aspire to be transformed.

The whole spectrum of our aesthetic emotion speaks of the different strata that compose our humaneness – the strive for reason, and the one to go beyond or behind reason; the pride we take in being humans entrusted with the task of dominating nature; our potent and unconscious recollection of the fact that we come from the breast of the very nature that we colonize, and our aspiration towards the Divine who made us what we are and still who calls us to trespass the boundary of our selves.

 

Drawing by Bendu

 


Tuesday, 08 November 2011 13:34

Short Animation: Bot

In a godless world ruled solely by chaos, there may be forms of companionship that we do not fully comprehend, however, this lack of comprehension does not make them any less beautiful. We often come across people engaged in things that we find monotonous or pointless, like Sisyphus of legend, for us they seem to lack a raison d'etre or objective except that of habit, just like the way one might feel about the robot in this short film. We're not sure why he insists on protecting the life of this flower, which blooms on a mostly barren planet. His perseverance leads him only to be flung from the planet by a passing asteroid to another corner of the universe. In a universe without rules, without a master, where can we find meaning in our lives? The perseverance of this robot despite the indifference of the universe around him puts one in mind of Song Rongzi from Zhuangzi's Enjoyment in Untroubled Ease:

"Though the whole world might praise him, he would not for that have stimulated himself to greater endeavour, and though the whole world might condemn him, he would not have exercised any more restraint in his course"

Or for readers in mainland China (please excuse the advertisement at the start)

For more of Arvid's animation and illustrations visit his website: http://arvidtorres.weebly.com


Monday, 13 September 2010 00:00

The San Ignazio frescoes

These two short videos take you to a guided discovery of the San Ignazio frescoes.

"The light of the Trinity inflames the heart of saint Ignatius then spreads to the entire world through the grace of many mediators ; such is the theme of the ceilings of the San Ignazio church in Rome.

Brother Andrea Pozzo completed the paintings in 1685, in accordance with the requirements of the Council of Trent: artists were asked to guard against the excessive influence of ancient mythology and to exalt the truth of Incarnation with an art capable of demonstrating the vanities of the visible world. : pictures are nothing by themselves and it would be unwise to rely on them."

"The second sequence highlights the spiritual struggle of mission : The fire of the Gospel and its action are confronted with the infinite perversity of passions and all kinds of violence and idolatry. The ogres and monsters painted by Pozzo do indeed illustrate the diverse heresies of the Reform but we can interpret them today as images of a spiritual struggle that takes place essentially in the innermost being of every believer. Once again, the huge frescoes of this vaulted ceiling tell first of the magnificent way the Word of fire enters the hearts of men, spreading into different cultures, a Word that penetrates all that is really human, joyfully transfiguring the body of believers. Divine love begins to speak to the hearts of the pagans who knew nothing of it and it renews the courage of all those who stumble along the path of faith."

 

 


Tuesday, 19 June 2012 14:07

Rediscovering Taiwan through wall art

The new wall art team Bihuadui is encouraging artists from Taiwan to reconnect with their roots and include elements of Taiwanese culture in their art. It addresses some of the problems such as isolation of the artists and estrangement from one's own culture by promoting collaboration between artists and painting in unusual locations.We talk to some of those artists about their opinions on the team.

 


Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:46

The Dubious "Art" of Bullfighting

A bull slowy bleeds while spectators look on passively. Photo by Mait Jüriado


As a student in Beijing, back in 2007, I used to travel quite often by taxi. Taxi drivers in Beijing are incredibly friendly people and always encourage you to chat with them, which is great when you are trying to learn Chinese. Of course, one of the first questions is always “What country are you from?”. After I answered Spain, the common response I got was either the driver lifting both hands off the wheel and using his index fingers to imitate the horns of a bull, which as I’m sure you can imagine is quite stressful when you are travelling at a fairly high speed; or some variation of the phrase: “Spain? Bullfighting is great!”

Unfortunately, at that time, after only having learned Chinese for a year, my Chinese was not good enough to answer with “I am morally opposed to bullfighting”, so I had to settle for the rather less impressive “I don’t like bullfights”. After that, the driver usually stared at me in confusion and asked “Why?”. Once, again, my Chinese was severely lacking and rendered me unable to communicate my elaborate point, but I usually managed to articulate “Because kill bull”.

The usual response to that was and still is, utter shock. Not only from taxi drivers but also from a lot of my Taiwanese or Chinese friends. A lot of them are not aware that the animal is killed. People who were enthusiastic about bullfighting at the beginning of the conversation become more and more disillusioned or upset as I go into the details of exactly what bullfighting entails.

I often wonder how there can be such misinformation about what bullfighting is. The killing is essential to the activity, and yet, both in Asia and in Europe, a lot of people seem to believe that bullfighting is running in front of a bull. This is actually a very specific festival called San Fermin, which is unique to the city of Pamplona (incidentally, this festival still culminates in a bullfight in which the bulls are killed). Whilst it’s probably not true that the Spanish government deliberately promotes this misunderstanding, it is certainly quite convenient that many people are not aware of the bloody nature of the act.

I realise that there are lots of different types of events that are called bullfighting, and lots of different spectacles that involve bulls. However, I am focusing specifically on the version practiced in Spain and in certain parts of Southern France, the only variety that includes the intentional killing of a bull for entertainment. Bullfighting has been one of the identifying features of Spain for quite some time, and is up there with paella and flamenco as one of the experiences tourists crave when visiting Spain. Its association with Spain was probably accentuated thanks to attempts from the Spanish fascist government to rally the people in support of an intrinsically “Spanish” activity, and indeed the propaganda from the fascist era includes many nationalist slogans exalting the act.

The issue of bullfighting and its status as art or brutality has been debated endlessly by both advocates and detractors. One of the common arguments that supporters of bullfighting repeat ad nauseam is that the bull is given a dignified, honourable and noble death, in addition to a chance to prove its worth and fight for its life. It must be noted that for a human being there may be a distinction between an honourable death and one that isn’t; for example, the samurai practice of Seppuku (ritualized suicide) being preferable to dishonour or slow death. However, for a bull, there is no such thing as an “honourable” death, since honour is a purely human fabrication.  Moreover, we could once again argue that there is, in any case, no honour or dignity in being slowly tortured by a group of armed thugs dressed up as clowns while a group of spectators leers and brays for blood. If it was a human being killed this way, would it still be called a “honourable” way to die?

However, out of these three erroneous claims, the most outlandish is the implication that bullfighting benevolently grants a bull a chance to “prove its worth”. A bull does not have a sense of worth, seeing as this is a human construction which stems from the way we are viewed by others and the way we see ourselves. Even if a bull had this sense of worth, surely it would not be derived from being humiliated and scared, since if anything one might say that would diminish its sel-esteem. Neither would it derive its value from trying to kill other living beings, the bull being the peaceful animal that it is. The whole concept is quite bizarre since the bull never requested a chance to “prove its worth”, and even when forced to do so is very reluctant to engage its opponent. The notion that the bull is fighting for its life is laughable at best since the cases when the bull is spared are ridiculously far and between, and in any case the bull usually dies from its wounds shortly after. It seems that it is rather a case of the bullfighter proving its worth by conquering the beast.

Some of the arguments advocates use attempt to remove human attributes from the bulls, presumably to establish a distance between themselves and the animals by turning a blind eye to any human traits they might possess. The most common way these people do this is with the sentence “el toro no sufre” (the bull doesn’t suffer). Whilst it is true that we do not yet know the extent to which animals suffer pain in the same way that humans do, it is certainly hard to argue that the cries of anguish the bull emits and the distressed look on its face are due to the joy of the experience.

The other common argument where bulls are dehumanized, is saying that bullfighting is a form of art or culture, therefore lowering the death of an animal to an art form, which obviously could never be said of killing a human. According to the Merrian-Webster dictionary, art is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects” and culture is “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations”. There is no creative imagination used in the killing of a bull in the ring, the same actions are performed with next to no variations every time there is a fight, and the end result is hardly aesthetic. As for the belief and knowledge being taught to future generations, one would think that after thousands of years of human history, we would have something better to teach succeeding generations than a ritualized form of public torture, with no goal other than death. I suppose that it could be argued that this is indeed the best we have to offer, in which case it is a sad state of affairs that we are in. To quote the Spanish band Ska-p, in their song about bullfighting: “To call structured  and deliberate sadism, violence, and death culture, is an insult to intelligence itself”

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Protest against the Spanish government taking schoolchildren to bullrings. The sign reads "Torture". Photo by AnimaNaturalis

There are many other arguments that proponents of bullfighting bring to the table. It is claimed that these bulls are to die anyway, seeing as there only purpose is battle and there are too many for them to be of use as breeding bulls. It is also questioned whether culling these animals would be preferable to killing them in the bullring, which is a very complicated point. If it has to come to premature death, if there is no other use that those bulls can be put to (although I personally find this hard to believe) in my opinion it seems better to end the life quickly and quietly rather than subject the animal to prolonged suffering. Bullfighting enthusiasts also maintain that the value of the activity stems from it being a long-standing tradition, which it is, there is no point in denying it. However, this immobilist approach is dangerous, since values and societies change. What is traditional and acceptable in one era is not necessarily so in another. No one wants to see a world where globalisation is so prevalent that local traditions are assimilated into a global culture, but still, it is a case of measuring the pros of the tradition against the cons. For me, the cons of bullfighting clearly outweigh the pros.

Sometimes I wish I lived in the blissful state of mind regarding bullfighting that a lot of foreign observers do, in which it is just a bright spectacle of shining colours and “matador” (which just means killer in Spanish) bravado and where the bull isn’t hurt. As humans, we often pride ourselves on being civilised, and indeed the fight may be symbolic of civilisation conquering the wild. It seems to me though, that when it comes to a bullfight, the bull behaves in a much more civilised manner than the bullfighter. This is why I feel no sorrow when a bullfighter (rarely) dies or is badly injured in the ring, for it is a victory of civilisation over mindless cruelty, and surely, a victory so rare and hard to achieve is worthy of admiration.

 


Tuesday, 27 March 2012 14:29

Returning from Abroad

The artists in this section have all been inspired in their work by travels or study abroad. Tpcat spent several years in England, where she started to re-evaluate the role of religion in society and gained an insight into the cultural divide between 'East' and 'West'. Iron tells of his return to Taiwan after a sustained period abroad, and how some of his manga is based on the Taiwanese ex-pat community in Shanghai. LI Lung-Chieh describes how a trip to cambodia gave him a new perspective on the different problems people face, those that are more basic 'animal' problems, like feeding oneself and surviving and the more 'human' problems, like creative freedom, self-expression and the pursuit of happiness, all of which inspired his manga RoachGirl.

“For me, comic books are the best tool for telling stories”

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Tpcat is very passionate about drawing and comic books. Her specialty is depicting all sorts of small furry animals. She studied graphic design in a Taiwanese university, before getting a Masters in illustration from Kingston University in England. In order to make a living, she spent the next two years showing her work in different comic book Expos around England; she also had a stand in the Brick Lane market where she sold her comic books. Tpcat’s style is completely different from that of other members of the new generation of Taiwanese authors. She doesn’t follow the Japanese ACG (animation-comic-game) style, but rather takes her inspiration from England, with a style rich in details. Whilst her illustrations are certainly very cutesy, the content is much deeper than most of the other comic books that are popular nowadays. Tpcat is a specialized author swimming against the tide.

Readers in Mainland China can watch here

“The intrinsic purpose of comics is to tell stories. I believe it is our duty to draw comics and tell stories to each other. It is a simple reciprocated duty between individuals. If I still had faith in anything in this life, it would be in this.”

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Iron, whose real name is CHO Yi-pin, was born in Taizhong, in the centre of Taiwan. He graduated from the design institute of the National Science and Technology University of Taiwan. His talent was revealed in 1995, when he won the Gold prize in a comic contest organized by China Times newspaper. In 1998 he started to publish his comic book series Nezha in the magazine Dragon Youth. Nezha has also been compiled into a book. This comic, halfway between a mysterious world and a dark style of drawing, is a perfect example of Iron’s creative style. In the last two years, Iron has participated in the publication of the TX (Taiwan Comix) compilation, which showcases a new creative style, free and independent. Iron currently lives in Shanghai.

Readers in Mainland China can watch here

“ I believe that one day, thanks to comic books, even bald people will be beautiful.”

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LI Lung-Chieh is a discrete, mysterious and melancholy illustrator. He graduated from the department of interior architecture of Shih Chien University. In 1998 he won the award for the best first creation from the Ching Win comic books contest, thanks to his story The white gun. In the next few years, he won in the Ching Win contest again in addition to the Dong Li contest which he won in its third, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth editions., after which he started publishing his short comics. His first individual work, Roachgirl (the cockroach woman), was edited after he won the first prize from the GIO in 2008. In 2010, he self-published Animal Impact, which was chosen for the Golden Comc Awards in the category of youth comics, and then participated in 2011 in the International Comic Book Competition of Algeria.

Readers in Mainland China can watch here


Friday, 16 March 2012 14:47

Memories of the Local

The experience of local culture and how it is absorbed is often a big source of inspiration for manga artists. The two artists in this section give us an insight into what growing up in Taiwan was like, and the perspective on the world that this granted them.

“For me, comic books are a means towards understanding others, they are also a way to allow others to know what I think.”

Ruan graduated in advertising design and interior architecture. He was an assistant designer for many years. In 1997, he published the comic book A Civilian-turned-President: Abian. 2009 was a big year for Ruan, since he won the first prize from GIO for his book Donghuachun Barbershop and he also published the comic book serial Spring at the Emergency Room online. Ruan depicts the lives of the lower classes of Taiwanese society in a touching manner, which flourish against a backdrop of flowers and plants, of bricks and tiles, strongly influenced by local traditions. The Taiwanese television has already acquired the rights to adapt and show Donghuachun Barbershop as a television program.

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Readers in Mainland China can watch it here

“Comic books give me a space for freedom of expression, drawing gives me a feeling of serenity.”

Sean Chuang has made more than 400 commercials since 1996. More than ten years ago, he wrote A Filmmaker’s notes, which was well received by the public thanks to its fresh and hip style. It launched Sean Chuang’s drawing career and it inspired him to write the bilingual graphic novel The Window. Passionate and dynamic, he spent ten years perfecting this masterpiece. In 2009 he won the GIO first prize with The Window. During the 10 years it took, Sean Chuang went through a rough spell and almost abandoned the project, but the prize gave him confidence. The story tells of the fate of a small town in the North struck by war. Afflicted by poverty, the numerous inhabitants of the village desert it, leaving behind children and the elderly. Totally without dialogue, there is no lack of passion in this colourful comic. As he always does, Sean Chuang continues to make films on the one hand, whilst on the other he focuses on writing comic books.

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Readers in Mainland China can watch it here

 


Friday, 16 March 2012 12:40

Tradition versus Modernity

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Taiwan's culture draws on many different sources, stemming from traditions from the different parts and ethnic identities of China, the Pacific and its Austronesian peoples as well as its colonial legacy from Spain, Portugal and Japan. These traditions in the 21st Century engage in dialogue with the globalized world and The artists in this section

 

“If comic books didn’t exist, I would have been dead by primary school…dead of boredom.”

CHIU Row-Long was born in 1965. Due to all the small nudges received and encouraged by having both a father and a grandfather who were illustrators, his younger brother and him both grew up to be comic artists. CHIU Row-Long excels in the realist style of design and writing, and is particularly inspired by the history and culture of the Taiwanese aborigines (his wife is a member of the Seediq tribe). He has participated in the creation of numerous aborigine language educational textbooks. He spent several years conducting research and compiling all sorts of documents relative to the revolt by 300 Seediq aborigines against the Japanese colonialists. This revolt is the most heroic, albeit tragic, that has occurred in the modern history of Taiwan.

 

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“I always wanted to explain the world, and comic books are the tools heaven has given me to do so!”

James HUANG was born in Taipei in 1966. After completing his studies, he started working in animation. In 1987, he published his first, 16-page long comic book, The Blue Side, in the journal Huanle (Joy), under the penname Red Army. His humour is famous for being very sharp. For the next few years he published a few more books until 1996, when he edited a long comic book, The Little Boy Kui-hsing, before diving into the world of animation and video games. In 2003, he was recruited by the biggest Taiwanese online gaming company, Gamania, where he worked in the department of design and the creative centre. Through Gamania, he participated in the creation of the animation film “108 heroes”, which was broadcast on an American animation channel.

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Thursday, 21 April 2011 16:09

The Cultural Inheritance Behind Illegal Architecture

Amongst the participants of the opening of the Illegal Architecture exhibition held in Ximen in March of this year, was mainland Chinese architect and artist Wang Shu. Perhaps aptly, given the topic of the exhibition, there was a construction crew digging up the road right beside the exhibition's marquee. Despite the repressive authoritarian thrum of council diggers and drills, Wang Shu took time out from competing with the noise to answer a few questions from the eRenlai team about illegal architecture and its role as a voice of civil society in Taipei:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Interview by Ida Wang, Nicholas Coulson and Conor Stuart, Video Editing and Subtitles by Conor Stuart.


Wang Shu's installation on the roof of the exhibition centre, The award winning "The Decay of A Dome"

 


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