Friday, July 10, 2015

Taipei's Museum of Contemporary Art

10 July 2015

Yes, we're waiting out Typhoon Chan-Hom - yesterday it started raining, today has been even rainier and a bit windy.  But Linfa was pushed south and west by Chan-Hom, and Chan-Hom has been forced a bit northward by Linfa.  We're quite happy they decided to not merge but rather act like magnets of the same pole, creating resistance so that they pushed each other away a bit.  Chan-Hom has dropped to a category 3, which is good since at some point tomorrow the eye will be straight north of Taipei and Taiwan.  We just hope that eye is north enough so that we can fly out.  Our flight is about 11 PM, so we should be okay.  We hope.  Again, it's just a wait and see situation.

On Wednesday, I headed over to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei.  It isn't far from our hotel in the Zhongshan district, so I decided to walk.  It turned out to be a short walk (just about a mile) - around the corner, through the park, turn right, walk to the subway station, walk through the station and go out at Exit 1.  It turned out that Exit 1 was too far and I had to ask for directions - fortunately, Starbucks employees speak some English, and the young woman looked up the address on her phone.  (Love the younger generation - everything can be looked up on the phone!)  She drew a map for me that was easy to understand, and I went on my merry way.

The best part about my backtracking route was that it led me past several wonderful murals!  I have no idea what the structures were beneath these mosaics, they seemed to be some sort of electric buildings or something.  But the detail on the mosaics was just wonderful, and the subjects whimsical, so of course I had to stop and look and admire.  (LOVE the party spilling out from the opened zipper!)

Then at the end of the block there was another mural, actually two murals on both sides of a serpentine wall, forming a park and playground - what fun!  You know I climbed up and down
the variable height stepping stones to see the entire mural and get the best view!

Another block down, turn right, and there was my destination, Taipei's Museum of Contemporary Art.  (If you want to go there and get lost, ask Taiwanese people for the Museum of New Art - "contemporary" doesn't seem to be a separate word in Chinese.)  The museum's website in Chinese and some English:

The museum is housed in a former school built by the Japanese "colonial period" in Taiwan (pre-WWII).  In 1945, the building became the city hall, went through various incarnations as government buildings, and was renovated to become the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001.

From the exterior, it still looks like an elementary school - it looks amazingly similar to the red brick school I attended from 2nd through 6th grade, with a grand entrance and huge windows.  

However, the whimsical sheep leaping over the front hedge, as well as the huge posters, let visitors know that this isn't the elementary school building of our childhood.

The floor in the front room has glass panels painted with plants and flowers.  There are colorful tubes writhing and intertwining up against the ceiling.  This is part of the museum's architecture, not an art exhibit.  Or maybe it's part of the permanent collection, and has just become part of the museum.

The first few exhibits I walked through were nothing special.  Although one had a film running in a darkened room, and at first I hesitated to walk in, it didn't look like there was a solid floor.  It was just a weird optical illusion reflection of the film at that point, but it certainly made me dizzy!

Then I came to one part of the exhibit by Korean artist Yeesookyung (pronouned yee-sook-JUNG, according to the museum guard right by this exhibit).  Her entire exhibit was called "When I Become You," and this particular body of art was called "Translated Vase Series."  One room had three sculptures, and I immediately recognized the first - I had seen it over two years ago in Singapore!  It made an impression on me, and was one of the pieces I really liked at the art museum there - here's a link to the blog:

The artist, Yeesookyung, collects broken ceramics from artists and other locations (shops?  retail outlets?).  She uses the shards and broken pieces to create sculptures, attaching the pieces of ceramic with epoxy, and then covering the epoxy with gold leaf.  In this way, she emphasizes the flaw, the break, but turns it into something beautiful and precious, with the gold highlights.  And she creates something new and beautiful out of all these broken and discarded pieces.  

Isn't this sort of a metaphor for life?  We try to make something of our lives, but, well, life happens.  Things interfere.  We don't get into our first choice school, or we don't get the job we want.  We rarely marry our first love.  But we pick up the broken pieces of our life, glue it back together somehow, and move on.  We find another school, and it turns out to be a better fit.  We find the perfect job in the perfect location.  We eventually find the love of our life in the second, or nineth, or fiftieth person we date.  And it all comes together, these broken pieces and broken dreams, glued and gilded back into whatever we make of our lives.  With multiple handles, spouts, apertures - all the options we're given.  We're something between architects and archaeologists, building and preserving and reinventing our lives.  Constantly.

I LOVE these sculptures!  Partly because I've always liked Asian ceramics.  Partly because ceramics was my area of art concentration in school.  And partly because I see these as a symbol of how life turns out, whether we like it or not.  

The first piece I saw at MOCA, the same piece I had seen in Singapore, was predominantly white porcelain with cobalt blue images painted on under clear glaze.

The second piece, looking somewhat like a pregnant woman, was white porcelain pieces mixed with stoneware glazed in reds and cherry blossom pinks and iron oxide browns.  With the occasional bit of blue in there as well.  It was equally gorgeous and totally different - more like springtime, while the blue and white was colder, like a winter breeze.  Or water in the summer.

The third piece was made mostly from celadon-glazed pieces, celadon being a beautiful greyish-green glaze that chronologically began in China some 2000 years ago, but which became extremely popular in Korea about 1000 years ago.  Some art historians believe that Korean ceramicists created the most intricate and beautiful celadon pieces, and thus celadon pottery is the perfect medium for a modern Korean artist.

There were more figurines used in the celadon piece, various animals, a tiny Buddha, a few dragons, all working together with the greenish leaves and pale grey cranes flying across the curves of clay pots.  Rather than fighting, they work together to create something greater than the sum of their parts.  Something bulbous and organic and vaguely green, something almost alive!  Especially since the shapes, form, and colors change as you walk around the piece, truly like a living, growing, changing being.

I had a great time in this exhibit, and the museum is okay with photography in its galleries, as long as you don't use flash.  And, I would presume, as long as the photographer attributes the artwork to the artist. 



The three sculptures played off each other, echoing the general form and concept, but changing in color and mood.  It truly was wonderful.

Even the shadows were gorgeous, something akin to the dancing and singing crockery of Disney movies!  

The next exhibit, upstairs, was an installation in the hallways and several rooms, and was a collaboration of five artists in mainland China.  This piece was named "Polit-Sheer-Form," and was created by Hong Hao, Xiao Yu, Song Dong, Liu Jianhua, and Leng Lin.  

I approached this series of installations as a museum staff person was explaining the concept, in Chinese, to a Taiwanese man who then translated the ideas in English for a young North American man.  Basically, the Chinese artists were born in China while the Communist ideals were still strong, but grew up during the current shift to Capitalism.  However, they would like to see a return to some of the ideals of Communism, to communal work, belief in being part of the entire community and not focusing on the individual, and to not focus on materialism.

However, some of their installations seemed to portray the opposite, so it left me very confused.

The first installation was the series of blue buckets and mops set up in the hallway.  Repetition, sameness, and focus on manual labor.  Okay, no problem, we can work together and achieve.  No task is too menial.  We all need to pitch in.  I get that.

The second installation was a film, where the artists filmed people washing a bus in slow motion.  Sloooow moooootioooonnnnnnnn.  Really.  Beautiful cinematography with water splashing so artistically, it mimicked Hokusai's wave.   Viewed from inside the bus with water splashing in your face against the glass.  From outside the bus, as if you the viewer were right there, throwing buckets of water on the bus.  From the side, watching the slow mo showers of water.  It was amazing!  And again the themes of working together for the greater good, even at manual labor and potentially messy jobs.

There was a room labelled "Office," with five chairs (one for each artist) and empty bottles from water or beer.  As if the artists just left the room a moment ago.

Then the "Library" - and this, to me, seemed to refute the entire concept of returning to Communism.  Or maybe warning against the aspects of Communism the artists would like to avoid.  The room was blue - walls, floor, ceiling.  Same blue.  It was filled with bookshelves, like a library, and painted the same blue as the walls.  The bookshelves were filled with paperback books, all the same size, all with the same title, all in blue.  And if you took a book off the shelf and looked at it, it was full of blue paper.  Without writing.  Just a blank blue book.  Very Orwellian and 1984.  Very Kurt Vonnegut and Harrison Bergeron.  The dystopia to the utopian ideal.

So at that point, well, I was confused regarding what the artists were saying.  The "Meeting Room" had a table with chairs, platters of plastic fruit, and a photographic portrait which is a composite of the five artists, not a real person.  

The final room, large enough to house a basketball court, was papered with images of all the tickets, receipts, and papers that the artists have collected while travelling to various parts of the world with this exhibit.  Oh, there was also a short video of people in New York City, mopping Times Square with the same blue buckets and mops.

The final film showed a group of people in China marching and chanting, with subtitles explaining that the artists like kungfu and tofu.  They travel around and eat tofu.  And everyone likes tofu.  They can achieve world peace and unity with tofu and kungfu.  (It's very tongue in cheek.)  The final images are the actors shaking fists and chanting "Tofu!  Kungfu!  Tofu!  Kungfu!"  This video was banned from being included with the exhibit in mainland China.  Because we all know how subversive tofu and kungfu can be.

It was interesting!  Definitely the kind of art that makes you stop and think and wonder about what the artist or artists was/were saying.  And whether that was what you understood or not.

 Okay, it's 9 PM now - here's the weather update, complete with the satellite image from the weather website.  The center of Chan-Hom is still a bit east of us but decidedly to the north, so that we won't get the eye of the storm.  We're still getting fairly constant rain, and winds here are averaging about 30 mph.  Nothing major, and nothing to worry about.  All is good, though wet.  (Our hotel is offering people packages of ramen type soup, so that we don't have to go out if we don't want to.)  

We still need to see if our flight is leaving as scheduled tomorrow, but we won't know until tomorrow.

So I'll keep people posted as we go!


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