Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: treasure hill
Thursday, 21 April 2011 18:47

Questioning Individual Expression in an Urban Context: The Example of Treasure Hill

Suggesting that every society have their own ideas of what is authentic and what is not, might strike most people as too obvious to require re-iteration. However the charismatic contemporary ideology which suggests that authenticity and self expression are things to be encouraged by their own right, needs to be re-considered if it is to avoid contradiction with this basic principle.

The case of Treasure Hill artist village is illustrative of how these two suggestions are fundamentally opposed to each other. Treasure Hill is essentially a squatted community on the border of Taipei City and Taipei County. The neighbourhood has been preserved under the Cultural Preservation Act and turned into an Artist Village, where artist's can rent the emptied houses to use as studios or as living space. The complex includes various exhibition spaces and a cafe.

The current state of the neighbourhood has been settled after continuous negotiations involving various municipal departments and the residing activists/artists. Although the project has been motivated with all the best intentions and overall can be considered as a step in the right direction, it is still far from being an ideal template for future plans of urban regeneration.

As is the case with most heritage programs, the Treasure Hill project has not been entirely successful in incorporating the views of those who have used the space for non-heritage related purposes. It is this failure that has caused the neighbourhood to be stripped of it's prior residents and turned into a space which celebrates individual expression and artistic creativity at the expense of housing lower income families.

This is not to say however that Treasure Hill used to be an ideal place to live and should have been left untouched for eternity. In fact the view of the few residents who have kept their houses in the area range from indifference at worst, to approval at best. However a lot more residents have been moved out of the area, presumably further out into Taipei County or even beyond.

It would be tremendously unfair to criticise any particular organisation for the removal of residents out of the area. What has to be criticised however, is the global trend that grants notions like 'self realization' a cult-like status. The idea that if arts, culture and creativity are allowed to flourish, then urban problems of crime and housing will just magically untangle. It is unquestionable, of course that artistic and cultural institutions are extremely valuable to both local and global communities. Nevertheless, the suggestion that we can just add culture to an environment and stir, then proceed to statistically document the improvement of 'general well-being' is absurd.

This very same problem has been noted by London Mayor Boris Johnson's (whom I have to say without restraint I personally detest) Advisor for Arts and Culture, Munira Mirza. Although the Tory party's political motivations are far from being admirable, they are nevertheless making a good point about the instrumentalisation of culture under the previous administration. The problem in fact dates back to much earlier, to the slow but steady erosion of the Labour party's post-war settlement. In terms of housing this has been mostly concentrated around waging a war on council house projects. It is worth remembering after all, that the prioritization of home ownership and the rise of customisation often gloriously portrayed on television hour after hour, has been at the expense of collective, affordable housing.

To conclude, the twin subjects of culture-led urban regeneration and alternative building, need to be urgently re-evaluated. With as much emphasis payed to the residents who inhabit sites of cultural regeneration as the projects themselves. It is clear that the effect of cultural/architectural policy over the urban landscape needs to be studied far more rigorously and understood fully to be able to make healthier projections regarding the role of culture over the contemporary metropolis.

Photo courtesy of Marco Casagrande


Monday, 30 November 2009 00:00

Treasure Hill

Treasure Hill is located on the site of a temple devoted to Guanyin, in Taipei. Over fifty years ago, people started building their own houses, on this land owned by the Ministry of National Defense. Originally it was settled in by war veterans, but developed into a community composed mainly of poor people, migrant workers and others who couldn’t afford the steep prices in the area. Thus the inhabitants were generally a marginalised and voiceless community. In 2004, the government declared that it was going to raze the buildings in the pursuit of urban development. Students and teachers of several National Taiwan University departments along with the NGO ’OURS’ and many ’Artivists’ acted to try and save the residences. The academics and artivists attempted to support the cause, and give voice to the voiceless by putting it in a context that would be more likely to achieve government support. 


Zijie, who studies at NTU’s Social Work department was amongst those who joined the experiment. Zijie and a small group were given a place that local photographer, Li Guomin (李國民), had been fixing up, to base themselves and live from for the following six months. Many artivists resided at Treasure Hill for short periods of time, few lived for long spells of time. For Taiwan it was an experimental, but historical cooperation between art and activism. For some of those involved, it was a cultural space that had art potential, others were more concerned about the residents property rights. Their actions had both successes and failures, but finally in 2006, the government took the decision to go ahead in evicting residents and taking down buildings. When renovation is completed this year a small proportion of the residents have been promised they will be allowed back.

Yang Zijie, Li Guomin and another reknowned artist Wu Zhongwei (吳中煒), were among three people accused and sued by the government.

Two years after, the artivists and residents were evicted, Zijie reflects on the movement to maintain Treasure Hill. With hindsight, He discusses the pitfalls and difficulties involved in understanding the needs of those one is trying to help when socially engaging and which aspects he feels could have been handled better.
 


Introduction by Nick Coulson


 


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