Taipei is bursting at the seams with various galleries, art exhibitions, permanent artist zones, and museums. All of these places are easily accessible using the city’s excellent public transport network, and we’ve slowly been doing the rounds.
Treasure Hill Artist’s Village
Treasure Hill started its life as an small, maze-like settlement in the 40’s. It slowly fell into disrepair as the city grew around it, and in the 90’s the local government was ready to tear the old buildings down and build a park. However, they decided instead to rejuvenate the area, ushering in numerous art galleries and creative spaces. The intention of these new developments was to co-exist with the homes of the remaining, mostly elderly, residents.
We went to Treasure Hill on a weekday, so most of the little galleries were closed. We did manage to catch a short film with English subs about the history of some of the residents, and we could wander the maze to see the outdoor works.
The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
This impressive monument to the former president of the Republic of China (aka Taiwan) is a grand structure indeed. The 76-metre-high building is the centerpiece of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park, a walled, gated square which includes a concert hall and a theatre, and covers 240,000 square metres. To give you absolutely no idea whatsoever of scale, 240,000 square metres is like 42 million playing cards lying face down in a square.
I include this building in a post about art because a: it’s pretty impressive, and b: there are galleries inside it.
Lining the walls in the lower levels of the memorial hall was an exhibition by Lee Teng-yuan. There were around fifty similar pieces in the gallery. I’ve chosen a selection of four to share.
Below each piece is the official explanation followed by my own observations.
In this piece, various strokes weave together the culture, arts, fashion, romanticism, and elegance of Europe – with its colorful variety of styles and medley of images – into a beautiful feeling that lasts a lifetime.
The red squiggly lines in this piece go all over the paper. The paper is almost completely covered by the red squiggly lines, except that some of the paper is not covered by the red squiggly lines. The reason for this is that if the paper was to be completely covered in red squiggly lines, then it would be a red piece of paper and you wouldn’t be able to see the red squiggly lines.
Japan – the name itself is synonymous with politeness, attention to detail, self-discipline, and precision craftsmanship. In this piece, abstract notions are represented using the human form in various postures and motions, such as bowing.
The red squiggly lines in this piece look a little bit like people, because there are red squiggly loops at the top of red squiggly straight bits, and these red squiggly loops look a bit like heads, and the red squiggly straight bits look a bit like bodies. If you look very carefully, you will notice that there are red squiggly lines near the bottom of this piece.
The moon is like the Earth’s protector. Each time nightfall approaches, the heavy silence of light copiously arises, warmly accompanies us all, and heals and assuages the turbulent anguish buried in our innermost being. The waxing and waning of the moon is interwoven with the Eath’s shifting ideas and stirs our deepest emotions.
This one has a lot of red squiggly lines, and these tastefully juxtapose the red squiggly lines next to the other red squiggly lines. There are loops, too, which transcend a post-modernist nonflagrance, thus successfully highlighting the depth of the red squiggly lines.
Uranus is a bleak, harsh and cold planet – and yet it also possesses a certain vitality with its narrow orbiting rings that breathe over the planer’s surface draped in layers of clouds.
Innovation, change, and renewal are made possible precisely because no impurities are present. Uranus is imbued with with its particular uniqueness from below its unassuming exterior.
It is easy to overlook this piece, but in order to fully appreciate its significance one must consider it as part of a whole. Without the red squiggly lines that Uranus brings to the table, one cannot fully comprehend the red squiggly lines of the surrounding works in their entirety. A keen eye will note the brief separation of the little squiggly bit in the lower left. This dramatically tense addition, I can assure you, is absolutely intentional.
Art on the walls
Some of the most interesting artwork can be found scrawled on the walls of any city. Taipei is no exception:
The next couple are actually from Tainan, not Taipei, but I’m including them anyway.
‘Elephant Parade’ is a social enterprise which exhibits decorated elephants all over the world (it’s difficult to learn what a ‘social enterprise’ is without drowning in a sea of buzz words, but it pretty much means, ‘A business that makes money, but some of that money goes to a cause’). The elephants are painted by local artists and celebrities, and 20% of the revenue earned from events and sales goes towards elephant conservation. Namely, the charity Elephant Family.
The Elephant Parade was in Taipei during our stay.
Songshan Cultural and Creative Park
Back in 1937, when I was dead and Japan still had rule over Taiwan, the Japanese decided to do two things: firstly, they would ramp up their efforts to take over the world by launching a full-scale invasion of China, and secondly, they would open a new tobacco factory in Taipei. What a year that was.
Well, the plan to take over China didn’t work out too well, but the tobacco factory had a successful run. It managed to pump out millions of happy death sticks for the next sixty-one years, finally shutting down production in 1998 (although Japan no longer actually owned the company at the time of closure – it had better things to do that year anyway, like launching a probe to Mars and hosting the winter Olympics).
The factory underwent extensive renovations, and reopened as a historic site in 2001. Then it slowly became something of an art zone, and ‘reopened’ again in 2012 as the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. So now it’s a legitimate part of this blog post.
The park hosts a variety of stores, stalls, galleries, and exhibitions. There is a grand plan to erect an 18-story shopping mall at the site (fourteen floors above ground, four below), and an ‘all purpose stadium’ was in the middle of being built when we visited. For now, there is already plenty to see.
This exhibition was my favourite part of the park.
Suho Paper Museum
Way, way back, before the internet, before the industrial revolution, and before Jesus, there lived some Chinese people. These Chinese people wanted to store and pass on their wisdom, and so they did what any right-thinking individual would do: they wrote stuff down.
Unfortunately, the best thing they could find to write stuff down on was silk, and silk was a little expensive. Looking for a solution, they figured that leaves would work okay, and if that was the case, then why not try bark too? Hey, why not just smash that bark into little fibres and then mix it up with water and dry it into sheets and invent paper? Seamless.
And so the Chinese people invented paper, and they kept it super-secret for several centuries, exporting the extra silk they suddenly had spare and growing filthy rich. But nothing lasts forever, and one day Turkey came a’maraudin’ and politely convinced the Chinese people to share their paper recipe. Paper spread over the continents to Europe and finally the Americas, causing ideas and religion to spread like wildfire.
Fast-forward to the 20th century, and one paper enthusiast from Taiwan named Chen Su-ho opened up his own paper factory specialising in handmade paper. During 50 years of owning this factory, he cultivated a dream to share the wonders of paper with the world and planned to build an educational paper museum. He was all ready to go, and the only thing that could stand in his way was not surviving a plane crash in 1990. And wouldn’t you know it? He didn’t.
Instead, Chen’s daughter Chen Ruey-huey followed through on her father’s dream, and five years later the Suho Memorial Paper Museum was opened.
The museum featured four floors of various installations, as well as a lot of hands-on activities for kids. Workshops were conducted once a day where visitors could make their own paper the traditional way. We weren’t around for a workshop, but it was interesting nonetheless. Photos were only allowed on a couple of floors.
We weren’t entirely sure what to expect going in to this museum, but I’m very glad we did. It showcased the oddly fascinating world of tiny things. Numerous scenes, rooms, and buildings were on display, and the attention to detail was staggering – right down to silver cutlery smaller than a fingernail.
I could have stared into these tiny worlds for hours.
I’ll finish this post with the description of the above piece, “An Oriental Room” by John and Peggy Howard. Caroline pointed out to me how adorably polite the description was.
‘An Oriental Room’ is built by a westerner. It is true that everything in this room is of oriental origin, or of oriental design. Nevertheless, when all of them have been put together, the whole thing becomes something odd, despite (the fact that) nothing looks especially wrong. This surely is not the house we are accustomed to in Taiwan. After all, it is a room created by a westerner.
However, we still have to give John the credit since he has visited almost all (the) Chinese restaurants in downtown Vancouver for this project of his!