Well, today I hung out with my friend and Taipei denizen William. We’ve known each other for a few years after being on the Pizzicato Five mailing list together and trading stuff. Pretty much everybody I’ve met from the list over the years has turned out to be a decent fellow (and they’re usually fellows).
Despite being an intelligent being, anytime I set off on my own into Taipei, the sisters all worry that I’m going to get lost using the MRT. Not to worry, though finding the Starbucks at Taipei Main Station that William told me to meet him took some doing. By the time I did so I was covered with sweat. First, William hooked me up with some CDs of WMFU weirdness, then we set off for a day of art gallery walking and such. The weather by now was dreadful, and trying to turn our umbrellas inside out. First stop was MOCA Taipei, which is housed in something like an old schoolbuilding, all redbrick and classroom sized galleries.
Taiwan is in a national crisis of identity, and this is borne out by so much of the art I saw today and on other visits. Asking “What Is Taiwan” is up there with asking “What is Real” (asked over at the Fine Arts Museum).
At MOCA, many of the rooms were devoted to “The Rumor of China Towns: Chinese Architecture 2004”. Not a particularly impressive collection: most of it seemed to be asking the question, “What do we do with these old cardboard architectural models from school?” and rooms full up of interesting junk. Other rooms tried to artify or glamorize photos of awful modernist concrete blocks (Corbu, Bauhaus, damn you). The question I asked William: “Would you actually want to live here?”
A larger room featured stacks of bound newspapers on their side, on top of which we were invited to walk in our stocking feet. I don’t know what this actually meant, but it did feel a bit like quicksand. Another room had a full apartment made out of string and wire. In another, molded shapes in styrofoam and plaster suggested we assume yoga postures to then watch respectively aligned monitors. The molded body shapes were obviously not made for this tall, rather bloated Westerner.
So…nothing made much of an impression, all apart from the building itself which had that proper mix of warmth and non-intrusiveness that befits gallery space. Oh, and the bag lockers, which were named after artists and movements, and not numbered. Where else could you store your satchel in “Existentialism”?
Continuing on…we took a train to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Most of the museum was devoted to “Do You Believe In Reality?” curated by Barbara Vanderlinden and Amy Huei-hua Cheng.
The theme is so open ended (citizen’s rights and the reality offered by each perspective) that pretty much any contemporary artist could be represented here. I didn’t feel any grand question being asked.
Therefore it was still down to the art. Ones that stood out:
Jeanne Van Heeswijk/Rolf Engelen/Siebe Thissen/Frans Vermeer/Innbetween’s appropriation of postered walls from the streets of Amsterdam, turned into shelters. Mostly I grooved on seeing the two-inch thick layers of years of plastering up concert posters. Like cutting through substrata.
David Claerbout’s “Vietnam, 1967, Near Duc Pho” a video manipulation of a still by Hiromishi Mine of a caribou aircraft split in two and falling to earth, where craft and landscape evolve over time differently.
Yang Fu-Dong’s “Dai Hao and Man Te”, a small labyrinth of white walls and fluorescent bulbs that centers into a room with a projector playing a 12 minute 35mm film of two guys on the beach. Meant to “metaphorically depict the ungraspable nature of experience and the fragmentary state of memory” (raspberries), I liked it for its compact 35mm projector, the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Raqs Media Collective’s “The Wherehouse Project,” a series of modern archaeological artefacts (read, interesting objects culled from houses). I liked it for the reason William did: it was like going through a very cool flea market.
Agnes Varda’s “Patautopia” a video tryptich of old potatoes, now turned into weird and beautiful tubular flowers.
Anri Sala’s “time after time,” a slowly metamorphosing video of a horse standing on a bridge? a beach? a housing project? while the camera goes in and out of focus in the low light.
Down below in the very large space, there were three rooms devoted to Ton Yang-tze and Ray Chen’s “Realm of Feelings–A Dialogue of Calligraphy and Space”, one a large empty room filled with projections of animated Chinese calligraphy (and then once we entered, our distorted shadows); another room containing three large canvases of calligraphy, but only attainable by transvering a small series of paths separated by low tables of black glass (acting as great reflectors of the art); and finally a circular room filled with sand around which a calligraphic poster spiraled out.
William and I took a small lunch-like break in the museum, which boasts a truly paltry selection of hot food. That I chose a hot dog should give you a clue. Regardless, we had a long chat, mostly about film (Tsai Ming Liang’s “Goodbye Dragon Inn” being one of them) and what to do with my unfinished experimental film “Gone When Police Got There.”
Then we took a MRT to our final location, the Taipei Film House, which is currently showing a Documentary Film Festival. It also features an Eslite bookstore with a film and cinema theme. Joy! I wound up getting two DVDs: one a documentary on Taiwanese music, Viva Tonal, on Willaim’s recommendation, and one of the Shaw Brothers reissues, Sex For Sale, which looks to be kooky and campy.
While deciding on buying these, a gentleman approached me, a bit nervous to speak in English. He explained that the end of the year is coming up and he still needs to get “purchase points” on his Eslite(?) credit card or he’ll have to pay a large fee. So could he buy these on his card and I just give him the money? I thought at first it was a scam of some kind, but he was on the up and up. If he’d hung around longer, he could have gotten more points for buying the BFI book on “Eyes Wide Shut” and Jonathan Romney’s book on Atom Egoyan, which I wound up paying for in cash.
William took one photo of me with the Holga (the excellent toy camera with two manual controls) and then we walked back to the station to bid each other adieu. I called Jessica and they said they were out on the town and to meet them at City Hall station. I did so and all I heard on the way home was the excellent lunch they had and that I had missed. Jessica was trying to make me regretful, I guess, but no dice, despite having a hot dog for lunch.
We spent the rest of the evening back at the sisters’, with an occasional run to get food and drink downstairs (more watermelon juice for Mike and me). Not to mention the bloody packing, incorporating all the stuff we bought in Taipei the first couple of days.
And would we be taking off in the middle of a typhoon? It looked like it…