I was lucky enough to be invited to an environmental artists’ residency in rural Taiwan in April/May 2012 the Cheng Long Wetland Park. For me this was a fantastic opportunity to travel, to spend 25 days (almost) uninterruptedly making art, to work on a large scale, to meet friendly, wonderful people, to exchange ideas with international artists, to use new an natural materials. So exciting!
Returning to Cape Town I’ve been asked ‘what was the most exciting part?’ :
Friendly, fun-loving Taiwanese
Tuo and Aharn, my ‘terrible twin’ volunteers helped with everything from breakfast to translation - and designed many of the works in the Circle!
But let’s not talk about stinky tofu or karioke…
The care with which the project is planned and run
Yes, this is an example of ‘bottom-up’ interventions, where local people put THEIR issues on the table and guide the curator and actually choose which artists are invited… This is thanks largely to the partnership between curator Jane Ingram Allen and administrator Chao-Mei Wang.
Making BIG work entirely from found natural materials…
Details of the ‘Hungry Monster’, part of my ‘Circle of Life’ - forms chasing one another in a feeding frenzy. The messages on the bamboo strips were written by visitors on the Open Days.
Fasacinating details of everyday life
See my pics of manhole covers on facebook.
The Cheng Long Wetland Park Art Residency, now in its 3rd year, is supported by local government, Taiwan Forestry Bureau (the nature reserves authority) and the Kuan Shu environmental education foundation. The Wetland Park is 9 years old – a small area of what used to be fertile rice paddies and pineapple fields, now waterlogged and salt. The whole western coastal plain of Taiwan is sinking at a rate of about 3” a year, due to too much water being pumped from aquifers for industry. Most farmers have resorted to mariculture: oyster-, clam- and fish-farming. The wetland park consists of 100 hectares set aside for migrating birds. Ongoing monitoring and education at the local primary school is supplemented by projects such as the Art Residency.
Artists are invited to submit proposals that will highlight environmental messages. 6 proposals were selected for this year’s residency, by the curator, project administrators and interested villagers. The artworks were made on-site and installed in the village and park. Artists are encouraged to use recycled materials where possible, and to interact with the villagers.
Artists from India (Prahsant Jogdand) and SA (Janet Ranson) made works entirely from natural materials (bamboo plus found driftwood, banana leaves, palm fronds, etc), which we installed in the wetlands proper. Swiss/Japanese artists Markus Wernli and Madoka Yashitomi made a huge mural on the highway overpass – from clam shells. American Isabelle Garbani used plastic carrier bags to crochet hundreds of leaves to make a kudzu vine engulfing a house: ‘Invasive Species’. Yenting Hsu recorded local industries to make a sound work, and Yvonne Chiu used stories generated by local children in an animation. Both the Taiwanese artists focused on rural tradidtions, which are dying as the area becomes poorer and depolulated.
The project focuses attention on local environmental issues in a non-didactic way: which gives me hope that art can make a difference to communities AND to the planet.