To Hell, then Murmer and Whisper
Three weeks ago, when we were at Kaohsiung, we met George and Jens, two young men who are learning Chinese. We promised that we would meet up when we returned to Taipei. Where to meet? What to do?
I contacted George, a young guy we met in Kaohsiung, to arrange for us to meet up with his friend Jens. His first suggestion was the National Palace Museum, funnily enough just as we were leaving the place! I suggested the Botanical Gardens, but that idea didn’t go down well, it’s too hot to walk about, and these lads are not middle-aged like us! I can't say I would have been enamoured when I was in my twenties. At last, we had a winner - George suggested the Museum of Contemporary Art.
We met for lunch in Poffertjes Café. Their speciality is small fluffy pancakes made from yeast and buckwheat flour, originating from Holland. These are usually made in a cast iron pan with moulds to drop the batter in to make these tiny pancakes perfect.
After chatting for a time, we walked the short distance to the Art Museum. The first installation we saw was of a gigantic decomposed dead rat suspended from the ceiling with bones scattered on the floor made from Fibre Reinforced Plastics. This was called “Shadow of a Cocoon” by Deng Yau-Horng and represented “the physical appearances of all living creatures as well as desires are in truth illusions that bind and confine us.”
In the next room, the same artist had tables covered with a myriad of leftover items that he had collected, things that, on the surface, are insignificant and can be found everywhere in daily life. But here – each item has its distinctive qualities. Mmm, just a load of decaying rubbish to me.
The Museum was well organised. Using QR Codes, we listened to explanations of what the artists were conveying. Some we thought “Really?” and others we found fascinating.
My favourite was “Hell” by Yan Chung-Hsien. He has drawn inspiration from artwork by Wu Tao-Tzu, a Chinese painter of the Tang dynasty considered to be one of the masters of the seventh century. But unlike Wu Tao-Tzu paintings using ink, Yan has used material sewn and stuffed into strange and quite amusing shapes, then bound with coloured rope.
Heads of tiny ogres covered the ground and in the centre was the judge king and guardians which form a grotesque and terrifying court of the underworld. However, as the write-up of this installation says, “the extremely terrifying sometimes appears ridiculously comical”. That’s what I liked – it did seem quite absurd.
Again, just like the National Palace Museum, I won’t describe everything. We walked up to the second floor, passed "Indonesian Grocery Store in Taiwan" by Tang Tang-Fa + FIDATI and in one of the rooms was Tim’s favourite: a video installation called “Murmur and Whisper” by Teng Wen Hsin.
She had correlated how fungal mycelia grows and spreads undetected in a house is like people spreading in the cities, creating a co-depending, symbiotic relationship. It sounds like a serious subject, yet the faces in the bubbles on the walls were chuckling and smiling.
Another video installation called “Si So Mi” by ZhangXu Zhan was another rat theme. This time, the rats were in a funeral procession playing and celebrating for all the dead. In years gone by, people would refer to funeral bands as “Si So Mi” for some reason.
Death is a taboo subject that most Taiwanese people avoid discussing, and I think the artist is trying to open up this issue – but then again, I could be wrong.
Last but not least was "Tagman" – a performance art mixed with drawings and video. The artist draws pictures representing the lives of the local people. He then makes silkscreen prints and turns these into over 2,000 tags for each project, sticking them onto his outfit.
Once ready, he roams the city; people become curious as to what he is doing and are allowed to pull one of the tags off. Tagman has already appeared in Shanghai, Seoul, Busan and Tokyo.
The purpose of this performing art is highlighting how people represent their lives on social media, like tearing off a part of their lives, like one of the tags, to share and be liked.
Just before we were leaving the Museum, we had a fascinating debate about Universal Basic Income (UBI). I had come up with this idea a few years back, unbeknown to me that it existed. Sadly, a few trials where governments have targeted either type of people such as unemployed, or an area have not worked. But this is hardly “universal”.
Jens was concerned that UBI would take away much-needed welfare support for some people. At first, I thought he was against UBI, I wasn’t listening to him carefully, and just trying to get my point across. When I eventually became curious as to what Jens was saying, I then totally agreed with him. A good reminder to “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” as Stephen Covey would say.
It was getting late, and we’d had our fix of the Museum. We wandered around the street looking for somewhere to eat, but as it was Saturday evening, many places were fully booked. George found a good place – the Taiwan Bistro. Despite it having a few tables empty, these were all reserved in 30 minutes. We stood trying to decide what to do next. Suddenly the waiter came up to us and said that as long as we have finished by 8 pm, we could stay. Phew! We were all getting tired, and some of us hungry and were extremely grateful for this change of heart.
We so enjoyed our time with George and Jens and has some great discussions. I had a good laugh with George when I asked if, back in the UK, he has ever gone out to a museum and meal with people his parents’ age. He confessed that he hasn’t. That’s the great thing about travelling, the commonality of being travellers or living in a foreign place, brings like-minded people together, no matter what their age, race, or gender. Mind you; we have also met some fantastic locals here in Taiwan – perhaps they are all travellers at heart.